The following is a work of fiction, all ownership of the characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto and I am making no profit from the creation of this story.

WARNINGS: The following contains; Slash, Language, Sex, Personality Interpretation, High School Drama, Alternate Universes, and Awesomeness.

Hollow High

It was raining. It's almost always raining here.

A world that felt as if it had been blanketed with grey.

You don't chose where you grow up, everyone here knows that. It was amazing that such a tired place existed on the outskirts of Konoha, one of the liveliest, most productive cities in the region.

Sometimes if we were lucky the roads wouldn't freeze over too much. But there was no guessing with November rearing it's ugly head, our only hope was to seek shelter within the bleak walls of high school. From time to time while amongst the crowds of faces it felt even colder, it sank into my bones and they ached, especially in the mornings.

It sets in, and it changes you.

The cold, that is. Growing up in this austere place leaves its scars. It's nothing physical, it never is… but it's as if everything presented before your eyes becomes monochromatic. I couldn't even remember a time when my hair didn't look faded and numb, eyes shallow and bleak. As if the life had been sucked out of almost everything.

It wasn't just me. Everyone was the exact same…

Individuals whose personalities struggled to shine through this depressing blanket failed pitifully. It was as though some sort of cancer consumed everything and left in its trail nothing but sick and miserable people.

"He has no eyebrows!"

Fingers numb, it was difficult to open my locker, I had to try three times before actually wedging it out. If there was anything worse than Mondays, it had to be Tuesdays. The week was still early and I already wanted to crawl back into bed and sleep through the days as usual.

"He glared at me like he was going to kill me!"

"I heard he runs around covered in blood at night."

"That's stupid!"

"It's true!"

Teenagers were hateful. Their mouths kept running and all that ever spilled out was malice. All around me I could hear it, whispers and rumors about the new kid. Such cliché words, I thought that in reality, we were better than that. I suppose such word of mouth brought life to the desolate hallways, if even for the few weeks it would take to die out.

It was hard to understand the murmurs that buzzed around me, but specific words stood out. Words like 'scary', 'killed', 'past'.

Staring at myself in the locker mirror, examining my exhausted features, a flash of color waltzed by…

"red."

I turned my head but the color was gone, vanished into the masses of grey. I hadn't seen something so bright in quite a while.

I chose to ignore it.

Sheltering my backpack, I slammed my locker. It didn't matter, the clock was ticking and I couldn't afford to be late to class again. My teacher would ring my neck and I barely managed to survive the last round with the grey haired sociopath.

In a way, I already pitied the transfer student, but at the same time, I had to get to class.

He wasn't any of my business.

(((((((((((((((((

Class was buzzing with hushed voices; familiar faces everywhere. Wherever ones eyes darted, there was but moving lips, dancing in torrents.

I growled in dismay at my chair, fighting the urge to bite the damn thing. My desire must have been apparent to a certain individual. "Turning primal now?" Onyx eyes pinned me to my seat, glazed over with some unidentifiable contemplations "I hate these desks, all day sitting in them, my ass is killing me!" I whined. A hand pelted my head, not hard compared to some, but enough to make me slam my nose into the object of my disdain. "Shut up, you'll be a senior next year and crying to me that you don't want to grow up yet." I grinned up at my best friend; Uchiha Sasuke, Grade A asshole and a cause of constant bruising in my life.

Also, a piece this puzzle would go insane without.

"Yeah, well… It wouldn't hurt the school to get us… I don't know, cushions?" A raised eyebrow, pursed lips; I gritted my teeth and felt the push.

I groaned up from the floor. "Damn it you bastard! What was that for!" The teacher hadn't even arrived yet and still we had started a scene, eyes drifting from their conversations to acknowledge our existence. This was probably why the duck-butt was my best friend. "For not appreciating your privileges, now sit on the floor like a good little bitch." He took his seat in the desk next to mine and propped his feet on my chair, making a point to settle himself in the most comfortable-looking pose he could muster. It wasn't that impressive, but I blame that more on the horrid desks than the Uchiha's lousy thespian skills.

There was once a time when the two of us couldn't get along, we'd spend all day butting heads like playground bullies getting in on each others turf. Now, as I attempted to pry his feet off of my seat, only to get kicked playfully in the face, we had never gotten along better. Unless you counted when he was drunk, now that was a sight to behold. He was so nice it was disgusting… I much preferred this Sasuke, he didn't give a shit about the hearsay everybody found so interesting.

"You hear about the new kid?"

My frown deepened, damn it Sasuke why do you have to always go and prove me wrong? "Not you too." As if to catch himself, he shook his head quickly. "No it's different this time. This isn't about bad acne or a sex scandal." I huffed. Honestly I couldn't care less about whatever he had done, hell, I didn't even know the guy. "I'm just telling you so you can be careful if you run into him is all." Poking at his high-tops and grunting, (reluctantly) I bit the bait. "Fine, what is so horrible that even you, the most tight-assed, high-classed dick in the school wants to gossip about?"

A toe jab at my precious face and a glare.

"Supposedly he used to go to an elite private school in the town over, got kicked out though after he killed his teachers dog." "That's ridiculous, people don't just go around killing dogs." Removing his feet and finally allowing me to return to my desk, the raven grew almost scary serious. "Sane people don't, that's why I'm telling you… watch out for yourself." I tried to smile, but it felt weak even to me. I don't scare easily, but the sincerity of the usually high strung mans voice put me on the edge.

He was habitually so nonchalant with life. I knew he wouldn't bother warning anyone else, it seemed I was the only one he felt he really needed to look after. As if I wasn't capable of it myself.

Some people wondered why the two of us grew so close. We were contrasting from personalities to looks. The grey of this city didn't wash Sasuke out like many brighter students. In fact, he seemed to sink right into it. Skin pale and hair raven black, he would probably appear just as cold to the outside world as he did in this barren town.

When the door creaked open, I suppose everyone had expected it to be our lazy teacher. Instead my eyes were blinded by red. Honestly it almost hurt, akin to being exposed to light after years of forced darkness. I was not the only one affected, the whole room grew silent. Like a disease, faces fell everywhere, and the heavy footfall of who I knew had to be the new student filled the room.

After what felt like forever, he sat down. I wonder if I was the only one holding my breath? It took too long, the silence. My feet were jittery, and discomfort settled over everyone. I did the only thing I could do.

I belched.

Loudly.

After a few moments or horror, laughter broke out in tremors. The boys guffawed so hard they were clutching their sides and the girls all sneered in disgust save for the few that actually possessed a sense of humor. Haruna Sakura, a childhood crush, was not one of them. "Naruto! That is so disgusting!" I laughed sheepishly and scratched the back of my head. "My bad." I had achieved my goal, everything had returned to normal.

I know the feeling of isolation, so when I caught the gaze of two milky green eyes, I only widened my grin. I was glad to be of service, it may not have been much but if it helped, maybe that made me a better person than all these gossiping seagulls.

Believe it or not, his skin was as pale as Sasuke's, but seemed to glow unlike the ravens who soaked in the dullness around him. His hair steamed a vibrant red that was nearly mind-boggling, even the most delicious of apples turned green in envy. A tattoo was sported on his forehead, it was the kanji for 'love'.

I don't know when the teacher walked in, but the new kid must have, because he broke my gaze without so much as a twitch affecting his blank expression. Kakashi had started his lesson, but I stopped paying attention after he formally introduced the current interest of the schools populace.

"Subaku No Gaara."

The class went on as usual. Some students tried to learn, others (including myself) cracked jokes at each other and the teachers expense. It was almost as if nothing had changed from yesterday…

But there was still a lingering air of uncertainty in the back of everyone's mind.

How much truth did these rumors hold? What kind of person was it that possessed such a distinctive name?

I secretly wished someone would just ask him instead of letting this charade continue. Although admittedly after looking into those blank eyes, I wouldn't want that person to be me.

((((((((((((((((((((((

In the crowding corridors, it was nearly impossible to travel through all the jostling shoulders and not so playful shoves. By the time I had cleared what we referred to as the freeway zone, I could already feel bruises forming and most of the student body had long evacuated the grounds. I know I wasn't the only one who had tapped my fingers anxiously on my (damned) desk in wait for the end of the day.

Although unlike most, I could not go home and sink into my couch, turning on the TV and watching reruns of The Hills. I couldn't jump on the internet, post on my wall, and poke random friends that had indeed, poked me first, and by doing so, signed a war declaration. No, I had to go to work. You could say I complain, sure, many teenagers work. Though most not during the week while attending high school. In my head, I was going over my hours, attempting (failing) to do the math that would tell me whether or not I could afford my bills with this Fridays paycheck.

My feet carried me as if by habit, but my eyes wandered.

They caught that damn eerie green stare.

We crossed paths as if nothing happened, and in reality, nothing had. It would have been just that, if I hadn't turned around to watch him walk away. His backpack was plain, a soft sand color… but there was no mistaking the light brown patches in the bottom corner that looked suspiciously like dried blood. I swallowed, knees frozen. Exactly what caused that stain? Could it have really been blood or did I simply let the hearsay get to me?

I almost couldn't feel the cold at all when I stepped outside. The rain had calmed for a bit, something for which I was grateful, and although the wind still struck bitterly, I felt nothing. The surge of heat that came from terror (or could it have been excitement?) surged through my body and kept me warm. The trek to work passed by that day without me even noticing it. Some people had cars, or at least had family who could drive them. I don't know how I got so lucky, to have my feet assure that I would make it to work in one piece while my mind ambled back to a stained, sand-colored backpack.

Somehow I made it through the doors with minimal damage, a series of greetings floating my way. Despite the long hours and the shit-tastic working conditions, I enjoyed my job. The faces there were always delightful, smiles weren't stitched on for the situation and eyes always bore sincerity. Compared to the deceitful handshakes of high school it was a delicious ice tea in the summer heat, something that never really hit us all too hard. A long blonde haired girl of my age gave me a high-five as I walked by, her locks tied up into a sloppy bun and an even soppier smile on her face. "Hey Ino, how's business today?"

She may have gone to my school but the two of us shared no classes together at all, which is probably why a beautiful girl like her and a dim-wit like myself had even managed to become friends.

"It's horrible out there, grit your teeth, we have a lot of wise-asses today. And damn it Naruto I don't care if their jokes aren't funny, if you laugh, they tip."

While nodding I took caution to tie my apron loosely in fear of a repeat of last weeks incident. It took two friends and (eventually) a pair of scissors to get it off of me; indeed the money to replace what was left of it was taken out of my paycheck. I never really tried to do stupid things but somehow they always managed to find me. Every time I laughed at being called a knuckle-head I inwardly cursed the universe and it's dry sense of humor. Sometimes I was fairly positive that it was because I was blonde, and ergo, had to have some sort of dim-witted, pompous view of the world.

Sadly, it was all too easy to convince others that I didn't care. After all, caring meant they expected you to do something, to try and change things. I've walked the same path from home to school to work and then home again so many times that I wasn't sure if I'd be able to handle straying from such norm.

Ino hadn't exaggerated the status of the small diner, families, couples, friends, business partners, types of all sorts filled each table until there was almost no room left to breath.

She was a hard worker, thankfully. I couldn't imagine having to wait all of these tables alone or alongside a slacker, days like these were the reason I laughed at anyone who claimed I would get fat from living off ramen. Not even halfway through my shift my calves were burning from the sudden exertion of energy. (Not to mention ramen now cost merely 15 cents a package.)

A few hours into the mob our third waiter finally showed. "You're late Tenten!" Rushing in, the brunette apologized profusely as she struggled into her apron. "My dad kept me late at the shop." Brown eyes glimmered in determination as she practically flew through the customers, somehow managing to catch every single order. The extra help allowed us to finally push through the rush, leaving the restaurant virtually empty.

I collapsed into a chair. "Good God I'm in pain." I mewled, ready to sleep right where I was, the cushioned seats were a refreshing upgrade from the horrible desks at school. (Yeah I'm still going on about that, and when I become rich and famous by whatever means, I will pay to have the damn school get cushioned chairs.) Tenten was a blessing tonight, the young woman had already graduated last year and worked two jobs, one at her family owned weapon store and the other right here in the homely diner, I don't know how we could have possibly survived that surge without her.

"Damn Tenten you saved us." Ino vocalized, also sinking into a seat across from me, she used a table napkin to dab the sweat away from her brow gingerly. "I'm really sorry I was late." Her small mouth pursed as she patted her younger friend on the shoulder, not forgetting to send some sympathy my way with a gentle gaze.

I felt like the girls I worked with here and the ones at school where two different species entirely. In here there was no gossip, nobody cared about new kids or sex scandals or perverted teachers. In here it was about working together to achieve a common, greater goal. For us, it was wonderful service to even the most pig-headed customer.

The three of us silently agreed that we had accomplished that today.

By the time my shift ended at 10:00 that night, we had only served four or five more tables. It was a strange day but another day nonetheless and as I let out a breath I had been holding I untied my apron, thinking back on the events of the earlier day.

These are the things I should be worrying about, the customers, my friends, my paychecks… not whether or not the new kid had felt lonely today…

I thought back to his apathetic gaze, his blood stained backpack…

What was his name again? Gaara wasn't it? I felt shivers crawl up my spine. Part of me amused the thought of him actually being some sort of psychotic murderer, unfortunately, that part refused to be silenced and I found my palms beginning to sweat as scenario after scenario ran through my mind of how he had killed that dog.

None without a fair amount of blood.

By the time I stepped onto the dark city road, I had completely scared myself shitless. Sure it was the fault of the redhead, to a point; but all this thought of insanity reminded me something I had forced myself to forget every night…

The streets were dangerous on this side of town.

I scurried home at a pace a bit quicker than usual, eyes darting around nervously, shoulders tensing at every sudden sound. By the time I shut my door behind me I was a nervous wreck and this was all because I cared just a bit too much. I locked both deadbolts and slipped the chain into place, I was being ridiculous, Sasuke would have laughed his ass off if he had seen the way I was acting.

Thankfully I was able to curl into bed humiliation-free, finally finding solstice in the pitch black.

Just to be safe I pulled the blanket up over my head…

It was cold.

))))))))))))))))))

"Damn it, Hurry up!"

My foot prattled impatiently on the floor as slowly, by some nearly inhumanly means, the line for the water fountain crept along inch by inch. I swear these people acted as if they'd been stranded in a desert for a fort-night, lapping up greedily at the bacteria infested stream and obviously finding mirth in savoring an extra few moments solely to torment the irritated soul behind them.

It wasn't as if I was incredibly dehydrated, not to mention I was all-too aware of the contents of a swab from that mouthpiece, so I wasn't incredibly fond of the hallway's source of water. The grounds for my exasperation were those waiting in line. Stricken with a slovenly pace, some picked at their teeth while others cussed beneath their breath.

Under ordinary circumstances, I would have waited without complaint as the final two in front of me drank away. Today however, not only was I plagued with a weeks worth of sleepless nights but it didn't make it any easier feeling him breathing down my back.

I was terrified to turn around.

For the past two minutes and fourteen seconds he had been lurking there, I had seen him approach out of the corner of my eye. I wondered if he was aware of the menacing aura he had been sporting since his first day in these halls. I imagined that every breath I took bellowed through my lungs, felt that he could hear me with deadly accuracy.

Was it pissing him off? The cracking sound of his leather pants chilled my spine as he shifted from foot to foot. I swallowed hard… had he heard it? Did he know how nervous he made me?

By now you're wondering what had happened. To be honest with you I'm not sure myself. As the days dragged on there were countless times when our eyes meet, more often than not his own seared in rage. It was terrifying, I'm not going to lie. When the red haired young man had arrived I hadn't known what to think of him.

Now as Friday finally neared it's end there was only one thought sweeping my mind. This guy scared Sasuke. Sasuke. He never openly admitted it but there was no hiding the way his eyes followed the redhead suspiciously each time he neared, how his back straightened and fists clenched in preparation. He was like a wolf guarding it's den, having spotted a stray meandering too close.

If the enigma's presence could threaten my hard-shelled best friend, wasn't it only normal that it made me ready to piss myself then and there? I confess, I wasn't incredibly parched when I first amused the thought of getting just a sip of water, but after having been forced into such close proximity with Gaara himself my throat grew stone dry.

When he first arrived I wanted to flee, but the fear of him murdering me slowly (for whatever reason he could develop had I brought attention to myself) halted me in my tracks. And that, to whomever it may concern, is the basics of how this horrible situation of a rock and a hard place fell into play.

Yes, I am in fact, still standing in line at that damned water fountain. Am I close to suffering from a panic attack? Why yes, yes I am.

"Hurry up."

I held my breath. It was not loud but the command must have struck hard in not only me but the girl sipping gingerly away. She jerked back and retreated, trying to avoid Gaara's gaze. I don't blame her, I am fairly positive that when he spoke up my heart skipped a few beats. Taking a quick inhale, I turned to him. "You can go ahead of me if you'd like."

It was my first time making direct contact with him, I couldn't have imagined how our paths would align from that moment on. "Hmn." He gave a swift nod and took advantage of the offer, stepping in front of me and helping himself. I could feel his presence radiating as he passed by.

He seemed so cold.

I couldn't keep my eyes from locking on his throat, as if hypnotized I watched it move with each swallow, up and down, psychologically spellbound. I actually felt tempted to try small talk but couldn't imagine a topic. I don't think he'd be at all interested in Sasuke not letting me copy his homework or how miserable I was failing that quiz this morning.

Just as I decided to spout the first bullshit I could think of just to break this disgusting silence, another voice cut me off.

"Hey! Let me cut too, Naruto!" The whine came from Kiba, a long-time friend. "Screw off." Just like that he was off and I finally achieved my goal; I swear after all the emotional torment I sustained in my wait, the water tasted almost deliciously sweet. "Asshole." I ignored the brunette as I drank, eyes straying to follow Gaara as he sauntered away.

My heart was racing as it fed hungrily on my adrenaline.

Damn, So close.

(((((((((((((((((((((

Time seemed to creep by slowly, the weight of each day settling into the (beyond sore) bottom of my feet. The weekend was much-needed but departed far too soon, leaving in its place a dull Monday.

And then came Tuesday.

"I really hate Tuesdays." "We know." I huffed as I dropped my pants, throwing them at the face of Shikamaru, an atypical athletic type. They landed with a loud slap, followed by an exasperated groan of disgust. "When was the last time you washed these?" I scowled at his insult, how dare he treat my favorite orange denim pants so disrespectfully. "I do my laundry once a week." It might have come off as a bit defensive, if so he didn't really give much of a damn. "You wear these almost everyday." "They're comfy!"

He rolled his eyes and strolled off to the showers. "Whatever."

He always was a carefree type, it took half the football team to convince him to actually put forth the effort to join and I cant imagine how they managed to get his ass on the field for games. He was pretty good at sports when he tried, but what made him he center of the teams focus was his intelligence. It wasn't often that brain and brawn met together in a perfect balance and when they did it resulted in a legend, one that Disney made movies about that left ones grandparents in a pile of tears.

It was a shame he was so goddamn lazy.

The locker room cleared out as naked individuals flooded to the showers. If I had learned anything in my three years in this school, it was to wait patiently until the crowd left before attempting to wash up, lest you found yourself involved in a relatively gay moment due to the close proximity of others.

I put my (awesome) pants in my locker along with my shirt, jacket, and high-tops. The sound of it slamming echoed long enough to fill a bitter silence left behind by the horde. I wrapped a towel around my waist, letting out a quick shiver. It was the last period of the day and I figured it wouldn't hurt to relax for a bit, gym wasn't excruciatingly hard but I'll be completely honest…

Unlike back at home, the school actually had warm water.

