Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, and I make no profit out of this.

Warning: Pre-yaoi. Hints at past childhood abuse. Chibi cuteness.

Summary: Two years of unflagging devotion can do a lot for a pair of five year old children that have never known love. Even so, it is only the first step in chasing away years of childhood horror. Still, with a pair like Gaara and Naruto, unpredictability is the norm.

Note: This is set in my Heaven universe, starting with A Slice of Heaven. It is not necessary to read that first to understand this story, but it is highly recommended.

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The First Festival

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Uzumaki Naruto glanced around himself cautiously as he shifted his grasp on the bag of groceries. Seeing no one suspicious, he carefully used one hand to insert the key into the apartment flat that he shared with Sabaku no Gaara.

Two years had passed since he had met Gaara on Konoha's streets one day at the age of five, when the redhead was performing diplomacies with his father, the Kazekage. Through manipulations, threats, and the Hokage putting his role as Naruto's 'grandfather' over that of village leader – if for just a moment – had allowed Gaara to take the then malnourished now lithe blond with him when he left Konoha.

Since then, the elated Naruto had lived happily together with Gaara. Not to say that nothing disturbed their peace. Just last year an assassination attempt on Gaara's life by Yashamaru nearly broke the stoic redhead; he had pulled through with Naruto's never relenting care, but it was a scare that still haunted Gaara now. Not to mention the assassins that still showed up at their home now and again…

Not only that, but the distrust and suspicion of Suna's villagers had not immediately dissipated. Outright attacks had never been made, unlike Konoha's civilians on a defenseless Naruto, but that was because of that outlasting fear.

Still, the two children were content. Throughout these two years, and those months in Konoha together, Naruto and Gaara had formed a bond that lasted and became stronger throughout these sorts of trying situations. And they always had each other, through thick or thin.

Naruto closed the door softly behind him. At this time of the day, Gaara was likely training; Naruto had but passing whims to become a shinobi at the age of five, terrified and alone, but Gaara had already started his road to becoming a ninja. Part of it was because of his father's influence, another fragment because of the Shukaku. When Naruto had burst into tears after seeing Gaara faint from exhaustion and begged him to stop though, Gaara had revealed his newest reason for becoming a shinobi: "I want to protect you, Naruto."

Sighing, Naruto put the last of the groceries into the refrigerator with the help of a stool. Most of the cooking was done with a levitating floor made of Gaara's sand, but with the redhead not here, Naruto used stools around the kitchen to reach the stove and higher cabinets.

Taking out some supplies, Naruto started making lunch. Gaara would be home in a bit, and Naruto liked having food ready for the tired redhead. Gaara was his best friend and most precious person, after all.

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Gaara set down his chopsticks with a soft "Thanks," nodding at the beam that Naruto gave him. When the blond stood up to clear the dishes and start washing them, Gaara stopped him with a gentle hand on his wrist. "Naruto."

"Hm?" The blond looked up, staring into verdant eyes. "Yes?"

"I – I have a gift for you." Even after two years with Naruto, Gaara was not used to showing emotion, especially affection, and it showed. He was the most relaxed when with Naruto, but the redhead was still somewhat stiff when it came to human interactions.

"A gift? For me?" The look of awe in Naruto's cerulean eyes was one that Gaara found staunchly inacceptable. A red haze full of rage clouded his gaze – it was a haze that he was familiar with. Sabaku no Gaara loathed all reminder of the fact that Uzumaki Naruto had suffered horribly at the hands of Konoha's citizens before meeting him. There was nothing he could do about it, and Naruto was superbly happy now, but hints of that abuse still brought massive amounts of anger from Gaara.

Taming the monster inside him – not Shukaku, for once – Gaara nodded. Still holding onto Naruto's wrist, he led him to their bedroom. They had started off sleeping in separate beds, but with nightmares and shared blankets and loneliness, Gaara had dipped into monthly funds that he previously had no use for to buy a double bed. Using his sand, Gaara reached for a package perched out of sight on a high shelf.

"Gaara? What's the present for?"

"You'll see," the redhead answered, before placing the present in Naruto's hands. It was wrapped with a neat precision, the same way Gaara did everything. The wrapping paper was a burnt orange, which Naruto had somehow come to appreciate despite the bad memories associated with poorly made jumpsuits. The ribbon was cerulean blue, the color of Naruto's eyes. It was simple, but the care put into it was unmistakable.

Naruto took note of the colors, and loved it before he even opened it. With trembling hands, he opened it carefully, taking the wrapping apart but leaving it intact.

Nestled in careful folds of fabric was a stunning kimono. The cloth itself was an unblemished black. Elegantly crafted, Naruto could tell that it would likely fit his slender frame perfectly. The only pattern that adorned the soft cloth was a large 愛symbol, etched in burnt orange that was a few shades darker than the wrapping paper.

That symbol, love in that language commonly used in the shinobi nations and the areas that surrounded it, was the same one that Gaara had tattooed onto his forehead upon his father's assassination attempt via Yashamaru, when he swore to Naruto with deadly serious eyes that he would live for the love and friendship between them.

Naruto was suitably confused by his words, but happy all the same. It was the first verbal confirmation from anyone that he was worth something, and it meant a lot to Naruto. Sure, the tattoo artist, who had newly moved into Suna, swore that Gaara was possessed by a devil and moved right back out, but that was a different story…

Naruto was not sure whether that embroidered symbol was merely a reminder of that promise or something more, but the mere thought of being worthy of such a gift, when the symbol was held so close to Gaara's heart, left warm feelings coursing through him.