I stretched out a bit, elbows and back popping into place, I could hear shuffling coming my way but I paid it no heed, some of the swarm finished up sooner than others. I turned around to head in…

Ow… my ass hit the floor. I had slammed right into a sturdy, wet form and it plainly knocked me right off my feet. "Fu-" The word died as soon as it began, for I had looked up and seen the end. I witnessed no flashback of my life, which is surprising seeing how I was probably about to die. He just stared down at me as I struggled to my feet. Standing at my tallest, face to face with a red headed mystery, our eyes were nearly level, but it was the mere inch or two that he possessed over me which rendered me cowering.

He never blinked, just turned to open his locker not three feet away. He was dripping wet…

"Sorry about that, I guess I don't really look where I'm going." I chuckled nervously, following a bead of water journey down the nape of his neck, dipping in between is shoulder blades and peeling along many just visible enough muscles until it finally vanished beneath his towel. I shot my eyes up to the back of his head, awestruck at how his flaming spikes laid flat for once, the longer bits clinging desperately to his pale skin.

No, pale could not justify the luminescence anymore. He looked like the purest white sand of an untouched beach. An inviting paradise of skin sweeping over such a lean build seemed almost surreal. Those arms raised with such fluidity to retrieve his clothes that I inwardly wished his locker had been higher, granting me the sight of his back muscles arching. The thought of it made me shudder, then the realization that despite my having avoided the crowded shower, I still worked my way into a gay moment, made it all the worse.

I turned away quickly when his towel dropped, ears completely burning.

What had just happened? Had I really just eyed Gaara up and down like a piece of candy? I shook my head, I had to be rid of those momentary thoughts, because that's all they were. A fleeting lapse of judgment in which I had appreciated the (delicious) physique of a fellow classmate. "So… How about that dissection earlier today?" My mouth was dry but I was afraid if I didn't at least try to converse with him my eyes would end up going on another quick field trip.

He didn't answer, it didn't surprise me. "It was pretty gross I guess," I continued, peaking back to see he had already pulled on his pants. "But then again it was fun poking around that things insides, I accidentally popped something in mine…" My brows furrowed, "Not exactly sure wha-."

I was cut off by a loud slam, the noise startled me into turning around to face him. He was glaring at me with such an intensity, it was as if my feet had sunken into the ground, heart pounding as I threw a silent prayer up to whatever god would listen for my death to be relatively painless.

"You talk too much."

It was the most I'd ever heard him say, all he's ever said. Truth be told, those words were more than enough to keep me permanently scarred for life from the redhead. Right about then I was ready to never see him again, purely in the interest of survival of course, nothing personal.

It was impossible not to notice how captivating his milky green eyes were, they pinned me to the ground as that already slightly down-turned lip pursed tighter. His glare lasted for what felt like forever, when he finally turned to leave all will had been drained from my legs.

I collapsed onto a bench. How was he capable of instilling so much fear with a simple phrase? I didn't feel safe anymore, they always say to be nice to the crazy ones, so when they snap they'll spare your life. In this particular case, I am positive that my sincerity has done quite the opposite. I should have listened to Sasuke, should have just not gotten involved. As weird as it may sound I genuinely felt threatened at that moment, and despite that feeling, I had to concentrate in order to not picture that supple, dripping back.

This was the moment I decided that I was completely losing my mind.

I gathered myself quickly, and escaped to the showers just as a flood of half naked, dripping boys filled up the room.

Regardless of my rush, I took the time to notice that none of them quite glowed like he did…

))))))))))))))))))

At this instant, even the most desirable cup of freshly microwaved ramen could not have kept me from crashing into my polyester covers. The smell of home overcame me and it was like falling in love; Hell, a part of me was ready to kiss my pillow passionately but (thankfully) it was no match for the part that desired to sleep. I stretched out each limb with satisfaction, feeling the aches of the day slowly fading with each crack my bones emitted.

That night had been particularly horrible, the customers weren't more numerous than usual but somehow I had ended up on dish duty. There are many more miserable things in the world one would assume, but as if God himself had made me into a dartboard and hit with deadly precision, a pipe broke. As a result, water streamed in torrents from beneath the sink whenever it ran, soaking my only pair of wearable shoes and gifting me with coin-dollar sized blisters that I could feel pulsate as they slid against cool, inviting sheets.

I got a bonus today.

I feel that was the only thing that kept me going. My eyelids couldn't have opened even if I wanted them to but my sore… well, everything, kept me from the world of dreams. But it was okay, tomorrow is Saturday and neither school nor work haunted me. I would sleep all day, as I always did.

Today took a lot out of me, but there was light and warmth and ramen in the microwave, sometimes if it got too cold I could crank up the oven and heat the whole one room apartment enough to make it through another winter night. Without this job, all of that would cease to exist, without this job, I would be declared unfit to live on my own and be placed back into state custody before I could find another interview. Without this job…

I think that's around the time I finally fell asleep.

))))))))))))))))))))))))

The weekend never lasted long enough.

But you already knew that. I don't remember having gotten out of bed, sure there were moments when I found a much-needed cup of ramen in my hands but the before and after were beyond my comprehension. As the night faded away my feet screamed in protest while they dragged me up a well-known hill. Everyday, up and back the same exact path, I fell into a system that ran my life from my teachers to my dreams, I had lost control.

My vision hadn't been acknowledging things for what they were as they should have, it was too easy to disregard the details of each trip and time would seem to just leave me behind.

Today (I've been saying that word a lot lately) was different. After all, even the mundane state that had consumed me could not shield the red.

A brilliant, electric red.

It took a moment to register, as if a beacon in the dark I followed blindly after it… or had it simply been heading in the same direction I had? I got my answer when my mind caught up with my eyes and that splash of color became recognizable as a messy head of hair. There was only one person I knew who sported such a dangerous shade in this faded hell-hole. I froze in my tracks. In these past two weeks not once had I seen Subaku No Gaara blazing on my trail.

I wasn't sure what to do, the impending doom that remained from the prior week kept me at bay. Now I couldn't even feel safe walking to school, how had this guy become such an assertive aspect of my life when I hardly knew him? I never cared about avoiding confrontation before, in fact I often fed off the flames of anger Sasuke gave to me regularly. It's just with Gaara, no matter what I said or did, even when his eyes flared with promises of death, behind that mask was…

Nothing. He felt nothing. And it terrified me.

Enough to run the risk of being late to school, in fact it was beyond a risk. I refused to take another step until that mess of hair was clear out of sight. It took longer than I had anticipated, just watching it grow smaller as it was wisped away into the distance. I was so jittery I really didn't know how long it had taken but as soon as the world around me returned to grey I began to, once again, walk along.

I had wasted precious time in this stupid charade, my fears were starting to interfere with my everyday life and there were no excuses for the way I was acting. I said that then but when under the scrutiny of sharp mint eyes it was a lot harder to recall that reasoning. I knew that logic would escape in his presence, I could only mentally prepare myself for it.

That wasn't going well at all, hence, why I have rekindled my desire to avoid the individual that threatened my sanity.

Sounds like a plan.

)))))))))))))

There are countless situations that the average high school student might wish to avoid; an unexpected encounter with an ex, this of course being in the circumstance that one is still single and has nothing to boast about to make themselves seem to be a loss for the other. There's also the impending doom of a pop quiz, depending on the intensity of the teacher, such a situation could knock several points off one's overall grade, rendering them possibly failing the nine weeks. Good God, what a nightmare.

Then of course is the phone call home, the one you don't know about until you arrive to your parents (had you any) waiting with disappointed grimaces on their faces. Although the situation I found myself buried in may not have been worse than all of the above combined to some, but under the circumstances I sure would have traded for all three.

Unfortunately, my uncontrollable course of actions from this morning came back to haunt me as things usually tended to. Being my third unexcused tardy of the semester, I was sentenced to something so vile, so gut-wrenching, it just may have been the final blow to finish me off. I still can't tell in my haze whether I am still alive or did in fact die only to end up in hell.

In school suspension.

Laugh if you may, to compare a day of ISS to hell may have been a bit much especially in relation to the circumstances of my past. I however do not care, because once again the almighty creator of the universe grounded his thumb down on me and I was forced to endure my punishment alongside the cause of it.

Yes, Gaara was here too, albeit for entirely different reasons. The redhead was sentenced to serve with me because he had chosen today, this specific day when I was late (because of him) to break our principals most sadistic (I'm sure she enjoys this one) rule.

The dress code.

They were nice pants okay, a bit tight in some places but it obviously never bothered him. They were scarlet in color with a loose chain rattling against his waist as he walked. What got him pulled aside and slapped with ISS was the rips traveling horizontally from his ankles to his upper thighs, even I was able to take one look and dub them not school appropriate.

I wondered vaguely if they were girls pants, the thought only occurred because I had never known a man to willingly show off his thighs no matter how seemingly smooth and pale they were (not that I was staring, wait, did he shave?).

Using my uncanny reconnaissance abilities I gathered that this was also the third time that the redhead had been threatened for violating the dress code (in a little over two weeks? Quite the rebel). I guess I was always too busy looking at his slicing eyes to notice his bared skin until that moment; that moment of course being when my heart stopped beating upon his entrance.

Oh fuck.

The day was topped off with whipped cream and a god damn cherry as I discovered the two of us were the only ones suffering that day. There would be no note passing, no subtle facial gestures to amuse myself with. Unless of course… He dead-panned me and I felt bugs crawl up my spine…

Never mind.

I wonder if looks could actually kill? I made a mental note to leave all my ramen to Sasuke. He wouldn't eat it, God forbid, but maybe on cold alcohol filled nights he would see it and think of me and the (painful) times we had spent together. I made a silent prayer.

The only good that seemed to come of this situation was our supervisor, good ol' Umino Iruka, a teacher I had known as far back as the fifth grade where he taught mediocre music lessons. Sometimes I find my old recorder and play 'Mary had a little lamb' with the expression of a professional, but that was my little secret. The good natured man would ensure that I was not murdered during this punishment session.

It sparked a bit of hope for survival.

I turned and froze, he was looking at me. Most people when caught staring would have turned away, whether instantly or carelessly it mattered not which, but neither came. Usually it was I that gazed but this round was lost to green. I had to look away, at Iruka, at the board… anywhere else. "So what was it this time Naruto? PDA again?"

It was casual banter, we'd become close like brothers over the years and so there was no real disappointment behind those words. "Inuzuka won't be too happy knowing you're approaching his girlfriend with romantic intent." I frowned. My last visit to this room had been completely uncalled for. I had received a free hot meal, courtesy of a good friend by the name of Hinata, and in my ecstasy at the gift I had flung my arms around her and kissed her blatantly on the cheek.

It was merely a friendly gesture but a nearby teacher hadn't thought so. I was accused of participating in a 'grope-fest' and sentenced as if such had actually happened. "No!" I huffed, "I was tardy." "Ah." To him it may have been funny, but Kiba, my football playing old friend, had grown furious after hearing I had apparently shagged his girlfriend in the halls, it took me twenty minutes to remind him that he had witnessed the whole ordeal and I never had any innuendos against her.

The brunette wasn't the most clever of his kind.

I grimaced when I saw that Gaara was still staring at the side of my head, he made my ears burn terribly. I inwardly groaned, Iruka's crude sense of humor probably left the enigma thinking I was some womanizing prat.

Thanks Teach.

I didn't even know why it bothered me, but I suppose nobody wants others thinking ill of them. I wonder how long I used that excuse for? How easy it was for me to deny back then that I was interested. In him that is, in what way I still couldn't guess, but it had always been him.

What had 'Approaching with romantic intent' really meant anyway? I guess if someone had asked me then I would have said it was asking somebody out; but hey, what did I know of romance?

"This seems to be our first meeting Mr. Subaku, I trust you'll behave accordingly and I won't have to be seeing you again after today?" My eyes pinned him to his spot as I waited for his reply.

"Hmn."

A nod.

Damn it, and I thought for the first time I would hear him speak in a way that did not leave me weak in the knees with terror. One thing I never liked about ISS, Gaara or not, was that we received all of our work at once and on particularly slow days, finishing up with assignments was quick. Today was one of those days, and as a result by the time lunch was over there was nothing to do but sit and tap my foot irritably. Unable to talk or read, not even allowed our backpacks to rest our heads on, time mulled by torturously slow.

I swear even the pleasant being that was Iruka took pleasure out of verbally appraising his thrilling book in front of us as we suffered.

Gaara must have been tormented just as much, I couldn't help but notice he had reduced himself to scribbling nothings into his desk. His pencil never ceasing I swear I watched it twitch for ten minutes, scrapes and silent curses as he switched to erase and redo whatever it was he had been pouring into the tabletop.

"Mr. Subaku, I hate to rain on your parade but are you the owner of this desk?" The sarcasm was a bit forced, Iruka was trying to establish dominance over the intimidating teen but it was an obvious failure. Gaara just blinked up at him. The sound of voices was refreshing in the dim room and I cleared my throat. "Well technically his daddy pays for it with his tax dollars." I spoke innocently, using my child voice.

Iruka's ears glowed bright red as he turned to seethe at me.

"NARUTO!"

Somehow over my horrible guffawing, I saw it. It may have been the lighting or possibly my lack of sleep. No matter the cause I did, in fact, see it.

The faint upturn of pressed and pale lips.

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Like any other teenager, I made the occasional stupid decision... Sometimes more often than others. Whatever it was that compelled me to pick up the phone was fleeting, by the time Sasuke answered on the other side I had completely forgotten what I had called him for. "What is it?" I swallowed twice, furrowing my brow. "Well, uh. I'm bored." It was a statement, but I had known the Uchiha long enough to know he would take it as an invitation. "I'm on my way." The faint click of the line going dead, I just stared at the receiver and grumbled, hanging it up.

True to form, despite it being a school night, a knock did come not twenty minutes later. "'Sup dumbass?" He walked in like he owned the place, kicking off his shoes. "You sure you can come over this late?" I felt awkward, it wasn't often I demanded the attention of the raven but sure enough, when I did, he always came. "Itachi is out of town, it's too creepy in that house with no one else there." He visibly shuddered, causing me to crack a grin, it only widened when I spotted the large bag in his hand.

"Ghosts again?" I teased, "I swear to God my mom knows I failed that science test last week, she's been haunting me ever since." His face had gone paler than usual (if it was possible) as he spoke, but I couldn't withhold the chuckles. It may have been a bit morose but it was how we had always been. After years of eating dirt it just didn't seem to phase either of us that our parents were pushing up daisies.

We cracked open the bottle.

I don't remember my parents, but everyone else does. It's been easier to not get recognized since I moved to the outskirts of Konoha, now when people see my hair they blink and scour their thoughts for no more than two minutes before forgetting I ever existed. My father was not a rich man, but he was a hard worker and a good husband. He and my mother helped a lot of people, it started out as small as soup kitchens and grew into orphanages.

Irony, I grew up in one of their child homes. The problem with trying to help junkies is that sometimes they snap, sometimes they can't take the withdrawals anymore and will do whatever it takes to get more crank, sometimes… they hurt people in the process.

The people who had only tried to fucking help them.

We sat on the floor at the foot of my bed and looked out the window at the stars. There was only a handful glittering away, the rest lost to the consuming lights of the city. "It's kinda nice." I slurred, eyelashes heavy. "It's dark." He murmured, eyes glazed over. I had been meaning to ask him… what? Red… red… oh yeah. "Do you really think Gaara is a bad person?" Obviously the sincerity of my question was lost to his wandering mind.

"I… I don't know Naruto. But I don't think it's worth risking to find out."

"Hmn."

I never got special treatment, in fact, not many knew I was the child of the founder of my orphanage. But it's okay because I made friends and I got out early and I'm going to go to college and become… something.

I fished out another bottle.

Sasuke and I had always had things in common, but unlike me he could still close his eyes and see the smiling faces of his parents. It was years ago, before we ever met, I remember it all over the headlines.

Uchiha family slaughtered.

The clan had been holding a meeting about their company when an unknown assailant broke in and massacred the bunch all together. Sasuke's brother, Itachi, had taken him out for ice cream…

To this day my good friend never touched the stuff.

But alcohol, that was a deliciously sweet, different, story. We toasted until we were no longer capable of doing so without losing our drinks. We learned the hard way, a poor bottle tap resulted in me soaking Sasuke's shirt. I vaguely remember a beating and if my bruises and his split lip counted for anything, I actually put up a fight.

The satisfaction was lost the moment I opened my eyes.

)))))))))))))))))

"OwwwwwwwWWWWwwwWWWwwwww."

I mewled, clutching my face hardheartedly. "What made you think that drinking would be a good idea on a school night?" The ever-fucking-logical Shikamaru scolded. While I was ready to rip my own eyeballs out, Sasuke was facing a similar situation only with a bit more dignity. "Shut it Nara." He hissed, cussing loudly as he had to retry opening his lockers time after time because he just couldn't get the combination right.

Luckily I wasn't as prideful as the Uchiha and let Kiba open mine for me, I put away my backpack slowly, trying not to fall over. "Was it worth it?" The dog-faced boy laughed. I stretched the only smile I could manage and gave him a thumbs up.

"Yes."

SLAM

I collapsed onto the floor. Well it appears Sasuke managed to open his locker… right into my face.

I groaned and rolled around, whining "NO! NO IT WAS SO NOT WORTH IT!" The pain was bad but it was the feeling of every thought I'd ever had bounding off the walls of my inner mind that was driving me utterly insane.

Not to mention the light, it was so brilliant I couldn't take it. How much had I had last night? Once I started reminiscing I'd completely lost track.

Fucking red.

I hissed and clamped my eyes shut, it was too much to take in this grey city. Not two seconds later I realized what I had been looking at. Maybe that's what compelled me to open my eyes and look up in horror.

He was just standing there, staring down at me. Everything hurt and now I was going to be put out of my misery. Huh, funny, even at this angle he possessed a (stunning) sort of grandeur. He raised a foot and I waited for it to crash down on me, instead the pain was almost non-existent. In fact, it never came.

Instead I was greeted with an almost innocent prod to my ribcage.

And more fucking blinking.

"Ooooow." I rolled over to look away from him, face blazing. My heart was racing and my head was pounding, altogether I felt distraught and to top it off, the foot began to dig into my spine with almost amusement.

"Hmn."

Kiss the world goodbye, I'm sure I just died.

No wait, that darkness is just the back of my eyelids. Eh. The redhead then stepped over me, it was impossible for my gaze to stray from his back as he walked away.

"Dude!" Kiba practically lifted me onto my feet, which I might add, I almost fell right off of again. "That guy is seriously weird." Shikamaru grunted while Sasuke readily agreed, I however was too busy picking a fight with Sasuke's locker door to care anymore what teenagers had to say about each other.

It was impossible to ignore the lack of murderous intent in his prodding.

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Over the course of the next week I managed to remain in relative control of my own actions. There were no surprises good or bad, in fact, things went as smoothly as ever. The occasional bicker between Sasuke and I, the amusing chide from Sakura here and there. I even managed to pull aside a whole hour after school to pick up coffee with the girls from the diner. Overall, it was a rather social week. I did enjoy the company of others, I guess being so consumed by work and school I had forgotten to take advantage of it. Even the sky stayed clear for the most part.

It was hard to find anything to complain about. No tests nor quizzes. No run-ins with green-eyed folk, I guess the smile etched on my face spoke enough about how I was feeling. Great, super in fact.

I was awesome.

I was the friggin' shit.

I even got my grade up in math, go figure! It was as if finally after all the stormy clouds there was a beam of light landing on me. There was a skip to my step that could not be withheld as work finally released me into the fresh night air, I felt genuinely happy.

I had gotten paid early, not to mention given a bonus. It seemed the boss had taken notice of the vigor I possessed while working and praised me for it generously. Even the dim flickering of streetlights could not have penetrated my feeling of invulnerability. My wallet was fat and nestled safely in my back pocket, I could feel it there reassuring me that this month I could buy soda to go with my ramen, maybe if I switched to two meals a day instead of three, I could even splurge a bit for a hamburger steak with sautéed-

Drip

What the?

Haha, I get it. Just as I was appreciating the turn of events of the last week, things had decided to go ultimately sour on me. It started with a single drop but not seconds later there were torrents of rain slamming down on me as I raced down the street. It was late, almost everything was closed save for the occasional bar here and there which I would most certainly not be going into. I was thoroughly soaked before I found a sanctuary, vaguely noting a bell ring as I entered the shop.

The lights were flickering but it was dry in the used music store. I shook off a bit and accepting that the rain would not let up for a while, decided to take a gander around. It was small and obviously did not see many customers. A fine layer of dust coated half of the merchandise and yet it gave it a sort of warm, lost treasure feel. There were countless CD's and records and cassette tapes, almost all of artists I had never even heard of.

Each case I picked up to examine only intrigued me further. I had to remind myself about the sweet satisfaction of a cold coke to fight off the urge to buy one or twenty. It was actually a disk in a paper slip that caught my attention. It had no picture just the sharpie letters scribbled into it reading 'Detrimental Disorder'.

It was only two dollars. I could buy ten packages of ramen for two dollars. But I did just get a bonus, and it wasn't often I bought anything for myself. There could have easily been thousands of albums here but the fact that this particular one had no case, no picture, no song names or companies, made me itch to listen to it. It was a struggle, but finally I decided not to buy it. If I started spending money whimsically now then I would never be able to stop.

Before I could put it back I felt something sharp catch my foot, I hit the floor hard and for a moment, everything just seemed to go dark.

It was black and the pain was immense, it didn't help that the cold of the tile floor was seeping into my skin. I realized I must have been on my back because I could feel the water pooling against me. A groan erupted from what had to have been my throat, but I was too stunned to register making it.

I must have hit my head.

Cracking open my eyes even the dim light shot arrows through my head and a groan escaped. What had just happened? Hands buried into my face I somehow once again found myself gazing up at two dark silhouettes, vision hazy, they were hard to distinguish. I'll never forget those voices however, "He tripped over the fuckin' sign, there's a fucking puddle of water and he tripped over the goddamn sign." The voice was rough and it sent pain shooting through my head. "Owwwwwwwww." Moaning, I tried to sit up, ignoring the chuckle erupting from the other outline.

"Wow, he's kinda like a little shit-luck puppy isn't he?" The same voice. Crude as ever. By the time my sight cleared up enough to register the sight before me, I was convinced I was in some sort of comatose nightmare. The foul-mouthed white haired man could have been considered intimidating if he didn't sport a soft look in his off-red eyes. In fact, what kicked my heart into gear was the individual beside him; after all, what were the chances of being happened upon by a very specific redhead whom you had been making a point to avoid for the past week or so?

His eyes were unnerving, boring down right into my bones. I opened my mouth to say something, anything really, but words were lacking on my moving lips. A squeak sounded out, to be honest I wasn't sure where it came from but by the looks of the two gazers above it had been me. Staggering, I attempted a heinous climb to my feet, head dancing and shoulders heavy it was quite the feat. I would have ended up right back where I had started if two sturdy arms hadn't found their way around my waist.

They kept me on my feet and my sharp intakes of breath only rattled against that solid grip. My head throbbed, if the sensation of it all hadn't been so severe I might have retracted from the cool touch but my lack of senses left me sinking into the secure build.

"Shit, he hit his head pretty hard," That suave voice again… "What do we do?"

"We should sit him down in the back."

Something cool, like water flowed through my ears. It was a kind voice, malice nonexistent as I felt that chest rumble against me.

We made our way, I don't know, somewhere. Eyelids slipping closed I just went with the force that urged me forward. Somewhere in the back of my mind I fought the instinct to run, everything I had been striving for since that fucking Tuesday morning dissipated as I traveled willingly away with the bane of my existence. Where was he taking me? Why was he here? How hard had I hit my head? Where the fuck did those platypuses come from? Oh, that's just a poster, never mind.

Maybe keeping my eyes open was unnecessary, Gaara was firm with his direction and it was hard to even mentally resist it. When I somehow ended up in a chair (cushioned, I might add), it was both a relief at the stable support and a disappointment at the lack of… I don't know, touch maybe? My head pulsated and I bite my lip to suppress another wail. "I'll be right back."

True to his word, the platinum haired man left and returned, pressing a cool packet of frozen peas into my head. "Where am I?" I complained, trying to take a look around the dark room as I held the bag in place. "Relax dumbass you hit your head." If anything I realized that one had quite the mouth on him. Swear words never where far behind when he chose to spoke, and it was almost amusing, if that is, I could find anything at that moment amusing.

He disappeared again and I forced into yet another situation where the redhead and I were alone. He blinked at me, it seemed all he ever did was fucking blink.

He had spoken just moments ago, I had heard him! It was almost nice… so why did he stand there with his hands buried into his pockets, saying nothing? I was in the dingy back room of a music exchange store while holding peas to my head after suffering an ill-fated fall beside a quiet individual whom I had been going out of my way for weeks now to avoid.

Life was just so damn peachy wasn't it?

"So dumbshit," That voice again, "The boss says you should sit back here for a bit until you're feeling better." The words were sharp but implied sincerity. "Just be careful okay? Gaara will stay here with you." It wasn't until weeks later I learned that the mans name was Hidan and that his boss, the owner of the small store, was a money hungry music lover by the name of Kakuzu. The room I was brought to was an employees lounge, to this day I have no idea why they had frozen peas on hand but they sure proved useful.

Back then while I gritted my teeth I couldn't care less about those details. I mean, Gaara was there, if I reached out my fingers could have grazed his skin. It had been so surprisingly cool, how I managed to resist is beyond me. Perhaps at that point I was still shaken from the stories that had surprisingly only grown more powerful with time.

Heart thudding much too loudly, I thought back to what brought me here. Rain, a simple escape and I had fled right into the arms (literally) of my assassin (as I had then viewed him). It wasn't for many years that I realized how fucking stupid I was being, entertainment for kids purged their minds of sensibility and replaced it with a state of paranoia, turning everyone into either an emotional wreck or a conspiracy theorist. It was a terrifying generation, with novels of murder and romance and romancing murderers, at that age it seemed perfectly logical that the man before me was capable of killing me.

In a way he was, but then again, anybody could. I wasn't exactly a hard target if my lack of ability to stay on two feet counted for anything.

It felt like forever until my mind began to stop spinning, the new clarity left me sitting stock straight, head high, hands gripping my knees in order to stop them from shaking. It did little. Biting the inside of my lip, I tried to look anywhere but Gaara, eyes finally landing on a light bulb hanging from the roof. I could only imagine the sight it must have made, certainly the bag of frozen peas settled whimsically on my head only pushed its comedic value further.

Was my eye twitching?

My gazes darted back to the redhead and froze on him. He was smiling, not happily but with mirth as he watched me. Okay, this time for sure, he was going to kill me. We were alone, there were no witnesses, only a quiet dull room in which a murder could easily take place. The man walked over to me with intent, of which type I wasn't sure. My heart sped up and I held my breath, closing my eyes.

Goodbye Sasuke, you were always an asshole.

"You look ridiculous."

A cool hand brushed my forehead, forcing my eyes open. His skin was so insipid, the proximity heated up my cheeks, the moment seeming to freeze. Like a photo it etched itself into my memories and to this day I can close my eyes and still see it.

Fingertips surprisingly soft, reality came crashing back as he grabbed the bag from my head and lifted it. Amusement was evident in his eyes as he walked away, leaving me speechless.

Even after I found my feet enough to walk home, my face still burned. Curling into bed, the color had not resided, I was almost positive that had I looked in the mirror, I would have rivaled even the flames Gaara possessed. I could not explain how it was that I felt, for I did not understand. My head still throbbed but it did not keep me from caving into sleep, heart racing.

Was this still terror?

))))))))))))))))))))))

It was Friday, though I never left my bed. The heavy weight in each of my limbs pinned me beneath the covers despite my struggles. Pain, so much pain it was hard to even groan, yet somehow I managed. The weeks of working rushed back to me along with the chill from the icy sheets of rain sent my condition spiraling. Had I really been in such a good mood that I hadn't noticed this cold creeping up on me?

Then again the times when I was dumbly happy were so few and far between I completely understand how the occasional hacking or episode of shudders had slipped my mind. Now that I thought about it, I had been coughing quite a bit and yet it never occurred to me. It didn't help at all that my head was sore from the fall I had taken and my heart could not calm down from the gentle graze that still burned where it had touched me.

I sighed heavily and rolled over to bury my head beneath my covers. It was really cold but I could find no will to get up and turn the oven on, even the promise of warmth fell deaf to my feeble legs.

Damn it! Crushing my eyes shut I whined loudly, it filled the silence in the air and yet only for my ears. It was torture, each minute felt like hours and each hours like eternity. I woke at the crack of dawn and since then had been curled up against the wall. Fleeting between feverish dreams and nauseated waking, when a loud nock at my door rang out I almost blew chunks. Clutching my stomach I was momentarily grateful for my lack of eating, there was nothing to spew.

The knocking persisted but if I couldn't make the leap to turn on the stove, the front door was practically across the globe. "Dumbass I know you're in here!" "Naruto! Open the door!" The voices were that of Sasuke and Sakura. Happiness momentarily flooded over me, it was nice to have people miss you when you were absent. I also realized that it was already past four for them to be out of school, which meant I was supposed to be at work.

Shit.

Days like these were good ones to have medical insurance, something which I did not.

I slid out from under the covers, the cold swarming over me like a plague. I hissed as I rolled onto the floor, groaning. "Naruto!" "I'M COMING DAMN IT!" I yelled, the room spinning as I tried (and failed) repeatedly to get to my feet. Finally after a few tries I knew it would not happen, so I proceeded to half crawl, half drag myself to the door. The shouts kept coming but varied in words (and swears) until finally I reached up and unlocked the deadbolt. It was all I could muster before falling back to lay on the freezing vinyl flooring.

"Ow."

Why the fuck did I always end up on the floor? Was their a sort of conspiracy against me that demanded I need to be at one with the earth? Was there a flaw in gravity and I somehow as weighed down more than others? Before I could begin theorizing a magnetic field between myself and the core of the planet the door opened, ramming into my ankle.

"Sonofa-"

A bag landed on my face, cutting me off. "Why are you on the floor?" Spoken like a true charismatic, Sakura's delicate pink eyebrow risen on her (large) forehead. Sasuke was equally fabulous (sarcasm my dears) with his hands buried into his pockets and a grimace plastered on his face. "Why aren't you? The floor is fuckin' amazing." I drawled, rolling over to curl in on myself. A hand moved the bag from my face and pressed itself into my forehead. I almost scowled at the sharp difference between that touch and the one before.

"Fuck he has a fever." The atmosphere turned tense as my raven friend helped to lift and walk me back to bed. He laid me down while Sakura started opening what smelled like amazing food from a container she had brought. "So what are you two doing here?" I grumbled, eyelids heavy. Sasuke rolled his eyes and fluffed my pillow, something that if I had witnessed from the point of view of a bystander, would have been hilarious. "You're never absent and you never skip work." He huffed, forcing me to lay down despite my nose wanting to drag me to Sakura's side. What was that delectable smell?

"You stopped by my work?" A quick nod. "We were worried I guess. And looks like we were right." He patted my head gracefully, eyes full of sympathy. I didn't need it, sure I felt bad but there were worse things than being sick. I was just one person and the world would not cease to turn if I hadn't made it out of bed that morning. I just hoped that the boss back at work wouldn't think I took my bonus and split. Just the thought of belonging to the state again caused me to cringe.

"We were all worried." Sakura chimed, bringing me a steaming plate of what I could only guess to be home made meatballs with mozzarella and toast. "Sakuraaaaaaa!" I drawled happily, sitting up the best I could for her to place it on my lap.

It smelled like a warm summer night.

I dug in but had to more than halve my usual pace, the nausea was hitting again with no trace of remorse. "You've been pale all week, I should have noticed." The Uchiha had a really bad habit of blaming himself when things got sour, personally it was nice to see him humbled and yet the concerns troubled me. "I was feeling fine, I guess the rain just took a lot out of me." I mumbled, mouth full with probably the best meal I'd had in months. Looking out the window, it seemed as if the cold world had been forcibly separated form this room, the feeling of warmth surrounding everything as my pink haired companion lit the stove and let it radiate.

My two closest friends beamed and I couldn't stop from grinning back.

They were probably the warmest in the room.

It was nice to always know there were people that no matter how tough life got, how stressful work was or how hard tests were… you could always fall back on them. I loved them both, they were the answer to everything, always had been. I watched the sun disappear from my window to be replaced by a stark darkness, I don't know how long we sat and laughed at trivial things but each moment was a gift.

They were the definition of what friends were supposed to be.

Of course it was impossible to disregard a different woman in my life. She must have known I was in distress because it wasn't long until Sakura was answering my door to reveal Ino herself, hair let loose and cascading down her slender shoulders.

"Naruto!" She cried, running to my bedside and leaning down to give me a rather rough kiss on the cheek. "I was so worried when you didn't show up for work." She bleated, fixing my (must have been) tussled hair. I laughed at her doting but still my heart swelled. My small apartment was over-flowing and my head throbbed like a mallet had been taken to it repeatedly and yet as I fell asleep, my dreams kept me warm long into morning.

))))))))))))))))))))

I should have noticed how hard it was for me to open my eyes… still my head pulsated in agony as I slipped out of bed, wobbling on my feet. The counter approached far too soon and I groaned as it hit me in the stomach. "Sheesh…" I complained, leaning against it. I found my way to the thermometer and took my own temperature.

My fever was completely gone.

Then where had this pounding come from? That gravitational pull which drug me to the ground… why did it persist? Why did my eyelids sag mercilessly, it was nearing noon and I had been sleeping away the whole morning so why was I still so tired? My fever was gone… so why?

I shuddered as I sat down against a wall, desperate to stay out of bed yet suffering from a lack of chairs. I rubbed my eyes, taking a few moments to register the patter at the door. Legs feeble, I stood and made my way to the door, fighting the urge to spew as I leaned again the wall by the door. I felt like I had been drinking, hand flailing to unlock and open the (unusually) heavy door.

Nothing registered after that, perhaps the quick movement was what sent me spiraling. However it happened, the fact was that there were soft warm arms there to catch me. My legs were worthless, knees weak it was as if I were floating.

"Hey… Are you okay?"

The words were far away, they were simply irrelevant to me.

"Naruto?"

Huh… I wondered how he knew my name.

After that I fell into black, engulfed by the strong arms that lifted me into the air.

I don't know how long I had been laying there but when my eyes slid open, I was blinded by white. White and red. "He's up." That rough voice drawled, eyes never looking away. He spoke to someone for a bit, she was wearing white too.

It didn't take long to realize I was in a hospital bed.

The woman took off, she must have been a nurse, because this was a hospital.

My breath hitched.

A hospital I didn't have any insurance for; and I certainly didn't posses the cash for any of this. My throat grew dry as I groaned, Gaara himself sitting at my side.

"I got your address from that Inuzuka guy at school, came to see if you were okay after your fall."

So many words mingling together, so dry and yet rich, I felt absolutely no fear, only reassurance. "It was just a fall, I'm fine." A frown formed on his ethereal face, a hand coming up to rest his chin on. "So a concussion is fine?" I stretched out on the cot, any discomfort harbored in the school halls faded. "I have a concussion?" A firm nod and I sighed heavily. So if a 24 hour bug wasn't enough, I topped my weekend off by suffering from a concussion.

"Did you really just visit me to see if I was okay? Just like that? For the hell of it?" I accepted a juice box offered to me by the returning nurse. She checked my vitals and gave me a couple of pain killers, instructing me to take them. I did so as I listened to the redheads story. "No. My boss made me check up on you. The idea of having a lawsuit on his hands suddenly made him a fucking saint." I laughed at the thought despite Gaara's look of dismay. "If I filed a lawsuit for each time I fell on my ass I'd have medical insurance."

My eyes were closed and I had the most convincing smile I could muster on my face. It was bittersweet humor yet true. Even now conversing with the object of my previous terror lost it's flare as the horrifying thought of how long I would have to stop eating to pay for this swarmed my mind. "Except you didn't fall on your ass…" That gaze pinned me to my spot, it heated up my cheeks and made my palms sweaty. "You fell on your head."

Was that concern I heard? I suppose it was possible, nobody wanted a lawsuit on their hands. If the owner suffered than in turn, the employees did as well. In a way, he must have been mulling over the fact that I could be taking money directly out of his pocket. The thought made me gulp, as if I hadn't felt threatened enough by his presence already, now I could only imagine walking the halls alongside him knowing that I had been a hindrance.

I was honestly surprised he hadn't just left me for dead back at the apartment.

"I'm not going to sue." I reassured, frowning as my juice box emptied much too soon to be satisfied. Wretched contraption! I crushed it like some sort of god sending his wrath down upon society. The look on my face must have been priceless because Gaara swiftly rose a non-existent eyebrow. Huh, I hadn't noticed before that he really hadn't any. Also for the first time I became aware that the dark circles around his eyes were not in fact makeup, but a symbol of likely sleep deprivation, only he didn't seem tired or frustrated… He seemed relaxed if anything, his expression never changing as he looked around as if for a nurse.

When none were to be found, he produced a coke bottle from seemingly nowhere, offering it to me wordlessly. I accepted it awkwardly, it was impossible not to notice that it was almost half empty already. "Thanks Gaara." My face heated up as his fingertips subtly grazed my own, catching me off guard. Uncapping it I took a slug, trying to keep my eyes pinned on the bottle.

Indirect Kiss.

"Naruto?"

I coughed, feeling the carbonated sugar spew out of my nose I pulled the bottle away quickly to save it from contamination. My lips had tasted cinnamon. Funny, after all this time I had finally been graced with a new expression. Amusement, of course this was channeled at my misery. So what does that make it now? Three? Anger, nonchalance, and now amusement. How many weeks had he been roaming our halls? It was preposterous, I could make more than four times that many expressions in a single class period. I wondered if he ever really smiled or laughed genuinely, something a bit more earnest that the amused smirk he gave me two nights ago. Somehow whenever I tried to picture it the grin was always devilish and the laughter maniacal.

A tissue was handed to me and I accepted it gratefully. "So, you seem to know who I am." I blundered out, wiping at my nose. The redhead seemed to ponder on this for a moment before he pointed a single sharp finger in my direction. "It's hard not to. Are you aware of how loud you are?" I scowled but couldn't deny it. Perhaps I had just the teeniest habit of being slightly more projectile in my speech patterns than others. Only just the most miniscule, tinyyyyyyy-

"Whether by name or 'The Loud Blonde' I am sure the whole school is aware of your presence."

I blushed horribly at the accusation. "Thanks I guess." A grumble and another (more controlled) sip of coke, I wasn't sure whether I was being insulted or not. "It just means I'm awesome!" His eyes normally so lifeless filled at the statement, a lip quirking baring just a bit of sterling tooth. "By all means." I flashed a grin and relaxed into his presence. In a way I figured even psychopaths and murderers had to have some form of friends.

From what I could recall, the enigma had always been alone.

At lunch, in class, in gym, no one paid him any heed. They never attempted half assed conversation or to be his partner in whatever current project we had been sentenced with. My gut clenched horribly, of course I hadn't been any better. Even when I had gathered up the courage to say something to him it was always jumbled and held no sincerity.

Absolute worst.