"Thank you," he whispered softly, putting the gift carefully aside to hug the older child.

Gaara put his hand on the small of the boy's back, rubbing gently. He found that it soothed Naruto, and though the close contact had initially made him extremely uncomfortable and tense, he had come to tolerate the contact that Naruto so desperately craved.

"Suna holds a winter festival yearly. The citizens participate in the large fair-type activities, and then go home to exchange gifts with loved ones. The one that occurred last year happened when we were … indisposed." Thinking back, Naruto later realized that it was around a year ago that the Yashamaru assassination attempt was made. "I would like you to go with me."

Before, Gaara would not have voiced such a request. But Naruto was … Naruto. As much good as Gaara had done for Naruto's mental and physical state, Naruto did just as much for Gaara's mental and emotional state.

"…F-festival? G-Gaara, I don't think I want to go."

Hearing the fear and anxiety in Naruto's voice, Gaara recoiled from the embrace. As much as his old self wanted to take the words as a rejection, Gaara knew by now that their bond was tangible – Naruto's reluctance had nothing to do with his company, and jumping to conclusions would only injure them both.

Gently unclenching the hands that had found its way into the clothes he wore, Gaara gently moved the lithe blond so that Naruto was facing him. "Naruto, what's wrong with festivals?"

"F-festivals hurt."

Oh. Oh. That suddenly made a lot of sense. Konoha's biggest festival was the one held on October tenth, the one that celebrated the Yondaime's defeat of the Kyuubi no Kitsune. The same Kyuubi that had terrorized their village, killed their people, and was sealed into Uzumaki Naruto. Oh.

"Naruto, festivals are not supposed to hurt. What those cretins did to you is unforgiveable. Festivals and such holidays are typically spent with families and friends. Suna's tend to revolve around important events or seasonal changes; even bitter winter has festivals: this one is a tribute to the beauty of the coming and fallen snow."

He gathered the little blond into his arms. "Besides, I won't let anyone hurt you. I promised you, didn't I?"

That was true. It was part of the reason why Naruto had not completely shrunk away in fear at the mention of a festival. Whatever Gaara's gift symbolized, Naruto knew from spending so much time with the redhead that their friendship was genuine.

"G-Gaara, I don't know how to put this on," Naruto murmured. His hands still clutched Gaara, but he had relaxed into the older boy's hold, trusting him. Wiping at teary eyes, he leaned into Gaara's shoulder. "Help me?"

Gaara merely nodded. "Always."

Neither was talking about just the kimono.

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"Neh, Gaara? Take a bath with me?" The two had first been drawn together by a bath, two years ago in one of Konoha's hotels. Since then, what to others seemed a necessity or a way of relaxing, both children took as a special time.

Their intentions were purely innocent, but the intimacy borne of the gesture was present. It was simply a bubble bath, but both Naruto and Gaara viewed it as a precious time that they spent together.

And as much as Gaara refused to verbalize his enjoyment of the activity – he hadn't changed that much in these years – he did view it as a lovely luxury. He merely let the blond out of the embrace they had held together and led Naruto to the bathroom.

As the apartment of the Kazekage's son – even as the unwanted, 'demon' son that the Kazekage constantly tried to kill… – Gaara had a nice apartment and a monthly pension, if just for show. The bathroom was of a large size, and the two boys fit easily into the large tub together.

Naruto relaxed into Gaara's arms easily as the redhead rubbed shampoo into his blond hair. He never could get tired of the soothing touches of his friend; before, touch was always of a violent sort, with kind ones a mere dream. Now it was always warm and comfortable, and Naruto was truly happy.

All too soon the bath was over, and Naruto stood in the kimono, with the fabric unfastened. Having slipped into it, Naruto now had no idea what to do. "Gaara, what happens next?"

It was a simple outfit, considering how complicated kimonos typically were. Gaara carefully folded up the layers, smoothing them out, before wrapping the long obi around Naruto's waist. Unlike the yukatas worn to the summer festivals, the kimono was designed to be warm – there was no sign of snow outside, but it was bound to be cold. Gaara had learned the basics of putting on a kimono from the shopkeeper – one of the new civilians of Suna that did not know him well. Truly mastering how to put one on was not something Gaara had had the time to learn, but the fundamentals he learned well enough. As Naruto had guessed, the kimono tied perfectly around his lithe figure, and Gaara nodded in approval.

"It looks good on you."

Naruto blushed, and said, "Put yours on too, Gaara?"

Gaara made quick work of it, and gestured for the door. "The festival starts at sunset, and lasts throughout the night. Since it is winter, the days are short – the sun should be setting soon. The most festive activities are held immediately – most of the people will be home before midnight. Shall we go?"

Naruto nodded, grinning, and took Gaara's hand in his. "Let's go!"

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Surprise! I'm back~. I've changed my username since the posting of A Slice of Heaven, but it's still me. This little snippet was written as an entry to a flash fiction round, and was my first solid step back into the Heaven universe.

That being said, this particular installment is a two-shot until further notice – the latter part will be quite different, and will bring a new surprise of its own.

Thanks for reading this, and I would appreciate any and all feedback.