"Well, you're free to go." The woman said when she walked back in, she smelled like smoke and it was hard to ignore. "Pick up your prescription at the counter and come back if you continue to feel nausea, severe dizziness, or loss of perception." It was all routine for her, but there was a warmness in her eyes.

I felt well taken care of.

I don't know what I was expecting but walking the silent white halls with the blasé man by my side was not high on the list. It was a comfortable aura despite that neither of us spoke, the lights were bright and the floors so clean they were blinding. "I'll sign you out." Gaara offered, helping himself to the paperwork. I partially grew pale, I would be getting a bill for this later and the thought made me want to rip my hair out. The redhead couldn't have known how much I was suffering internally, I could only be grateful for the pain killers I received or the agony of all this thinking would have been far too much for me to handle.

"Don't worry about the insurance thing." I swallowed and turned to see him holding the front door open for me. "I paid it cash."

There were many things teenagers found humiliating; a unexpected fieldtrip down a flight of stairs or a public announcement of ones love interest. To some it was their parents making general asses of themselves in public and others it could have been an inconveniently spilled drink staining ones crotch. In this moment, a heavy humiliation weighed down on my shoulders as he closed the door behind us. "You… you didn't…" I gawked, looking for some sort of change in his expression.

It was as detached as ever.

"Yes. I did."

He had been listening, that snark comment I had made earlier did not go unnoticed, the way my face had dropped at it's reference… He paid for me. How much was the average hospital visit? I couldn't fathom, I felt like complete shit.

"You're not going to walk home are you?"

I swallowed again, rubbing my eyes that had begun to blur over. "I… well..." "Get in." I was ushered into a white Kia Sorento, the thought of my unholy flesh touching the interior of that amazing vehicle dried my throat. "Well, uhhhh…" A hand pushed into my back, practically forcing me inside. He shut the door and a part of me wondered if this constituted as kidnapping.

Or prostitution… how the hell was I going to pay him back for that bill?

"Gaara?" I murmured, strapping my seatbelt. "Hmn?" That cursed sound again, "I'll pay you back as soon as possible… I promise I'll figure out how. No matter what I -" He cut me off with a dismissive glance before I began rambling. "Don't worry about it." What kind of person could maintain such indifference when involving such a large sum of money? I shouldn't have gone in, he shouldn't have taken me there.

Money was so fucking expensive.

"But I -" "You talk to much." it almost could have been considered a snap if he hadn't sighed heavily as he said it, leaning against the steering wheel we approached a red light. "Just don't worry about it. My dad pays me to stay out of his life, I probably have enough money laying around to not work another day until I'm out of college."

I was taken aback, not only had I never heard him say anything about his life before but his statement contradicted a lot of what I (thought I) knew about him. We pulled into the drive through of a pharmacy and I had to suffer silently as he paid cash for my prescription. It almost physically hurt to restrain my complaints. By the time we were back on the road the questions were almost overflowing, he must have seen my whimpering eyes and quivering lip from his peripheral because he sighed once more.

"Hmn?"

I was beginning to hate that exclamation.

"Why do you work? I mean, if you have no money problems…" I stumbled over my words. A week ago if somebody had said Gaara would be paying my doctor bills and driving me around I would have either laughed, pissed myself, or both. But as it stands the heater in the car kept us blanketed in warmth and I would probably let him slaughter me mercilessly at this point if it made up for the money I was costing him.

"It's empty at home." He shrugged.

Something dropped in the pit of my stomach, "Yeah…" what else was there to say?

The remainder of the ride was quiet, we soaked in the silence until even my most subtle breath pounded against my ears. Could he hear me breathing? A sense of familiarity at the situation overwhelmed me and I tried to focus, somehow the only thing of interest was that sharp profile illuminated in the now setting sun. Stricken by beauty I gazed on, the passing traffic meaning nothing to me as the fading light hit the mans mouth just right, a streak of color glinting off the smooth (now seemingly pink) flesh.

I was awestruck. Such a simple moment took my breath away in so many ways. He knew I was watching him, the glint of arrogance finding it's way into his eyes. Pouting, I turned away and pressed my cheek against the glass of my window, it was bitterly cold despite the heater.

How conceited.

Though, he wasn't wrong in assuming I had been staring. It wasn't my fault his skin was like an ecru sheet, silky and inviting. Even with the impending sleep circles engulfing his eyes he still held a haughty aura, something a bit less stuck up than my Uchiha friend and yet still his shoulders possessed confidence. For someone who had no friends and a seemingly horrid father he hadn't seemed the least bit miserable.

I flashed back to the sight of a sand colored backpack. I really had no idea what kind of person the redhead was. A good citizen who had brought a damsel to the hospital, paid their bill, paid for their prescription, and then drove them home. That same citizen walked the halls of high school shrouded in dark, gruesome stories and sported blood stained possessions.

Before me there was but a man who possessed soft features, a gentle touch and such consuming eyes. He remained focused while I only watched, as if behind a screen the picture moved before me and yet I felt I was no part of it. If I reached out would I truly be able to touch it? Would his opal skin disperse beneath my fingers? Would my eyes flutter open to see my cracked ceiling overhead and find all of this had been a feverish dream? So many questions racing back and forth but the only thing I could focus on were those tight knuckles clutching the steering wheel. Swallowing, I took this moment to distinguish that I had gone utterly mad and if nothing else, the morning would arrive with a solid white room and a well-fit jacket designed to help protect me from myself.

Because there was no way I would be in this car, letting him escort me home, if I wasn't entirely daft.

Nobody really knew where he had come from and there was but hearsay about what he had been and who he had been. Who he was. When he pulled into my apartment complex I was near reluctant to leave the warm cavern of his car. He seemed to sense my fear of the slapping night wind and took the lead, opening his door and shattering our solstice.

The first day of December left us little to be desired. Already the wind bit at my cheeks and I missed the waves of rain that fell only two days earlier. We scrambled (well, I scrambled, he sort of strode) to my door, my face paling when I found it locked. "I don't have my key with me." I chattered, teeth shaking. "Hmn." I was ready to start moping if he didn't speak in full sentences again soon.

A hand lifted to reveal my own personal keyset, ramen charm attached and all. "Sorry, I did some digging when you passed out." My whole face ignited at the thought of him going through my tornado wreck apartment. Did I have any dirty clothes laying around? What about old food? How long had it been since I took out the trash? Oh my God my maga-

Click.

The redhead opened my door for me, did he think I was some sort of woman who was incapable of opening any doors on her own? Wait, I regret thinking that, it was incredibly sexist and Ino, Tenten, and Sakura would slaughter me if they ever found out. Following him in I asked for penitence, hopefully the girls' wrath would not befall me upon our next meeting. Sadly enough, the home (if you could call it that) was in worse shape than I remembered, the paint on the walls were peeling and the vinyl floor was torn along the edges.

Cringing I took in the plain and unsightly mattress, the piles of ramen wrappers and overflowing trashcans tipping over, dirty laundry slung on the floor and by the sink.

I regretted my redemption and wished the women to find and dispose of me quickly.

The disaster hadn't mattered when it was just my close friends, in fact if they would have complained about the state of my living I would have laughed at them. Why was the redheads opinion so important? What did it matter whether or not I left a good impression on him?

"Thank you." I blushed, I'll admit it. I had been humbled and heart pounding there was no other word to accurately describe my state. He nodded, tossing my keys onto the bed and opening the door to leave.

"Later."

"Gaara."

He stopped and I froze. I hadn't meant to say his name out loud had I? He looked back over his shoulder, watching as I only stared back. "Hmn." Feeling clammy, I swallowed. I did that much too often nowadays. He left me standing there speechless, the spell I had fallen under breaking as the door shut behind him.

He had said 'later'. What did that mean? Were we a sort of friends now? By saying that did he imply that he would like to see me later or that because of our similar classes, he would be forced to see me later? I took two pills and began doing something I hadn't for the entire school year.

I cleaned the apartment.

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Getting to first period on Monday proved more difficult than usual. In my haste to not be late this morning I had actually arrived at the school half an hour before the first bell rang. Refusing to let it get me down, I lounged at an empty outdoor table, blowing heat into my palms. It was cold but the sun would soon rise and conditions would be tolerable. If we were lucky, it wouldn't start snowing for a couple more weeks, one could only hope.

As I waited for the minutes to pass, I saw him again. He seemed just as dominant as he had been on Saturday, his shoulders back and lips pursed. His eyes… I was surprised by the hardness they possessed, nothing like I had seen since our dangerous encounter in the locker room. Shaking my limbs out a bit intending to beat the cold, I approached him. It was a daring act and even now I don't know where I found the courage to do so. Despite the kindness he had shown the aura he emitted demanded not to be reckoned with.

In case you hadn't noticed yet, I wasn't very good at listening to common sense. As I got closer, I noticed something I hadn't before; on his grey shirt there were dark red splatters, from far away I thought they had been part of the design but upon closer inspection they made my breath hitch. "Are you getting into fights or something?" I rambled as he finally acknowledged me approaching.

I stood in front of him with my arms cross nervously, biting at my lip. "What are you talking about?" He rose that nonexistent eyebrow and looked me up and down. As if it wasn't cold enough the feeling of his gaze sliding along my skin drove me to shivers. "You shouldn't be fighting, I know some people are irritable or they say stupid things but-" I was cut off by the redhead walking away, shoulder hitting me as he pushed his way past. "I don't have time for this."

The words struck like lightening but there was nothing I could do. The charisma of that freezing night gave way to frustration in those milk eyes. I wondered what could have happened that left him so emotionally rugged. I had sat back down to mull over what had just occurred for another fifteen minutes before the bell rang.

There is where my real problem started. In my musings I hadn't noticed my leg fall asleep, it was virtually non existent all the way up to my ass cheek. I discovered this the hard way as I had to drag myself up two flights of stairs to Kakashi's class, cussing mildly beneath my breath as I used my hands and functioning leg to drag the limp limb along.

Somehow I made it into my desk, swearing not to complain about the much appreciated seat as the needle-like pain struck hard. "Aaaaahhhhhh." I moaned into my desk, squeezing my toes and arching my back; eyes screwed shut I dug my nails into the wood, spiting my damned leg for betraying me.

"Are… are you okay?" Glancing up I saw Sasuke's face wide-eyed; was that a tint of pink dusting his cheeks?

"My leg is asleep." I huffed, chewing bitterly on my arm to satiate the pain. "Ah…" He gave an innocent cough right before his expression turned dangerously serious. I was beginning to hate that look. "Why are you bleeding?" Confusion swarmed me as I demanded for him to elaborate. "You have blood on you." I followed his pointing finger to find a sticky red substance spotting my shoulder. Collecting the stain on my fingertips I sniffed it. I was hit with a very distinct coppery odor…

It was blood.

I stared in horror down at the shoulder that Gaara had bumped into earlier.

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Sometimes he would curtly nod my way, it bothered me honestly. All attempts I made to speak with him

were thwarted by either Kiba, Shikamaru, or Sasuke himself. It wasn't as if I was diving into an unknown abyss, well, maybe. He had to have been a kind person to do what he did for me. No matter how I looked at it I could not dismiss Saturdays actions just because Gaara had gone through some unknown ordeal by Monday. How many times had Sasuke sent my ass scurrying away back when I first attempted to befriend him anyway? No way to be sure but I was certain I would run out of fingers trying to count them.

At first I had been confused, as I found myself usually, but all that resolved that following Friday. Any doubt remaining from that unpleasant shove dispersed with a single gesture. An act of kindness one might say. It sent my heart fluttering away into the grey sky and I felt almost like a schoolgirl.

A cold afternoon I stood just outside the school walls, staring at the breath that gathered at my mouth. It was practically amusing, lips 'o' shaped I stood there like a half-wit just breathing.

Inhale.

Exhale.

Inhale.

I couldn't exhale anymore, not when those red flames appeared as if from nowhere and settled themselves directly in front of me. Gaara's eyes seemed focused on my mouth (that still hung open by the way), he seemed to only watch, something about him that rubbed me the wrong way. He needed to talk more, maybe if he did people would realize he was relatively a normal guy, just trying to get along in high school.

"You're not breathing."

I felt my face go up in flames as I shut my gawking mouth, exhaling heavily through my nose. He had been paying attention to that of all things? "Sorry." Stupid! Stupid to apologize for me not breathing, where the hell was my head? I should be walking to work by now but instead I stood my ground and let myself be flustered by an elusive bi-polar (rather attractive) man.

A bag was almost shoved in my face, brown and made of paper it crumpled beneath my fingers as they accepted it. I gave the green-eyed man a curious glance but his expression revealed nothing. "What is it?" I was getting sick of that eyebrow (still no eyebrows, I can only say it so many times) raising as if observing a slice of insanity. Wait, I forgot, I've already accepted the title. Great. "Open it." I grimaced. Of course, open it. Why not? What could the bag possibly contain that could harm me?

I reached in practically blindly, producing a small paper case.

Exhale.

"Detrimental Disorder."

I gaped at the disk in my hands, it seemed so faded in the cloudy December afternoon and yet the cool plastic pleased my fingers. "You were holding that when you fell. I put it aside after you left but I forgot about it." A shrug.

He had thought of me, since that moment I walked out of the family owned used music store until this in which I clutched a coverless CD. "You bought it for me?" My voice shook, it was two measly dollars, why did my heart race like a thousand horses stampeding a summer beach? "Of course." Eyes watery from the nipping wind, I looked him in the eye.

If I couldn't breath before then I must have been dead because sparkling in those mint orbs was a new emotion, one yet to have graced my presence before.

Satisfaction.

I couldn't keep the grin from my face, it ignited like a flame and spread as a wildfire, had the redhead been any other human in the world I would have launched myself into their arms. Even if I wasn't still somewhat afraid of his temper I couldn't have taken such action, there was something repelling about his personality and I honestly didn't like that. It's hard enough to find companionship as it is I could only imagine having antisocial mannerisms.

"Thank you. You've done a lot for me." I admitted, eyes locking onto the sharpie scrawled letters. "Hmn." "Is that all you ever say?" I couldn't keep the words from spilling out, the minutes were ticking by and I could feel my feet grow restless. I should have been walking to work. It was only getting colder and stock still I stood. "Is their anything else I need say?" "You're welcome I guess." I huffed, this time focusing on his visible short puffs of breath.

"You're welcome."

I sighed but chuckled none the less. "How quick we learn."

"Hmn."

Bastard! He didn't walk away but to be fair neither did I. It wasn't until the tiniest white flake landed on my newfound treasure did our moment be destroyed. We both looked up and were greeted with a drizzle of white. Captivated we stood and watched it cascade down like glitter, blinking as I felt it gather in my eyelashes.

Something told me by his gaze that Gaara had noticed as well, though as usual he made no comment. I could see it in his eyes, he was going to leave and yet something inside him searched for a reason not to. Maybe I was reading into things or maybe he really did crave my company, either way I did something I never would have thought possible.

As he turned to leave I clutched at his sleeve, stopping him in his tracks.

"Do you think…" I swallowed heavily. "You could give me a ride to work?"

He blinked back at me then half scowled, making my heart sink. "I walked to school today." It was a simple statement and suddenly I felt truly stupid for even asking.

What a damn mooch. He pays my hospital bill, my prescription, and even buys me a CD I wanted but had not been willing to buy myself, now I go around demanding rides. It was ridiculous. I let go of his arm and looked at my feet. I could not find it in me to meet his eyes again, all I could do was begin to walk away.

"I can walk with you."

It was so cold but my face kept warm as he took a pace beside me. What was happening? The world kept turning but to me it stood still. "You don't have to." "I know."

He never strayed from my side.

The snow had come early this year.

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The two of us entering the restaurant together had turned heads. I couldn't blame anyone, we contrasted as sharply as cat and dog. The sight of us side by side must have been interesting if anything, of course Ino would be interrogating me later. She did after all go to my school and surely had heard the rumors surrounding the blasé boy. He left me there at the door, with merely a nod in my direction.

He was so subtle about any and everything he did, it gave him an aloof character and it was far more charming than it should have been. He acted as though the things he did for me were nothing and though to him they may have been just that, I knew that in my life no matter how old or senile I became I would remember those acts of kindness.

I would take them tucked away in my heart all the way to the grave.

For the next two weeks I had faced trial and adversity. Despite how easy it was for me to happen upon the redhead when I had been desperate to avoid him, now that I practically sought him out before and after school he was nowhere to be found. When I managed to catch sight of him he was separated from me by a crowd of testosterone driven teenagers. It was absolutely frustrating, shoving through the swarms only to find him having moved along.

The one time I had spoken to him had been me ambushing him at his locker. The bell had yet to ring and he seemed bored so I took it as an invite for company. He did not seem put off by my presence but like every other day before he spoke little. I took the time to rant to him about my week, this time not scared shitless as I rambled about Sasuke being a duck-butt-face and Sakura having amazing cooking. He listened to the most meaningless things from my flapping mouth and never once did he complain, never once did he grow angry or command that I 'talked too much'.

The five minute conversations (practically one-sided) occurred every morning and were stolen away by the bell, our seats being located across the classroom from each other I had been forcibly separated from his side. To be honest I was glad it was that way, he seemed to preoccupy my mind a bit much and studying may have been difficult if I had a clear view of his sharp (inviting) profile.

He never sought me out, I wondered sometimes if he had no desire to or if he simply knew I would always find him out first.

It was getting easy to grow sick of this public school atmosphere, even my most dear friends could not withhold their expressions of repulsion each time I bid them farewell to hunt for the redhead. Through our rushed conversations I learned that I was in fact the only friend he had made at this school, or at least I was sure that's what we were. We had to be, wasn't that what friendship was? Two individuals enjoying each others company and therefore choosing to utilize it?

Anyway, to build on my point, others in the school began to notice our interactions. It began with raised eyebrows but as Christmas break drew nearer, it developed into not so silent whispers.

It was like that first day all over again.

I wanted to piss them all off. I needed to, how dare they all stand aside and judge me for my personal life. Sure some days Gaara seemed more irritable than others, at times he sported blood on his clothes and there were moments in which his mood was so foul he wouldn't even grace me with his usual grunting acknowledgement. But he never sent me away, never ignored my subjective rants or dismissed me. That was all the encouragement I needed, perhaps I could even cheer him up on those mornings where even his hair looked electrified with tension.

Somehow during our fleeting meet ups I had actually grown a set of balls; the morning of the last day before Christmas break Gaara had been almost happy. I don't blame him a bit even I was thrilled to leave these grounds for two weeks, despite I would be spending the majority of them working full days. Instead of parting ways at the bell I had followed him into our first period, never halting in my sporadic chatter. He was almost surprised that I accompanied him right to his desk, going on and on about how I was positive my neighbor thought I dealt drugs out of my apartment for the first few months I lived there. He did not appear bothered by this but the eyes of the whole classroom settled on us.

As much as they burned into my back I pressed on, adamant about ignoring them. Sometime during the stares he caught on, growing solemn as realization dawned on him. "You can go sit down if you want." He offered softly, words I knew belonged only to me. They did nothing but fuel my flames of disdain at my peers. "Well, I guess. Class is about to start." Feeling daring, I acted before I could convince myself not to.

I leaned down and gave the prudent redhead a one armed side hug. "Do you always have to cause havoc?" He drawled, tensing under my gesture. I grinned toothily and spoke through my teeth. "Gotta leave a trail right? Or how else would I make sure you knew my name?" His stiffness dispersed before I let go, something I noticed and tallied in my head mentally.

One look at the surrounding faces with their slack jaws and victory was mine.

As I sat down I noticed it also didn't hurt that my arm still radiated his softness, if anything, that was just icing on the cake. Back then I didn't appreciate the fact that Sasuke had missed the scene, somehow only making it to class seconds before the bell rang. I could not have foreseen how he would react to my course of actions, despite his prior warnings.

Boy was he in for a spectacle later.

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Disgusting, beyond repulsive. There weren't enough foul words in the dictionary that could describe the heinous monstrosity that was placed in front of me. No wonder the government had no qualms about giving out free lunch, if anything they were probably using the student body masses as a large system of garbage disposers. For those who had money to spend each day, there were canteens and venders where a nice hot and possibly even fresh meal could be purchased. Sadly for those like myself who could not spare the cash for a third meal in his day there was the cafeteria food.

It probably wouldn't have been so bad… if they had fed it to us a month earlier when it was still unexpired. I made a face at the lady who served me, something she was used to and took in stride, not even halting in her droning work, arms moving out of habit more so than effort. A feeling I experienced walking to and from school every morning, up and down the same hill-

I was becoming repetitive lately. Wait, had I already mentioned that?

My usual table awaited me. At it sat the three stooges, aka, Sasuke, Kiba, and Shikamaru. That was also something I had done everyday. Feeding off of this mornings adrenaline, my eyes sought out red, it was not difficult. I almost rolled my eyes as I observed my pale companion sitting by his lonesome at a table beneath a tree. It might have been crazy, eating outside in the snow but as we've already established, I'd completely lost it.

I wondered what went through the minds of my table as I passed them, dead set on a new path. My feet felt numb walking it, for it was unfamiliar territory yet I forced them on. Genuine surprise passed over Gaara at my arrival, plopping my tray down across from him. "'Sup?" He said nothing for a few moments, I took the time to pick eerily at my soggy meal.

"Why are you sitting here?" The man finally voiced, brow furrowed as he seemed contemplative. I had already come crashing into his life once and now for the umpteenth time I rolled around again, shaking things up. "I can sit wherever I want." I stated haughtily, noticing from the corner of my eye the flabbergasted looks of my table-mates through the glass doors. "Hmn." A smile spread on my face and I went into a rant about the disgusting sludge I was eating.

It was something I could get used to.

Me talking and him listening, not caring what others had to say for once. It was a shame it had taken so long for me to realize it. Christmas break fell on us much too soon and despite my hated for school I was almost crushed at the thought that I would go two whole weeks without the company of the silent man. What I would have given to have that not even a month ago! Dartboard once again, I sighed internally. It just seemed I could never get things quite right. I made a mental pact that when the break ended, I would sit at this table everyday. I saw the others almost every class period but my time with the redhead was so limited, surely my guy friends would understand.

Though I'll admit, it's hard to ignore the stony glare of an Uchiha man.

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I was exhausted, the holiday rush had hit the diner full force and it left my poor feet weeping. With school not being an issue I was able to work full days, from ten in the morning until eight at night I prowled tables and served customers hand and foot. Not only standing all day but rushing back and forth took its toll on my lower back and thighs, rendering me nearly a sobbing mess each night I arrived home since the holidays began. It was only Wednesday and Christmas approached fast on my heels, it was too much for one person and yet I forced it all down my throat, though I was quite ready to snap when a customer knocked over a cup of boiling coffee… onto my hand.

Cussing I momentarily considered committing suicide Christmas day but brushed the thought aside when I had to restock my priorities with a massive order a rather skinny little bitch made, consisting of a meal, coffee (fucking coffee), two dessert cakes, and another slice of the house pie to go. Part of me wondered where she put it all and still managed to fit into those pencil jeans, another part figured she'd just throw it all up later or give it ten years and it'd all catch up. If I learned anything working in a food industry it's that during the holidays, human kind gorged, like starving animals they ate any and everything they could get their hands on.

I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't bitter, want to share Christmas ramen anybody?

I thought not.

That fateful day fell on a Saturday this year, that granted me with only Friday off, and I was hoping to steal two free days instead of one. There was nothing in my power that could rearrange the calendar and I had to accept with a heavy heart that I would not only be finishing today off, but gritting my teeth through all of tomorrow as well. Maybe a new years suicide, that would be a swell resolution.

Perhaps I complained too soon, despite my throbbing blisters and quivering legs, nothing could contain the spark that ignited in my stomach as I saw a head of red hair walk in and seat himself by a window. "Hey isn't that the guy you came by with?" Ino asked, exhaustion heavy in her voice. "Why don't you go wait his table, I'll take the family over there." She grimaced. I could not have been more grateful, the table she took on had four children and one mother, the thought of waiting on it made me near piss myself.

It was with a newly found vigor I approached Gaara, whipping out my tablet and pen. "Hey! What can I get for you this fine day?" I bit sarcastically, a smile perfectly in place. He turned his gaze from the snowy roads outside his window to me and my heart stopped beating. He looked almost happy to see me.

At that moment the only thing keeping me down was gravity.

"I guess it is fitting that you are quite the perky waiter." He cracked dryly, resting his chin on his folded hands. I blushed at the accusation, no way in hell I'd mention that I'd only perked up after seeing his face. "Well this is quite a joint. You get referred here by someone?" I shouldn't have really been making small talk, but I had been working for so many hours they began to all fade together.

"No, I came to see you."

Well, he sure wasn't inconspicuous was he? My face felt once again inflamed as I sputtered over my next words. "Oh… really, wow. I feel special." A nervous laugh and a hand scratching the back of my head; heart thudding against my ribcage mercilessly. A small smile grew on his lips and it was a breathtaking sight really, what I wouldn't have given to take a picture of the rare scene. I was surprised honestly. For a boy whose father had practically disowned him it seemed the Holidays made him almost giddy. I was afraid of what sort of feelings he had to have been repressing to enjoy them so much.

"I want two tall cappuccinos, a slice of decadence cake, and a blonde waiter to keep me company."

Okay, twilight zone, nice to meet you, I'm Naruto! And you must be the world I created during a bout of insanity. Fluffy white room, here I come. "I… uh…" My self proclaimed guardian angel chose that moment to swoop down and save my ass. "Oh! Hello sir of course Naruto can take a break for a bit, I got everything covered!" Or condemn me. With a wink my bubbly friend stole the order tablet from my hands and shoved me into a chair.

The relief from my aching feet was immediate and I couldn't withhold the sigh from escaping. "You kept smiling, but I could tell you were miserable." Somehow a barrier between us had been broken as I went from being waiter to friend. The momentary charismatic charm he had used to coax me into the table with him disappeared and was replaced with the same aloof attitude of the man who I had grown to enjoy. "You have a good eye Gaara, you really saved my ass. To be honest I was ready to collapse any second." It was hard to admit weakness but by doing so a moment was silently shared. "You surprised me you know." I muttered, smiling at Ino as she served the two coffees and large slice of chocolate cake drizzled in strawberry sauce.

"Hmn?"

I laughed out loud at the familiar expression, of course people could never change, only mix things up once in a while. "You were speaking so much without being coaxed, for a minute I thought you were your own evil twin." It was a silly notion but he never judged me for it, only handed over a spoon as he took a tentative bite of his own side of the cake. "I'm splitting this bill with you." I stated matter-of-factly.

"No, you're not."

I frowned, although unable to maintain my anger as a bite of that chocolate heaven melted in my mouth. "Yes…" I persisted, "I am." The coffee I always served with disdain was amazing on the palette, in fact I could not remember being quite as relaxed as I was at that moment. For a while, it was as if we were back by the lockers, me chattering away while the green eyed man listened without complaint.

We were only spared half an hour before Ino sought me out, apologizing profusely as I was torn from the table. "I'm sorry about this Gaara," I said standing up, collecting our dishware. "Let me pay half of the tab." I insisted again, the redhead narrowed his eyes in the most threatening manor. "No." And that was it. There was no arguing with the man, he was dead set as he gave me his card and receipt, eyes daring me to object. I could do nothing but mournfully charge the bill to his Visa, cringing as I realized I had somehow just sold another piece of my soul to him.

Returning the card I pouted but he was having none of it. "Naruto." He stood from his seat and faced me. "Sometimes you have to know when to accept things from others, realize that you are not burdening anyone, that maybe they want to do something for you." My throat swelled while he waved back at me, leaving me speechless and disappearing into the snowy city.

I wondered if it was possible for me to feel more pathetic.

I got my answer when I found a forty dollar tip tucked neatly in the napkin dispenser.

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Despite my discomfort the forty dollars had been quite the blessing. Without it I would have fallen sixteen dollars short of my electricity bill. The thought of spending Christmas day shivering beneath thin covers was not pleasant. After buying dinner, a nice juicy hamburger steak, I still have fifteen dollars left from the generous tip. I kept it on my nightstand to taunt me, a reminder that every decision I made concerning it had been handed to me by a man I had once judged wrongfully.

That was probably the worst part. It wasn't abnormal to feel uncomfortable accepting charity, but I had done nothing at all to deserve it. Not even been the most decent person I could be. I wonder if he ever thought I pursued his friendship because I assumed I could benefit from it. Just imagining it made me sick, burying my head into a pillow I felt my eyes well and burn.

Damn it Naruto, look how pitiful you are.

The home phone rang, my eyes widening at the sound. It had been a while since I had gotten a phone call. Itachi always took Sasuke out of the country for holidays and Sakura was kidnapped by her parents for Christmas. Kiba's sister was in town so his parents forced him to stay and visit with her, Shikamaru had gone off his dad to a seminar up north… So it couldn't have been any of them.

Still the phone rang as I fumbled out of bed and answered it.

"Hello?"

"Hey."

I froze, a smile creeping its way onto my face.

"When I gave you my number, I didn't think you were really listening."

"Hmn."

Suddenly the night didn't seem quite so cold. I spoke about nothing as he commented when he saw fit, few words embedding into my chest as I felt something I hadn't in a very long while.

"Merry Christmas Naruto."

"Merry Christmas Gaara."

I could hear the faint hum of carolers serenading from the street, it was worth opening my window and letting in the cold for. I felt as long as I held that phone I would always be warm.

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When school came around again I was much too happy about it. The holidays had been long and for the most part lonely. I didn't hear from Gaara again after Christmas, each day I watched the door of the diner but he never walked in. It was if everything had been a dream, some sort of happenings from a different world. The new year fell on everyone far too soon and to be honest I couldn't think of anything I had accomplished the year before aside from getting out of that home.

But at least that in of itself was quite the feat.

When I found Gaara by his locker he was back to his usual self, I told him about a new dessert our diner had on the menu for January and suggested he come try it. Maybe deep down I had been sharply disappointed that for the rest of the break he never stepped foot in our door. He nodded at my suggestion, implying that if he found the time he would indeed stop by. It kept the smile on my face.

Lunch was a bit less satisfying. Although Sasuke bought his food form the canteen he made a point to try and escort me back to our table. "I think I'm going to sit with Gaara again." The look on his face was near priceless, though it didn't amuse me as much as it should have. "Are you crazy?" He bit out, steely gaze locking on me. I wondered at that point when Sasuke had become another one of the crowd, when he stopped ignoring the slander of others and subjected himself to it.

"Only a bit."

I disregarded his attempts to call me back and I left the indoor eating area, the snow crunching beneath my feet. Gaara looked up as I took my seat across from him, grinning madly. "Don't you ever get cold out here?" I balked, pulling my jacket over my head. He merely stared at me, eyes occasionally slipping to my group of friends (who were watching us) and then back again.

"Hmn."

I would have to hear from Sasuke later, it was a given, but for now we ate in a comfortable silence.

As eighth period reared it's ugly head I lost my vigor, all the excitement I had to return to school dissipated and I sank back into an unconcerned void. Gym was always so boring in the winter, we never went outside and our teachers had grown sluggishly lazy. Usually they gave us the bag of balls and let us go crazy however we wanted.

On this lovely Monday (note the sarcasm) I stripped stark naked in the locker room, letting my clothes pile on the floor behind me. I was known for doing less than intelligent things, but one of those things was doubly prominent as I went to get my gym clothes from my bag. I was disappointed to find them missing.

Turning around quickly I found my clothes (underwear and all) also missing from their spot on the floor, this is when I heard the loud guffaws of Kiba. Turning red I realized what had happened. "Naruto! How do you get your ass so tan?" I went from red to deathly pale as a group of boys holding my clothes took off out of the locker room.

I'll repeat it in case you haven't been paying attention, I can do some relatively stupid things. In this moment, I chose to take off after them, yelling curses and damning them all to hell. The whole lot of us spilled into the gymnasium, drawing the eyes of every male, female, and teacher under the same roof. I watched as each individual article of clothing was tossed behind in a trial that I foolishly followed, on hand covering my crotch and the other scrambling to pick up the pieces.

The whole room was roaring in laughter and my entire body felt like it was flaming I had blushed so hard. I hated high school for many reasons and I'm sure once the reality of this situation sunk it there would be just one more added to the list. "Hahahaha work that ass Uzumaki!" A few catcalls and whistles later I had managed to collect every article, cursing and fleeing back towards the locker room. I left the laughter behind but the sight of Gaara lounging by the door caught my eye. Time slowed and he blatantly ran his eyes up and down my body, sending my heart racing.

A smirk.

"Ass." I bit, feeling the redness wash over my face once again with newfound vigor. I stormed into the locker room, unable to process the trauma I had just experienced.

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Fucking Tuesdays…

It was difficult to go through classes after such a scene I had made yesterday. Even those who hadn't witnessed the display snickered as I passed them, the occasional call of 'Drill Bit' only inflamed my ears more. It was torture, degrading, humiliating, I regretted not committing suicide on the new year, perhaps this was a sign that I should have. Kiba gave a half-assed apology, you could tell he truly didn't think there was even one necessary.

People pulled pranks all the time, that was part of being a guy. Though today was not going to be easy on me. In class I could feel the stares and each giggle I knew had to be meant for me. Agonizing, unbearable, excruciating…

"Shut up."

The room fell silent, not so much as a chuckle resounded. The voice had come from Gaara who had never even glanced up from his textbook. Heat swarmed my insides and I thanked him silently for the rescue, it seemed even after almost two months nobody was willing to risk getting on the redheads bad side. A part of me felt pride swelling, after all I had somehow become allied with the mysterious transfer student. It was a good feeling. So good a feeling that when class had ended I followed him out of the room, rambling on.

"I don't understand you." I admitted, lounging by his locker. "Sometimes you get really angry but you never tell me what's wrong, sometimes you're incredibly nice and to be honest it takes me off guard." Once again, he threw me for a loop with a rough voice. "What does it even matter?" I had noticed earlier, but the extent seemed worse than this morning. Gaara was angry again, whatever it was that happened to leave him in a sour mood was worse than usual.

"Weren't you the one who told me I had to learn when to accept help?" I pressed on.

It happened so fast it was hard to react, do nothing but freeze up as a hand slammed by my head, that cool lean body confining me as he pressed my back into the cold steel. "It's funny," He whispered, people stopping what they were doing to watch the scene unfold. "I recall a time when you ran at the sight of me." Everything pulsated in my body, his breath kissed my face and I recall that distinct smell of cinnamon engulfing me. My mouth hung open just a bit, the proximity sending thrills down my spine. "When did you stop being afraid of me?" He whispered, ignoring the audience we had managed to collect.

The moment was engulfing, eyes unable to not notice how his wet lips glistened or how his green orbs grew cloudy. My throat clogged up and I bit my lip, was it just me or was the distance between us diminishing?

"When I realized there was nothing to be afraid of."

I could see his body tense, eyes deviated away. "You talk too much." He mustered, any anger he harbored fading away. He walked off without any words, how many times did I find myself staring at that back as it disappeared into the distance? Clutching at my chest I tried to regain control of my breathing, it was increasingly difficult.

The day was strange so far but nowhere near over, I avoided Gaara at lunch, in fact, I avoided the cafeteria in general. Skipping a meal was probably not a good idea but the thought of eating with my stomach in knots was not either. I spent the free hour staring out at the parking lot, letting the snow collect on my shoulders.

I was not fazed by the cold, how could I be when Gaara's hot breath still lingered on my lips? I was confused by what I had been feeling lately, the surges of happiness were fleeting but occurred often, the source almost always being the red haired enigma.

I've mentioned before that I'm utterly mad but when I saw the Uchiha car pull into the school I figured I was suffering some drug induced illusion. Maybe I was already in the loony bin? Maybe the medication they had me on was so strong it forced me to imagine a world in which I convinced myself I continued to live.

It wasn't abnormal that Itachi had taken Sasuke out for lunch. He did it twice a week or so and I wouldn't have suspected a bad drug trip if while Sasuke was getting out of the car, his brother hadn't grabbed his arm. The raven turned to look at the elder and fought not as he was pulled forward for a chaste kiss.

On the lips.

Being released, my best friend (who I had been convinced I knew better than anyone) took off towards the school doors, never knowing what I had witnessed.

Gaara.

Sasuke.

Itachi.

I buried my face in my hands.

What the fuck was going on around me?

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Saturday was sodden with tension, the sun crawling through the sky at an impossibly slow rate. I hadn't spoken to Sasuke at all about what I had seen, a silence had settled between us and I had not liked it one bit. In fact, my mouth had gotten away from me on Friday, asking the raven to come over and spend the night at my place. He was still iffy about the Gaara situation so I was truly surprised when readily agreed.

Maybe he was as sick of this nonsense as any of us.

I had been planning to ask him about it, brothers didn't just kiss each other on the mouths. There was nothing friendly about the way their lips had met, I knew that I had witnessed something special, a moment shared between two people that belonged only to them. But the two people were siblings and had it been anyone else besides Itachi, I would have been happy for the jerk.

I wasn't as disgusted as I felt I should have been. I spent so much time musing over Gaara I had somehow failed to notice my best friend become involved intimately with his own brother. Was the redhead really becoming that much of a main factor in my life?

Is this obsession?

Thoughts of the raven and his mouth's escapades faded from my mind and were replaced by smoldering mint eyes. His lips were so close I could have stuck out my tongue and tasted -

A knock at the door forced me out of my reverie.

Cinnamon.

I let Sasuke in, my friend stretching out his arms holding onto a bag as he always did when he came over. In it was the usual, alcohol, chips, and gummies. We had known each other for years and it was obvious to anyone who bothered looking hard enough. He set the bag down at the foot of my bed and leapt in, stretching out on his back. "You're freakishly quiet, it's weird."

Tension lost I cracked up, tossing a pillow at his face. "You're still an ass, that's completely normal." A smirk and I knew he was not mad at me and the more I thought about it, I realized there was nothing for me to be mad at him about either. We were just two old friends cracking open beer bottles and toasting to a much needed weekend.

"This whole school thing sucks." I droned, leaning against his shoulder. The pale man frowned and disagreed easily, "It's not as bad as you make it out to be." I shook my head. "Wrong! It's a lot worse." We laughed as we argued playfully about anything from gym pranks (I can't believe that happened) to cafeteria catfights (damn I missed it). As the empty bottles started piling up on the floor the roof seemed so much more interesting; though admittedly it was a bit harder to focus on it. "You don't seem sad anymore." The statement caught me off guard. "Sad? Stupid people can't be sad." I laughed, trying to ignore the raven's scowl.

"Even if that were true you aren't as stupid as you want people to think you are." He tugged a lock of my hair, "No one cares that you're blonde." I huffed and took a chug of liquor. "Can you believe people used to think I bleach my hair?" More laughter. I had been stark blonde since the day I was born, at least so I was told. "They're just jealous cause you're fabulous." A hiccup escaped his throat.

"Are you drunk!" I accused, laughing haughtily. Of course we were, that was the whole point of these late night drinking sessions. "Not drunk enough, you still aren't very appealing." I playfully slugged him in the arm, falling over on his lap. "I'm sexy damn it." I groaned, sprawled across his legs. "Are you comfortable down there?" "Not at all, but I don't think I can get up."

Another fit of laughter. It was easy to forget the looks Sasuke gave Gaara, to forget the way his grey lips met those of his brothers in such an delicate way. But I could not avoid it, even if what Itachi and Sasuke did while alone were not my business, Gaara was. I made him by business, and it was my job to set things straight between my best friend and I. "Sasuke…" I approached nervously, sprawled still on him. "Hmn?" I winced at the familiar expression.

"I want to talk to you about…" I inhaled deeply, unsure of how to continue. As usual, my best friend saved my ass. "About Gaara… right?" I nodded dumbly, refusing to meet his eyes. The man sighed heavily, taking another slug. "I don't know what you want to hear from me. All I can tell you is what I honestly believe." The words were impending doom but I had no choice save to listen. He was my best friend and I owed it to him to consider his words no matter how much we may have disagreed.

"I actually came over to talk to you about the guy."

I was surprised, we both had the same intentions behind this drinking spree. I couldn't be mad about that, so I gingerly accepted it. "Neji noticed you two have been eating together." The Hyuuga was Hinata's older cousin, he already graduated but never found himself far from the school grounds. Often he would stop by during lunch and bring tidings of great joy (food of course). "So? Don't tell me all that slander reached even that hard ass?"

I snapped, I promised myself I would listen in a calm and mature manner yet it was proving difficult; I just wanted to protect Gaara from the bullshit people thought they had a right to say. "Let me finish damn it." A sharp tug to my hair and I mewled painfully. "Anyway," Sasuke huffed, continuing. "He recognized him-" "Wait, Neji knows Gaara outside of school?" "Damn it Naruto I swear to god if you interrupt me one more time I'll-" "What?"

His eye twitched and I waited for the punch to come. It did, and it hurt as I expected it to. It also worked. "He brought this up with me yesterday at lunch, before you invited me over, and he mentioned that he had seen the weirdo-" I scowled. "on Wednesday lurking around the streets, covered in blood." I frowned at the accusation. "That had to be an exaggeration." The raven shook his head, "No he said his whole shirt was soaked and it was on his face, he thought he had been attacked and stopped to ask if he needed any help."

I couldn't withhold the snicker. "What?" "Bet that didn't go well." If earlier that week meant anything it was that as much as he preached humbleness, the redhead wasn't one to admit he needed help.

Hypocrisy at it's finest. I would remember to bring this up the next time he dares offer me charity.

"He told him to get the fuck away from him." I suppose it should have concerned me more, yes I worried for the safety of my mysterious friend but I couldn't find the fear factor in the situation that everyone else seemed to stress over. "He said there was a sort of anger in his eyes that terrified him. I can't even describe his face when he saw you stride over to him and ramble on like an imbecile." Sighing, I cracked my neck, managing to gather myself up off of Sasuke finally. "And he had a problem with this?"

"What you see is a kid who is ostracized by his surroundings, you want to help him." In the beginning that would have been true, but it was the mans comfortable understanding eyes that kept me coming around. How could I even explain something like that to the Uchiha? "What we see is a friend trying to pet a tiger, cooing at him like some sort of domestic house cat." I gaped at the audacity, never once had I compared the boy to a cat. If any of my supposed friends had bothered to even ask me they would know he reminded me much more of a raccoon, only making himself known when it benefited himself.

"Do you understand what I'm telling you?" I pursed my lips and drained the last of my bottle. "You Don't want me near him anymore… do you?"

"It'd be for the best."

I don't know what compelled me, it was probably the alcohol filling my system, but my mouth ran away again. "Part of me understands where you are coming from… but another part of me is ready to tell you to just go home." His expression almost hurt to see, betrayal flashed in his eyes and I suffered immediate regret. "I know you don't understand why none of that stuff matters to me, even I don't really understand it."

The windows were laced in ice, January bearing down heavily on our shoulders, the winds making the building moan beneath it's beatings. "It just feels right. After so many years of not knowing what the hell I'm doing each day, the same fucking thing over and over… for once it just feels right."

It was hard to focus with my head swimming, relief spread over my shoulders as I saw all anger fade from those onyx eyes. "Whatever." I knew he hadn't given up yet, but for tonight I had won. Just for tonight, he spoke no ill against my redhead, we only drank and toasted and drank more. Shredding through the bags of chips and leaving them in pieces behind us, it was a night focused on mouths, satisfying the tongue and filling up the cookie cutter holes we'd been punched over the years.

I was too buzzed to care that the alcohol didn't heal the same way it used to; that only the inebriated flashes of a lucid redhead on the back of my eyelids washed away the lonesomeness.

I fell asleep without asking about Itachi, sober I could not even begin to approach accusing him of incest, near wasted attempting that would have been a horrible, violent situation waiting to happen. The most intellectual thing to do would be keep my mouth shut.

Round and round the world went and I just couldn't seem to keep up.

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Whether it had been the alcohol or my state of mind, something overflowed into my dreams and left me watching quite the bizarre scene. In all the black shrouding around me the blood seemed electric. A single raccoon settled in its puddle, chewing on what appeared to be a severed human hand.

Quite a high I had achieved, as if tumbling into some morbid wonderland I turned around to see Sasuke, handless yet dancing to a song I couldn't hear. He wore nothing at all, just tore through the room with a taller, lithe form leading him the whole way. Itachi danced the two out of my sight, leaving me alone with the dark eyed creature.

Waking up was like a much needed inhale, blinking to focus up at my ceiling I actually considered quitting drinking.

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By Wednesday things were relatively back to normal, my heart still took off when the redhead wandered too close but I had learned to force it into control. Sasuke didn't bring up anything said on Saturday night and though I tried several times, Itachi's name hadn't come out of my mouth even once. It was easy to disregard the happenings of the last week, approaching the cafeteria I was ready to sit down with Gaara and just let everything else fade away.

It was too easy to lose myself when I was talking to him.

Some people might have thought the conversations would lose their spark, with next to no participation from the man aside from his listening, others would have grown bored and gravitated to the next form of excitement. To me it was as thrilling as it had been the first time, there was something about peaking over the edge that kept me thrilled, kept me talking even when there was almost nothing left to say.

Before I could get in line to receive my free meal, a soft touch to my shoulder tore me from my thoughts.

"let's go."

I hadn't even gotten my food but it was impossible to resist the will of that sultry voice, green eyes entrapping and luring me away. "Where are we going?" The deviation from our usual path did not go unnoticed but Gaara disregarded my prodding, striding along with the utmost confidence that I would keep following.

Of course he was right, I would probably follow the bastard right off a cliff if it ever came to that.

We ended up in a corner between the end of the lockers and the doors to the back recreational area. He didn't need to invite me to sit beside him yet his hand still motioned me to the floor. I sat down without complaint and crossed my legs, taking solstice in the dead empty hallways. "It's too cold to sit outside anymore." He murmured, a warm wrapped up red bean bun was shoved into my lap. I looked down in awe at the item I had often eyed in the canteen, feeling the heat rise to my cheeks.

"Gaara-," He cut me off curtly, "I bought too much to eat, I will throw it away if you don't want it." It was a blatant lie and he made no attempt to disguise it, burying his mouth into his own steaming meal. I looked down at the aromatic bun and I sighed, once again submitting to the redheads will. I took a large enthralling bite, letting the sweet flavor warm my stomach and the even sweeter notion warm my heart. "One day I will graduate from this place, I will go to college and find my calling, so when I'm rich I'll pay you back for everything you've done for me."

He was just staring at me with wide eyes, the determination flowing from my voice. "It's a promise, an absolute, unbreakable promise." Not only would I one day find redemption from these horrible high school days, but the promise also ensured that somehow, years from this moment, I would find a way to keep the redhead in my life.

No matter what.

Back then I would have dismissed it as not wanting to ever lose a friend, even after everything that had happened it was hard for any teenager to truly grasp how much someone they hardly know could end up meaning to them in the future.

"You do that then." He shrugged, eating in silence. It didn't take long for us to finish our meals, neither moving though as we wasted away our lunch period lounging on the floor. "Do you know what people say about you?" I had been meaning to try that one for a while now but had shied away, something in the atmosphere at that moment had demanded it though. "I'm socially stunted, not deaf." I huffed at the snark reply, poking him jovially in the arm.

"Well, why don't you-" "What?" A sharp glare cut me off, forcing me into an instant swallow. "Nothing." "Hmn." He may not have seemed the psychotic murderer everyone else had portrayed him as but it would be a lie to say that the redhead did not possess a horrid temper.

His features instantly softened after the snap, it was more than an apology and I wholeheartedly took it as such. "Thank you, I know I say it so much it's probably lost its meaning, but really… Thank you."

"Hmn."

The bell rang too soon, tearing the two of us apart.

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January was entering its second half and the weather seemed to spiral into a state of identity crisis. The morning had simply been chilling to the bones and near the afternoon snow sprinkled down like the softest touch. Being ever bipolar, mother nature damned me as I left the café for home, the night already heavy over my head. The snow had faded into a hell-sent blazing icy rain, it soaked my clothes not even ten steps from the doors and I knew the walk home would be a painful journey.

I forced my feet forward and tried to ignore my soaking jacket, it proved difficult but somehow I made it quite a ways before my knees threatened to collapse. Despite the distance I covered I was internally torn to realize I still had a good four miles to get home. I would have given my left arm at that point for a car, both arms if someone threw in a heater. My legs were dead weights, long gone numb, as I pressed on my surroundings were lost to me, that is until the loud clang of a closing trashcan tore me from my trance.

Fate was as kind as she was cruel, an obvious lover of drama and serendipity. A path I walked every day, a house I passed more times than I could even guess at and somehow before me stood a brilliant flame-haired and pale man, eyes sporting surprise as they landed on me, a heavy jacket shielding him from the cruel elements. I stood soaking in the rain like some miserable existence while he walked back to his front door, stopping before he opened it and throwing me a glance over his shoulder.

"Are you coming?"

I huffed but rushed to accept the invitation, as soon as the door closed behind us I was flooded with a blanket of warmth, unable to contain a relieved sigh. I really didn't know if it was possible to survive the rest of the trek home but thankfully I didn't need to find out. Somehow I was once again happened upon by an angel, one who often sported blood stains and an unexplainable scowl.

His house was simply furnished, it really reflected his uncaring aura. The walls were bare and the sofa a plain black suede, still it smelled like fresh brewed coffee and the sense of home was overwhelming. I hadn't noticed how badly I was shivering until a still hand grazed mine, the intention was to catch my eye but I found myself fighting the urge to clutch onto it. "You should get out of those wet clothes." He whispered, skin glowing in the dim light. He held a pair of boxers and jogging pants up, I had been too busy sinking into the atmosphere to notice him retrieve them.

"Thanks." I always found myself indebted to him, he left me to change, sauntering into the kitchen and disappearing from my view. The fabric felt soft in my hands, a smile spreading on my face. I was quick to strip out of the drenched clothing, disregarding it on the floor. Standing in that living room as naked as the day I was born, the fireplace sweltered and I wished to pause that moment to relish in it forever. As I was constantly reminded, nothing quite lasted forever and Gaara's voice filled my reverie.

"Coffee or tea?" It was almost a difficult decision, slipping on the boxers I called back to him. "Coffee please." The pants came next and they embraced me gently, it was hard to ignore their faint scent of warm cinnamon, the same that clung to Gaara's skin. They were dark grey and welcoming, the thought finally dawned on me that I was wearing his clothes and something about that ignited my cheeks. I was not provided with a shirt of any sort, the pants being a size too big they rested dangerously on my hips, exposing the red boxer shorts ever so slightly. Hands on my stomach, I pinched at the skin and cursed myself for allowing such baby fat to remain there.

I was not vain, never had I once looked in the mirror and been concerned over what the ramen was doing to me. True I never got fat but I never built any muscle either, leaving my tummy smooth and childish. It was downright embarrassing and the thought of Gaara seeing me exposed in such a way sent my heart into orbit. Looking around it was impossible to ignore the almost… romantic ambiance.

He had appeared out of nowhere, holding out to me a steaming mug. I accepted it with a gracious smile, holding it beneath my nose to truly appreciate its aroma. "It's hot." He warned, collecting my clothes and walking away with them. He returned with his own mug, sitting at one end of the sofa, sipping cautiously at it. I slipped into the opposite side, back straight and rigid I eyed him keenly. He looked entirely harmless, the warnings of my friends made absolutely no sense in my eyes. How could a man with such soft hands cause harm to anything?

I vaguely considered the rumors of him slaughtering a dog in his previous town, they had to be thinking of somebody else, I'd never even seen the guy swat at a bug. Sasuke's words kept racing through my mind and I knew I had put this moment off for too long, nearing three months that I had let these words go undisclosed. "Gaara?" I pressed, hands barely ceasing in their shaking. "Hmn?" I looked anywhere else, finally resting my eyes on the flickering flames. "I know you don't like to hear it…." A deep inhale, "but you need to stop getting into fights." lip quivering I licked them, usually when I tried to delve into the older boys life he would shoot me down with a bout of rage.

"Why do you keep saying things like that?" He did not sound mad, a plus that was welcomed. If anything there was a questioning tone to it, encouraging me to press on. "I didn't want to say anything about it because I want you to know I'm not like those other people." Swallowing roughly I forced myself to meet his eyes. "I just worry about you because you're always showing up with blood on you and my friend said he saw you on Wednesday, you were covered in it!" I clenched my eyes shut and shook my head, "If you have a problem or you need help, you can ask me! I'll do anything I can."

Absolutely anything…

For the first time since I wound up in his arms in that music store, I felt a true sense wash over me that I was about to be murdered. He wasn't glaring, no, there was not an ounce of anger in his gaze. What mortified me was the toothy grin he wore, one that while not menacing, had to have meant he had in some way snapped and was going to slowly feed me through a meat grinder and bake me up for the neighbors. "Come with me." It was almost a demand that I (pathetically) jumped to follow, placing my cup on the table beside the couch.

My internal warning signs were blaring as he lead me through a dark hall, approaching the last door. I noticed it seemed a bit colder back here but that had to be because of the lack of fireplace. The door was stark white and lacking in any indications of where it might lead. Though Gaara didn't seem like the type to buy a wooden bubble lettered cutout that said 'Torture Chamber' and hang it up beside some potpourri. A ridiculous thought, how I managed to conjure these even when facing the threat of death I will never understand.

"Don't make any noise." He whispered, words so soft they floated off like feathers in a caressing breeze. I held my breath, his hand gripping the doorknob and turning it silently. Was this the end? There were so many things I had yet to do with my life, then again the redhead had done so much for me I actually considered whether or not letting him slaughter me could be justifiable compensation.

We crept into the room wordlessly, a pale hand stretching across the expanse of the wall in search of the light switch. A part of me willed him to leave it off, fearing what lay washed in the darkness of that room. It blared mercilessly, unlike the dim of the rest of the house it was sharp and bit into my retinas cruelly.

I opened my eyes, a moment later they had adjusted enough to see.

"Is it starting to make sense yet?"

Yes, it was. Everything clicked slowly and the mysterious image of the scattered puzzle was identifiable. All I could do was gape, gape and repeatedly remind myself internally how much of a fucking dumb ass I was. Murder? Torture? Fighting? Had I really drawn those conclusions when the answer made so much more sense? Stupidity and guilt overwhelmed me, I had been the one desperate to prove everyone else wrong about the redhead and even in our final moments of mystery I doubted his morals.

The room was small but empty save for a few inhabitants, the first to catch my eye being the dog that lay quietly in its bed, head wrapped in a cone and two legs bound in a plaster cast. He was missing patches of fur and the eyes that glanced up to meet me broke my heart into tiny pieces.

"People are horrible creatures, they are the only existence on earth that harms others for the pure sake of amusement and pleasure." The tone of his voice was different than I'd ever heard, he'd stepped up onto a pedestal and I suddenly felt so far away. "There was a bit of a mix up and I ended up with a ticket to a dog fight on Wednesday, needless to say this boy is the loser." I eyed the pit sympathetically, his head never rose from it's resting place on his front paws. "He'd be dead if I didn't call the cops, everyone took off running. It was a hell hole… I fought so many disgusting bodies to get to him. They were just going to leave him there, nothing more than a discarded piece of evidence." It hurt to listen, fists clenched tightly but the rage never made it to his face, ever so nonchalant.

Looking around the room my jaw went slack, cages stacked up together, each possessing different types of small animals. "Wait, so you're telling me you rescue animals!" My voice was still a sort of whisper but the energy behind it increased. "Every single time I've seen you with blood it's been an animals!" I hissed, not angry at him but at how ridiculous the situation was. I was such a fucking idiot! Those green eyes landed on me and he gave an affirmative nod, forcing me to swallow back any more raving.

"Your backpack?" I whispered, not backing down from his gaze.

"I often am on my way to or from school when I happen across small creatures such as bats, birds, and rodents, it is not uncommon for me to hide an injured one in my backpack until I can get it to safer living conditions."

I gaped, making a mental note to kill Sasuke slowly and in the most painful way I could imagine. "I am so stupid." I confessed, hiding my face in the palm of my hand. "Stupid, stupid, stupid…" Hissing, I followed the redhead out of the room, resuming our original spots on the couch.

"So that day in the locker room? You snapped because of the dissection?" He shrugged, "Not one of my better moments." Okay, from what he was telling me, the redhead was an animal crusader who had somehow gained a reputation as a psychotic murderer… makes perfect sense.

"Okay, I admit maybe everyone assuming you killed people and ate their insides was a bit old fashioned horror film," That damned nonexistent eyebrow again. "but you're genuinely a better person than any of them!" I exclaimed, excitement overcoming the shame. "Why do you let them say bad things about you? Why don't you tell anyone that you do this?" His expression never changed and it irked me, "Why didn't you tell me?" "You never asked."

Face palm moment…

"What about... you know." I mumbled, trying to hide my humiliation. "Hmn?" Damn he just had to go and force me to say it. "They said you killed a dog." After finding this newfound knowledge the story was even more ridiculous and impossible than I'd previously imagined. "It's true." Okay, now I was really confused, the man never failed to throw me for a loop. "I killed it." Frowning I moved closer, the distance closing between us as I gave him my beggar eyes. If I hadn't been so doped up on adrenaline I might have realized that our thighs were grazing, though unbeknownst to me the touch did not go unnoticed by the redhead. It if bothered him he made no attempt to draw away.

His lips were as glossy as ever, parted ever so slightly as he watched me make an ass of myself. "Just tell me what happened." Today must have been some sort of twilight experience, not only did he already say more words to me in one night than in near three months of acquaintanceship, but he dove into a story, one as worded as any other. I listened with no interruptions, clutching to every little detail as I felt myself become more and more appalled as the tale progressed.

To put it plainly without the use of humble terms, Gaara's old homeroom teacher was an asshole. He never really brought his anger issues into the classroom but he had been the redheads neighbor for the better half of his life. Sometimes you see things in your neighbors you would rather not know. After the mans wife left him, he took to lashing out frequently on the dog she never came back for. It was a miserable thing to witness every morning and night, over the fence Gaara would peek, only to catch sight of the man digging his heel into the creatures ribs, its howls shattering to the ear and heart alike.

I don't know how he held back for so long, possessing the soft spot for animals that he did it was only by miraculous will power that he did not do to that man a mirror of what he did to his own pet. It came to a point where he couldn't take it anymore, the guilt was ripping him apart and with the cover of night he leapt the fence, treats in hand he beckoned the dog to him, the poor soul broken and trustless. It's fur was so matted beneath his hands, eyes large and pleading they sought escape, a sliver of blood trailing along the hand that stroked it's head as he whispered countless apologies.

That was the moment Gaara realized that he hated humans.

It was cliché to say but the intensity that filled his eyes as he said it had me convinced, I knew then if I hadn't forced myself into Gaara's life after he helped me, he would to this day continue to disregard everyone around him. That's why he never bothered to correct anyone when they whispered behind his back rather loudly, because it kept them all away.

Except me.

Somehow to him, 'we' had become an exception.

He took the dog by the head and snapped its neck. The pain the creature was enduring had finally ended, organs too damaged for it to have survived even extensive operation.

Gaara's teacher was bad enough without alcohol, but on those nights he did drink there was no telling what would happen. That particular evening he was up all hours and had witnessed the boy commit the mercy killing. Before long he was expelled, family fined for what he had described to the court as a brutal slaughter committed by a sociopath that shouldn't be allowed to walk the streets.

Gaara's father, being a senator about to run for re-election, suggested heavily to his son that he move out of the city until his campaign was over.

The redhead told his father not to expect him to ever come back.

Somehow he found himself here in this sodden grey city on a couch next to a dead broke orphan who could do nothing but drip tears for the man he had come to care so much about.

I cared so much about.

I was not some bawling child, but the tears did come and my nose was running, I could only imagine how I looked with his face being so close. "That's stupid!" I yelled, wiping at my eyes, in my frantic flailing he had retrieved me a few tissues, a gift I accepted graciously. I took the first to my nose but it did not halt my ramblings. "You're the most amazing kind of person! Could he really not defend that!" Vision blurred it was hard to focus, but his voice brought me back.

"I try not to let it bother me."

"Well it bothers me! I swear if I ever see the jerk I will kick him in the shin! And those stupid people at school saying all that shit when they don't know anything!" Finally the tears gave way to anger, wiping away the last of them, I clenched my fists. "Naruto…" His face was almost of awe, if I hadn't known him better I would have said he was downright surprised.

"What?" I growled, already imagining how I would string them each up one by one with their mothers entrails.

"You talk too much."

Forefinger and thumb clutched my chin, holding me still as a pair of soft lips brushed mine ever so slightly. The kiss was chaste, swarming me in the aroma of cinnamon and coffee. My heart skipped a beat but forgot to start back up as he slowly drew back, hand never leaving my face. Eyelids heavy I stared flabbergasted at the glistening mouth that just abandoned mine.

As an average high school student, the realization that I just got kissed by a guy should have been what bothered me, not that he had pulled away much too soon. "I don't understand." I claimed honestly, lips tingling from the quick attention. "Me neither." He dove closer once more, his lips nervously brushing mine in a moment that I knew I would be dreaming about for the rest of my life. There was not a single thing about it I didn't like except for the doorbell that rang just as his tongue flicked across my bottom lip.

He pulled away and I died a little inside, mentally maiming whoever it was that was visiting the redhead at eleven at night.

He left the couch and my mouth still warm to answer the door, me not missing the faintest growl he emitted at the departure. I placed my fingertips to my lips, blushing from forehead to toes it dawned on me what just happened. I had kissed Gaara, no… he had kissed me and I had rather enjoyed every moment of it, in fact I was ready to grab him arm and force him to do it again. Had someone mentioned back when he first arrived at the school that I'd be caving in under his lips I would been 100% positive that those lips would part to teeth that would surely eat me.

The door opened to reveal a woman with blonde hair tied up in four different ponytails on her head and emerald eyes. She held two paper bags of groceries in her hands, behind her following in was a brunette with chocolate eyes, he looked a bit younger than her yet towered over in height. Their arrival was a bit more than a surprise, it downright shocked me.

Who were these strange people?

"Sorry we're so late Gaara, we picked you up some groceries, I hope that's okay." The woman chimed, her voice was rough but harbored only kindness to the redhead. She practically froze when she saw me, eyes wide and body language so unsure. "Oh… Hello." Blinking she looked back at Gaara and then to me again. "And you are-," "This is Naruto." The man cut her off, ignoring her and the brunettes surprise. "Naruto, these are my siblings, Temari and Kankuro."

Siblings? Gaara had siblings? He hadn't mentioned that in his retelling of why he moved here. The two welcomed themselves into the house, leaving their shoes at the door. "Well, I also brought some leftovers," She referenced to a pot that Kankuro was carrying. "I'm sorry," She switched topics easily, "but are you a… friend… of Gaara's?" "Well…" I started gingerly, grinning to hide my discomfort.

Gaara always saw right through me.

"Temari, why don't you warm up whatever you brought, we are both rather hungry." I paled, had my stomach been growling without me noticing? The blonde nodded and fell for the distraction, collecting the pot from her brother and making her way into the kitchen. My eyes thanked the redhead and he gave a firm nod, acknowledging my gratitude although made it all pointless as he followed her away, leaving me alone with his what appeared to be elder brother.

"So." The man shrugged, leaping onto the couch where Gaara once sat, it was a disappointing downgrade. "You and Gaara are friends?" Twenty minutes ago, I would have nodded arrogantly, it had been quite the accomplishment befriending the silent boy but more than worth it… but after that kiss were we still friends? Did friends kiss on the mouth? "Sort of." I played it safe. Saying that yes, we were only friends, was not something I wanted to admit. But what else was there? Boyfriend? I turned bright red at the word, imagine me, Uzumaki Naruto, having the schools most notorious animal lover Subaku No Gaara as a boyfriend.

There goes my heart again, skipping beats but forgetting to kick back into gear.

"That's insane…" I cocked an eyebrow, "It can't be that strange." I chuckled, finally feeling the tension flood from my veins. that's right, I'm special… Gaara actually likes me.

Maybe even likes me.

"No, I'm serious. I haven't seen that guy willingly spend time with another human being since he was being babysat by our uncle." His face was genuinely flabbergasted, it made my chest swell with pride. "Wow, I knew he was pretty antisocial but I thought that was just a teen thing." "Nah, he's been like that his whole life." The two of us laughed and talked about the first time the redhead ever shaved off his eyebrows (supposedly by accident) and how after that they never quite grew back. "You're joking!" "No seriously they just never grew back!" More laughter, I decided I liked this guy. He seemed pretty relaxed and he was stock full of memories of Gaara's childhood.

He appeared to be a loving brother, though I wasn't surprised not much of that actually got through to the redhead. He seemed to repel outreaches from those around him and from what I'd heard of his father, nobody could blame him. He sounded like an adorable child from what the brunette said, I could only imagine having a younger sibling but it must have held some sort of pride to be a big brother.

I wonder if it was anything like being a father. I glanced at Gaara's back as he paced around the kitchen, taking orders from his sister without complaint.

Eh, children… That's a bit of a tough one. I guess there's always adopt-

Woah, slow down Horsie. I roped in my thoughts and forced myself to pay attention to what Kankuro was saying. Something about him stealing over fifty lab toads and letting them go in a pond outside of town. I think that story was my favorite, although it was hard to imagine the scene.

Kankuro made it just a bit easier.

"Oh my God!" I exclaimed, unable to withhold my fits of laughter. The man had pulled out a wallet and in it was a family photo of the trio from about ten years ago. The redhead looked exactly the same except he was smaller and without the tattoo sported over his eye. "That's adorable!" He had joined me in snickering heavily, Gaara returning to the living room with suspicious eyes. "It's ready." Still getting over our fits we followed the redhead into the kitchen where a small table was already set with steaming bowls of what appeared to be beef stew.

I was positively salivating at the aroma as it hit me. "Go ahead and sit wherever you like." Temari offered, I decided I liked her too, she had a warm feeling about her. The woman worked with strong hands and seemed hardened to the world but she still played the role of the loving sister perfectly. "Thank you." She smiled at me as I sat in the back corner nearest the wall, within seconds she had a tall glass of ice tea set beside me. "I can help out." I offered trying to stand back up, not really liking being served on hand and foot. "Nonsense, you sit your ass back down. It's not often my little brother has guests."

I flushed and sat back down, twiddling my fingers. In only a few seconds Gaara took the seat beside me, his siblings sitting across from us. Temari was in front of me, I took the time to observe her features. Looking closely I could see the family resemblance, she had the same soft nose as her little brother and although her eyes were a sharper green they tore holes in my skin… just like Gaara. Her skin although peachy still glowed, she was beautiful… just like Gaara.

We dug into our meals.

Until that moment I had never found a better cook than Hinata; I don't think I will mention this to her. "Sorry we haven't visited since Christmas Gaara." Kankuro offered, words garbled due to a mouthful of food. I vaguely remembered how much of a good mood the redhead had been in during the holidays, now I knew why. "It's fine." Even with them he spoke more but still not much.

As we ate we all talked about such mediocre things from the weather to the rising gas prices, for the first time while sitting at that table I knew what it felt like to be a part of a family. There was no hostility between the trio, only a comfortable tension that I felt lucky to experience. I don't know how much time passed but my hair was dry and my heart swollen before the two packed themselves up. Gaara helped Temari carry a box of something I did not catch into the car, leaving me with the brunette standing at the door.

"I don't know what you did… but thanks." I covered my bare chest, the cold wind a bit too much for me. "Thanks? For what?" The man gave a lopsided grin, "For taking care of my lil' bro." He grabbed me around the neck with one arm and proceeded to give me a horrible noogie. I gave a half assed yelp but let him finish, unable to keep the grin off my face.

"I try."

After they left I found myself curled up on the couch beside the redhead, sleep slowly overcoming me. It was 2AM when my eyes could last focus enough to read the bulky red numbers of the clock, somehow I found Gaara's shoulder and let my head rest there. "Your siblings are nice." I whispered, slipping away.

"Hmn."

That night I slept in a bout of warmth and satisfaction.

))))))))))))))))))))))))

Everyone's eyes were on us the next day, I had woken up to find myself sprawled on Gaara's chest, his face soft with sleep. My shoes had been dry enough to wear but aside from that I ended up borrowing an outfit from the redhead, which was probably why people kept casting me curious glances when we arrived at school. It was much too cold to walk so we took the car, blasting the heater until the windows fogged. It was from the moment I stepped out of the vehicle, Gaara in tow, that the looks started.

We were friends, they already knew that. The pants although tight on him fit me nicely, they were a bit too long and I found myself rolling up the ankles just a bit. The pants were burgundy in color and the shirt I wore was black, long sleeved, and baggy. It had red designs splattered across it, a shirt that the redhead was often seen wearing. I suspected it was one of his favorites. Other people must have noticed because the whispers were buzzing everywhere and even my own friends made it painfully obvious that they were trying not to look at my attire.

The words weren't so horrible, they were easy to ignore. It wasn't until lunch that things started to get bad, I was doing the same thing I did every day; sitting across from Gaara and complaining about the poor quality of the cafeteria food. This time proved different though, out of nowhere a hand gripped my shoulder, looking back revealed its owner to be Sasuke.

He had never willingly approached me near Gaara before, I knew that nothing good could possibly come of it. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" I nodded dumbly and stood, abandoning my meal. "I'll be right back." I murmured, "Hmn." was the only reply I got. The raven grabbed my arm and dragged me away, much to my protest. "I can walk damn it!" I yanked my arm free when we made it to the hallway, shooting a spiteful glare at my best friend. "What's wrong with you?" I demanded, rubbing the sore spot.

"What's wrong with you!" He snapped back. "Did you just happen to forget everything I've ever told you about that guy!" I drew back my shoulders, the Uchiha had finally snapped. "You don't know anything about him, how can you walk around repeating things that you hear like a broken record when you don't even know if they're true?" I hissed, glancing around to make sure nobody was peeking their nose in where it didn't belong. "You're telling me that everybody somehow misunderstood the fact that he's a complete antisocial freak who's been busted in countless suspicious situations?" "YES!" The shout echoed through the halls and the two of us stayed silent for a moment.

"Why do you do this to me Naruto when you know I'm just looking out for you?" I straightened my back, staring him dead in the eye. "Because I like him." The impact of my words did not seem to quite reach the raven, it pissed me off how he, no, how everybody thought I was some stupid frat who was incapable of making his own life decisions.

"The same way you like your brother."

An unmistakable tension flooded us, shock evident in those ebony eyes.

"How long have you known?"

"When were you planning to tell me?"

"This isn't about me, it's about you, God forbid, liking that freak!"

"Trust me it's not much of a scandal compared to romancing your own brother."

Eyes stony, I realized that I knew this moment would come, I had been avoiding and ignoring it but deep down, I was ready. "So you're bent." Sasuke huffed, crossing his arms, eyes still narrowed. "Only as bent as you are." When it came down to the hard facts, what would the man think of my feelings? Had he not gotten on my case about them I would still be confused, still be trying to figure out what line I had crossed and when. His words drove me to the realization, it was all so obvious now I even think I knew it back when the redhead first pinned me with his gaze.

I wanted him in my pants.

So to speak, I liked him, I wanted to curl up beside him on the couch and maybe, just maybe, taste his cinnamon balm lips in the firelight. "I hope for your sake you're right." He bit, storming off. The bell rang, signaling lunch to be over. I never even got to finish my meal.

Damn him!

)))))))))))))))))))))

Throughout the rest of the day my mood was soured, classes passing by where I hadn't even the will to wreak havoc on the teachers. "What the fuck are you looking at?" I said it more times than I would have imagined, in fact I was unable to go without snapping like an irritable little bitch at anyone who eyed my clothing for too long. It was completely out of character and I blamed Sasuke. Hell, I was blaming Sasuke for global warming at this point, positive that it was because of all the heat radiating off of that stuck up head… that is if he could pull it out of his ass long enough to kill the ozone layer.

I was late to gym but my teacher never noticed, slipping into the locker room I found it dead empty. Well, almost, it was actually Gaara that stood by his locker, already changed out but making no move to leave. "Were you waiting for me?" It was a bit self-centered to automatically assume that, but the curt nod I received was what kept my heart beating.

Fuck Sasuke, fuck the student body, fuck sanity.

I stormed up to the redhead, blocking him against his locker. Fuck that two inches he held over me! "What are you doing?" That ever quizzical brow rose, as if I wasn't pissed off enough.

"Approaching you with romantic intent."

I was utterly mad, throwing my arms up and wrapping them around Gaara's neck, forcing his lips down onto mine. The feeling was indescribable, his hands gently resting on my waist after his initial shock ended felt as if they had been sculpted to be placed there. I buried my fingers into his hair and licked his upper lip slowly, he responded by literally sucking my tongue into his mouth. I gasped at the sensation, letting my body sink into his grasp.

My first ever kiss was when I was twelve years old in a horrible game of truth or dare. Sasuke and I had been made to share a simple peck, you could imagine the two of us puckering our lips like ducks and awkwardly bumping noses… it was laughable! But this… squeezing my waist he leaned back against his locker, pulled me along. That rogue tongue delved into my mouth and brushed softly against the rim of my teeth, it was like a current surged through the two of us, driving my fingers to tug at the red tendrils while one of his slid up my back slowly, tantalizingly.

A noise erupted from somewhere inside of me that I didn't know existed, this seemed to compel Gaara to suck playfully on the very tip of my tongue, driving me to mewl softly at the ministrations. Clutching at a hip he drew me in closer, our bodies melding together until I couldn't tell where mine ended and his began. Releasing his hair I slid my hands down to cup his face, thumbs toying just under his eyes. My head had somehow turned to such an incredible angle that our mouths locked in such a way in brought me to my tiptoes.

"Okay then."

The voice tore us from our passions, revealing the ever listless Shikamaru. One hand scratched the back of his head as he shrugged, turning around to leave. He said nothing else and in a moment the changing room was empty once more. I took this as a sign to get dressed for class, the one I was already ten minutes late to. The redhead waited for me to finish, for some reason after sharing such a kiss it was a lot harder to strip under his gaze. I knew he realized this because he made a point to stare, obviously trying to get on my nerves.

Bastard.

)))))))))))))))))))))

It was our first date… at least that's what I referred to it as, there was obviously something going on between the two of us even if we hadn't spoken about it out loud. I had that Friday off and so I asked the redhead if he perhaps wanted to see a movie with me, the man agreed and offered to pick me up later that night.

You can imagine the scene I caused in my home, throwing clothes across the room in dire need of something that didn't look like it hadn't been washed in a week. It wasn't as if I had many clothes to begin with let alone nice ones. It was a lot easier to spend time with the pale boy when I wasn't trying desperately to impress him.

In the middle of my anguish the phone rang, startling me so badly I leapt into the air.

"Hello?" I panted after diving across the room to reach it. It might have been Gaara.

"Hey." I froze at the voice, shifting awkwardly form foot to foot. "What do you want Sasuke?" It should have sounded harsher than it did, but I really didn't want to fight with him anymore. "I just wanted to know if you had plans this weekend." I glanced at the clock while I sniffed at a shirt I found.

Ew.

"I'm going out with Gaara later tonight." I waited for the anger but it never came. "Well, what about tomorrow?" I thought on it for a minute before replying, "Nope nothing planned. Why?" Success! Pants! They were a pair of dark jeans I bought last year, they were a bit too stiff for everyday wear but were in good enough condition to pass off as 'nice'. I struggled into them without dropping the phone, "I thought you could come over and hang for the night." I pressed my lips as I sucked in, struggling to button the pants. I must have grown more in the last year.

That or I was getting fat… I made a mental note to do some crunches when I got home.

"Yeah that sounds cool." "And Naruto?" "Yeah?"

"I'm sorry."

My throat closed at the words I so rarely heard. "Yeah, me too." I laid on my back on the bed, stretching and finally managing to zip the jeans. I still couldn't find a shirt to wear and honestly considered just going topless, but shrugged the idea off as ridiculous. "Sasuke!" I whined into the receiver, digging out clean socks. "I don't have a sexy shirt to wear." I groaned, stretching to hopefully make the pants looser. "What time are you leaving?" "Half an hour."

"I'll be right over."

The Uchiha didn't live far and true to his word, he arrived in twenty minutes, banging on my door like the Sasuke I've come to love. I opened it quickly only to get a shirt slapped into my face. He welcomed himself in and lounged on my bed, "Sup?" rolling my eyes I pulled the gift on, it was a dark blue button up and although it was not incredibly fancy in any way, it was nicer than anything I could have possibly scrounged up on my own.

"Thanks Sasuke." He just eyed me as I finger-combed my hair, trying to tame it for once. I had no such luck for my blonde decided it would rather defy the laws of gravity than behave itself for one night. "You look fine dumbass." I rolled my eyes but smiled, I always hated it when we fought. I sent the raven packing only two minutes before another knock rang out, one much softer than the previous.

Smiling, I grabbed my wallet.

The night had gone well, it would have been wonderful if the redhead had just let me pay for our tickets seeing as I had been the one to invite him. Allow me to relay the sequence of events. At the ticket booth, I forced my way in front of the redhead, paying the woman before he even had a chance to retaliate. It had been my plan all along, twenty may have been a chunk of my budget but the man was more than worth it, though it didn't work again at the snack bar. Gaara ordered popcorn and a large drink (we shared, like a real couple) while I was in the restroom, I was angry but too tempted by the smell of creamy butter to refuse any. The movie was good, but the best part was that sturdy shoulder I rested my head against. I felt like a teenage girl on a Disney movie, but maybe the feeling wasn't so bad. In fact it was hard to keep up with the plotline after I found his heartbeat and let it lull me into a dreamy trance.

It had all been going so well up until he walked me to my door. "Naruto." I turned and he swept me up in a kiss, one I eagerly returned. I flushed heavily when his hands daringly gripped my ass but I did not object, all that grip did was pull me closer. In an instant our mouths parted, the smallest smile lingering on his, I could only imagine the grin I sported.

In what way was this not an amazing date you wonder?

After he left, my hands found there way into my butt pockets, confusion sweeping my face as I felt something I had not left there.

It was a twenty.

Comprehension evaded me for a few brief moments.

DAMN IT GAARA!

))))))))))))))))))))))))))

The stay at Sasuke's had been just what we needed to patch up our spat, despite how awkward I became whenever Itachi was around my best friend helped me through it. He didn't explain much about their relationship but I didn't ask, both seemed happier than I could have remembered so I decided not to risk ruining it for him.

It would stay our secret, and I know he knew I intended for it to be that way.

Back at school things were relatively calm, in fact I spent my class periods doodling comics of Gaara being a superhero and everyone who ever spread lies about him bowing down to his mighty awesomeness. The only thing off about the day was my redhead's behavior. Every time I caught sight of him between classes he was sneaking phone calls, even at lunch he snuck off when it started ringing.

It didn't bother me really, I just hoped he hadn't gotten himself into any trouble. When the day let out I followed him with my gaze, mentally debating whether or not to question him about it. Finally I decided that the worst thing he could do was tell me to fuck off, but he didn't seem in a bad mood at all so I wasn't that nervous.

I caught up to him just as he got into his car, upon seeing me he rolled down the window, letting me lean on it. "You bored?" He cut me off before I could even open my mouth. I thought on it for a minute before readily nodding. "Get in." There were no questions, there never was. I trusted him not to get me killed and I let him know through my actions as often as I could.

I sat in a comfortable silence as we drove into Konoha, the city surrounding grew more dense as an hour passed easily. We were already on the opposite side of town when I finally spoke up. "So where are we going?" A quizzical tilt of the head. Gaara gave me a mischievous glance, causing my heart to speed up. "I have an acquaintance who owes me a favor. I'm going to cash that in tonight." I rose an eyebrow at the vague statement. "Care to elaborate?" The buildings started growing sparse, trees approaching from both sides.

"A guy named Kabuto, he works in a kill shelter on the edge of Suna. He set things up so after they close we can retrieve the animals scheduled to be euthanized tomorrow." My jaw dropped as his words sunk in, "You mean we're breaking in and stealing animals?" "In a nutshell, yes." I was hit with a wave of laughter, the determination glittering in those milky eyes was so refreshing to my conscious. "Alright, let's do this thing."

He smiled and it swept me away.

From what I later learned, this Kabuto guy was not an animal advocate but he did in fact owe the redhead for something Gaara neglected to mention and therefore, was leaving a backdoor unlocked for us. If anything, he thrived for chaos and knew that Gaara would bring it with him. By the time we made it to the man's hometown the sun had already disappeared, bringing with it the employees of the shelter. We parked a block away, hiding our car behind a large patch of bush.

"Piece of cake right?" He snickered.

I guess this could constitute as our second date, but who was counting? We made our way under the guise of night to the back entrance, the redhead pulling me behind him as we snuck in. It was dark but Gaara planned ahead, switching on a flashlight he led the way. Slipping through a few more doors we found our destination, a small room connected to the medical office with the animals that were going to be destroyed. "So tell again why you don't just adopt then rehome them?" I whispered, the sound of dogs barking breaking the silence.

"This place is money hungry, they charge an outrageous adoption fee. Even I can't spare that much every month they decide to put more down" Frowning, I accepted my fate. I did say I would follow the man off of a cliff and here I was, using wire cutters to break open cages left and right. Gaara had with him a bag of leashes, each he strapped around a different dogs neck. Luckily the canines were relatively calm around each other, the man working magic as he used treats to sooth the more skittish animals into a sense of comfort.

It was amazing to watch him work, the strong disposition he usually carried faded away and there was only compassion left in his eyes. It was a beautiful sight, one that not many were blessed enough to witness.

Suddenly the world didn't seem quite so grey.

We managed to string up six dogs, Gaara taking them and gesturing to the cat cages. I nodded and started clipping those, this would prove much more difficult. Snagging the felines by their scruff I put two to a pillowcase, wrestling six of them into the bags. It may not have been the most comfortable situation but at least they would survive. The cats were not as easy to calm as the dogs (surprisingly) and it took almost half an hour to sooth their wails into occasional snarls.

"Come on let's go Naruto."

I obeyed, lugging the three bags that were tied off over my shoulder. It was right as we exited the back door that we heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights. "Shit." The cops were pulling around front, someone must have seen us sneak in. "Gaara, take these and get to the car." I shoved the pillow cases into his arms, the dogs growing restless they whimpered. "What about you?" He hissed, adjusting his grip. "Please, I was born for this."

I ran out to the front just as two cops got out of the vehicle, I made sure they got a good look at me before I turned and darted the opposite direction of Gaara. Years of running to get to school, work, irritable foster parents, you name it… life prepared me for this. My legs tore through the streets, one cop launching after me while the other ran back to his car. It was dark but I trusted my feet, never before had they failed me.

It was easy to outrun the overweight man, his demands to 'stop' fading away into the air. I laughed, the adrenaline drove me on even past my exhaustion, the city grew more dense and I found myself slipping into an alleyway, the sirens far but still trailing me. I did what I had seen work on movies time and time again, I leapt into a dumpster, closing it over my head.

Silently I thanked whatever god there was for the trash having already been taken out earlier, leaving it disgusting smelling but empty. The fact that I was hiding in a trashcan in a foreign city on a school night didn't bother me. I felt a wave of accomplishment overwhelm me and I knew it would all work out and that it was all worth it.

Ever since Gaara showed up in my life everything had felt like it was worth something.

It was that thought that kept me warm in the snowy night.

After what I later found out was two hours of hiding, I slipped out of the dumpster, eyeing the streets for any trace of cops. When I found none I did the only thing I could think of, heading back in the direction of the center. The run must have been longer than it felt because I walked for almost twenty minutes and still the shelter never showed itself.

My whole body sighed with relief as the white Sorento pulled up beside me, I was so glad the redhead hasn't been caught. I jumped in quickly, feeling my bones thaw as I was enveloped with heat. "Where were you!" My eyes widened in shock, never had I heard the man raise his voice before. "I was hiding in a dumpster." I confessed, feeling my cheeks burn. Gaara took a deep inhale, "I can tell." I threw my hand to smack him gently in the arm. "How are they?" I whispered, looking back at the dogs fighting to look out the window. "Thrilled." Have you ever tried to shove six dogs and six cats into one car before? I promise it was quite the hilarious sight to behold.

"Thanks." He whispered.

My heart raced in my ribcage, threatening to break out.

"Anytime."

)))))))))))))))))))

He was almost here.

Straightening up my clothes and brushing out my hair, I barely had time to shove the last bit of laundry into the closet before the knock came. "Coming!" I called, letting the redhead in.

It's been a week since we busted the animals out of the shelter, already more than half of them had been found new homes. Gaara sat down on the bed while I made him cover his eyes; when I was positive that he would not peek I snuck back to the kitchen. In the oven was a fresh cinnamon cake that Hinata helped me make, upon opening it the aroma flooded over me and I sighed, pulling it out.

There was no frosting on it, I recalled back at the diner during Christmas break the redhead had scraped the sugary substance off his half of the cake we shared. I cut a generous slice and stuck a candle on it, looking back to make sure he hadn't peaked before I struck a match and lit it. Carrying the plate over to my bed with a fork, I whispered in his ear. "You can open your eyes now." He did and immediately the plate caught his gaze.

"Happy birthday Gaara."

The date was something that Kankuro had mentioned and I made sure that I would never forget (okay so I wrote it on my hand but hey, it worked).

Together we ate cake, wrestled and watched the stars from my window. Finally the weather was clearing and now any snow we got was just a sprinkle in the cold of the night. "Gaara…" I murmured, silence looming overhead. "Do I make you happy?" He turned to face me, eyes soft he placed a hand on top of mine, giving a curt nod.

"Hmn."

Stomach lurching, my heart raced so quickly it left me miles behind.

)))))))))))))))))))))

February graced us with her presence, bringing along cool and dry weather. It was a miraculous upgrade from the previous months and I found myself preferring to be outside rather than cooped up in my apartment. Gaara and I took the opportunity to drive up into the hills, my eyes wide with mirth as I watched the dead trees pass by in a flurry. "Are we almost there?" I hushed, careful not to kill the moment. "Yeah, almost." It was Saturday and the sun was high already, everything so brilliant even the dead trees seemed more chocolaty and the skin on my bones seemed to soak in the light.

I was ecstatic, I'd gone my whole life without the ability to just get in a car and go somewhere for the hell of it, now Gaara seemed to sense when I needed release and always managed to find me. Though this particular trip was not a mere excursion, our goal was the hillsides of the park, we were releasing a sparrow that the redhead had been nursing back to good health.

My handsome crusader…

We were far from civilization when we pulled off the trail, stopping the car and getting out. The view was absolutely breathtaking, holding the cage Gaara stood at the edge of the drop off, staring down at the sea of dead branches below.

He made me stop breathing.

Hair billowing in the breeze the man opened the cage, a flurry of feathers and the bird was out, soaring through the grey skies. Until the day I die I will be able to close my eyes and see the look of pride etched onto his pearlescent face.

Something jumpstarted my heart and I was filled with the emotion some might call love.

It was not unwelcome.

When he got back in the car I could only stare at his profile, memorizing every dip and each dimple. He turned my way and leaned forward to kiss me.

I let him.

In fact, I lifted both hands to grab under his chin, keeping his face close and mouth closer as I opened my own, inviting him in for sweet penitence. A free hand locked the doors, whether mine or his I knew not, I was too busy sinking into the ministrations he performed so skillfully with that blasted tongue of his. A part of me wondered if he had done this before but the rest didn't care, because at the moment he had somehow gone from being in his seat to looming over me, my head pressed back into the cold window.

His hands were so large as they gripped beneath my waist and pulled me closer, mouth straying from mine to travel to my neck.

I gasped at the sensation that surged between my legs.

"Gaara!" I mewled, cramming my eyes shut as that hot organ slid circles around my ear before sucking it right in. "Hmn." The noise had never sounded quite so sexy. I near balked as those teeth slid down to torture my collarbone, nimble fingers shoving my jacket open for access.

"Ba…. Ahhhhh" I gasped, tangling my fingers into his hair as he bit at a nipple, teasing it with those glossy lips. "Back seat…" I managed to vocalize, pants growing ever so tight. He nodded against me and released the nub, climbing over into the back. I followed right after him, peeling my jacket off and discarding it God knows where. He landed on his back, sprawled out on the leather interior. I followed right after, straddling him I unbuttoned his jacket, searching for skin. When I found it I sank my fingers in, running them down his shirt and relishing in the smooth texture.

Not moments later he had his jacket on the floor, yanking to pull his shirt overhead as well. I assisted, removing the fabric with a threatening glance, after all it was what stood between me and that pale expanse. When it too had disappeared I took my mouth to his neck, sucking sweetly where I landed whilst my hands gripped at his pant line. "Naruto." He groaned lowly, the vibrations giving me goose bumps as they raged through my fingertips.

"Will you let me?"

My chest throbbed at the decency as his hands traveled up my shirt, tugging it playfully. I lifted my arms and let him slip it over my head, nails then grazing down along my arms to my chest and over my stomach. It was positively maddening. Panting I nodded, those soft digits running over my nipples and tugging them teasingly. I somehow managed to kick off my shoes in all the chaos, attempting to get the socks but only succeeding in losing one before an extra sharp tug sent me groveling.

My hips developed a mind of their own, rocking back and forth on those slick abs, his grazes feathering to my zipper. I could have sworn his hands were almost shaky as they undid my pants, dragging them down ever so slowly. The material rubbing against my skin made my toes curl and fingers dig into his hips, holding him steady as he sat up more to place butterflies down my chest.

His lips were tender on my skin, the heater blasted but I still shivered with anticipation as he freed me from my jeans. The car was not small but it was still difficult to twist in a way that allowed me to abandon my pants and boxers, settling myself back on the redhead as he fully sat up, trying to push me down beneath him. I had no qualms but it was still a tight fit, his hands gripping my thighs and mouth taking in a nipple.

"Ahhhh, Gaara!" I groaned, arching my neck at his mouth and the hand that appeared as if out of nowhere, gripping my dick and playfully tugging at it. I turned my head to the side, eyes screwed shut I whimpered as the sea of pleasure dragged me under. "Do… do you know what to do?" I whispered, uncertainty flooding over my shoulders.

When I received no reply and the ministrations halted, I opened my eyes to see the redhead typing almost frantically on his phone. "What are you-."

"Google."

I would have laughed if I weren't too busy clawing at his zipper, purring at the sight of his delicious stomach. It had been so long since I had openly admired his body in the locker rooms, every other time he was near me shirtless I forced my eyes on anything else. Now I don't care if he knew I was relishing in it. "Am I your first?" I pressed, placing a kiss on his belly. "That is why I am Googling." He explained as if to a child, a hand sweeping down to run through my hair. I licked at his wrist, when I imagined my own first time I never would have guessed it to be with a man, let alone be the catcher.

I guess if I've learned anything it was that life is never quite what you expect it to be.

"Got it."

It was amazing how much the youth relied on technology these days.

The interruption did nothing to hinder us, his pants were shoved down to his thighs in a matter of moments, revealing his dripping cock. I flushed bright red and it dawned on me where that thing was going exactly. I prayed Google told him how to make it as painless as possible.

His mouth dove down to caress mine, his fingers toying with my head, forcing my dick to throb wantonly. "It's gonna hurt right?" I whispered into his mouth, he nodded his head slowly, pressing a hand to the window to pull himself up enough to slide my ankles over his shoulders. I squirmed as he toyed with my junk, his thumb grinding against a vein while he smirked at my writhing.

It was such sick, sweet, wonderful torture.

It was such an odd sight, my redhead slipping two fingers into his own mouth, tongue running up along the length of them. I swallowed hard, throwing my hands over my head to bare my body to the man. In the afternoon light his hair glowed in a way that made his tattoo burn into my heart, catching my breath at the beautiful sight. I almost didn't notice when the first finger slid its way in, burying and twisting as I adjusted to the odd sense of invasion. The second made much more of an impact, the stretching and rubbing drove me to spread my thighs further, back arching and face dusted red from the exertion I bit my trembling lip.

"Every time you've ever bit your lip it drove me just a tad more crazy."

He hissed, digging his fingers deeper and striking me in a little patch of heaven. "AaaAAhhh!" I yelped, hooking my ankles behind his neck. "Oh God that was just… wow…" I wheezed, unable to describe what had just transpired. Just as the feeling of those digits went from being awkward to welcomed they were removed, leaving me with a cold feeling. I inhaled sharply as he pressed his dripping head against my entrance, one arm on the door and the other gripping my thigh.

"Are you ready?"

I noticed that the windows were fogged, the steam of our escapade clinging to the glass, there were beads of sweat collecting on my now lovers forehead, his gaze soft and worrisome as it washed over me. "Yes, put it in." I bit my wrist, tears pooling in my eyes as I felt myself stretched open, a hot sense of 'full' pressing tightly into the base of my back. I was torn between biting my flesh harder and gasping as he sheathed himself.

It was nothing like I could have imagined. Stomach churning slightly, my free hand wrapped around his neck, chest heaving as I tried to adjust to the sensation. I'd heard countless times how awkward or unpleasant a teenagers first time was, to so much of a degree I was almost worried about how much of a fool I would make myself out to be. All nerves dispersed when his cool forehead pressed down onto my own, his lips quivering as he offered up sweet nothings to help sooth the pain.

The strain in his eyes was evident, I could only imagine the self control he possessed to not drive me wildly into the leather seat. All could do was nod though he asked no questions, his own head bobbing slightly before he drug himself out and shoved his way back in. I reached back to grab the handle above the door as he picked up a rhythm, the heat swelling in my nether regions with each intoxicating thrust. Yes there was pain but before long I felt the shivers of pleasure spread from my legs to my pert nipples, overcoming me as the car creaked deafeningly loudly.

"Naruto…" He purred, hands clutching my hips as he repeatedly thrust himself deeper, it was as if I was becoming whole… As if he'd been searching, Gaara found that tender spot again and ground into it mercilessly. "Oh God Gaara ahhhh!" I slammed my head back, mouth hanging open as my body went under with bliss. With utmost desire nipping at my heels, as if that moment weren't enough in and of itself he continued to pound that patch, with each prod my toes flailed, stretching and curling in order to somehow contain the experience within them.

Then came the hand, it was large and warm and tight as it clutched my rod, jerking it in rhythm to those indescribable plunges. "Ahhh ahhh ahhh." I couldn't even form comprehensible words at that point, swept away I let myself get taken, arms dropping to myself I lost the will to hold them up, the only thing I could do was lay there and let him fuck me and pump me until there was no such thing as orphanages or high school, deceitful teenagers or hourly wages. The only thing that existed in this car was 'we'… me and the wonderful man I knew I could stay by happily for the rest of my life.

It was actually imagining it that drove me over the edge.

I came all in our laps, soaking his gentle hand in my passions. During my release his dick seemed to practically grow inside me before an odd feeling of filling up struck. The sound that struggled out of his throat ensured me that he had in fact, come inside. He rode out his orgasm with much less vigor, like a battery fading he slowed his pace until we were merely there wrapped in each others everything. It was hot but the rest of the world was cold, we were two of billions of humans and yet only we existed anymore.

"Gaara…"

"Hmn?"

I smiled, that was exactly what I wanted to hear.

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In high school, we are faced with situations that we can't even make up anymore. The most innovative of creators, writers, or artists could not possibly capture the way the days of our lives progress, minute by minute we are swarmed by changes, whether in ourselves or the people around us. Our friends never fail to surprise us, nor do they fail us when we need them. It's hard to understand why some people make certain decisions, but in the end we are forced to remember that we are only in control of ourselves and nothing else.

They can broadcast as many high school shows as they can imagine but nothing can quite draw the same reaction from others as the real struggle taking place in hollow halls.

As teenagers we are not quite adults but not allowed to be children anymore. We still have fears and there are nights when we just want to hide ourselves away from the evils of the worlds; there are times when we miss our parents and we just want to hug our mothers, perhaps have a little down time with our fathers. We don't want to be adults yet, we want to break rules and maintain the belief that everyone can love each other and be at peace together.

What did teenagers these days desire anyway? To be swept off their feet by a vampire? To be the apple of the eye of a murderer? Mobsters and conspiracies, ninjas or wizards? Alternate realities or enchanted forests? No one would aspire to be in my shoes. Bad food, getting teased, chased by cops, and having sex, well that's too normal for high school these days.

Perhaps our story wasn't the cliché that everybody secretly dreamed of. Maybe the arousing secrets that enveloped a mysterious transfer student weren't worthy of the speculation they received... But I didn't fall in love with a secret agent or a time traveler, an alien, werewolf, or even a rock star. No, I fell in love with an animal rights activist who worked in a dingy, old, used CD store every Tuesday and Thursday night. He had cloudy eyes and an awkward sense of humor, but walking down that hallway, hand swallowed by his, I did not envy any romance novel.

Maybe that crack on the head had knocked some sense into me, or maybe it caused me to completely lose my mind. Either way, the astonished looks of the surrounding students put an even bigger smile on my face.

For once, all the mouths that spread hate in these hallways were silenced.

A/N: Ahhh, So me being the half-wit that I am planned out this whole story when they announced that August 1st would be fan day. That was like two months ago and I didn't actually start writing until about two weeks ago. This story shortened my lifespan considerably, just so you know! I feel as though I really had to tap into my emotional and psychological views of public high school in order to portray the interactions between both individuals and groups of all sizes. This is my first attempt at a high school fic that was not merely a drabble, I hope it is up to standards and is able to portray an accurate development of each character had they grown up in a modern teen society.

I would love to hear feedback and if you enjoyed this fanfic please feel free to check out my other works!

Thanks for reading!

A.G.