I've been primarily been a Bleach writer/fan. But Naruto has become extremely dear to me and I'm a huge fan of both series.
Sapphire and Sunshine- 1
Pairing: Gaara x Naruto
This story contains male x male relationships and intimacy. (But it will take a while to get there.)
A warm breeze blew across the sand carrying the dry scent of the desert. I felt it brush across my face and I closed my eyes for a moment to enjoy the moving air. Suna had been slogging through a bout of stagnant, hot weather lately that had been making everyone irritable. Even the nights had been overly warm and uncomfortable. It was part of the reason I was up on the roof instead of in the stifling confines of my office. I had no interest in keeping the rest of my appointments for the afternoon and I wanted nothing more than to find a cool shadow to stretch out and nap in.
Ordinarily, I wouldn't have been bothered by the heat but I'd come to realize recently that my tolerance for high temperatures had come partly from the Shukaku. Now that I was no longer a Jinchuriki, it seemed I was more susceptible to my surroundings and the environment. Not that I let my discomfort show even now that was momentarily alone. I couldn't afford to show weakness at this point. My position as Kazekage was relatively secure but I wasn't going to give any of the older council members any reason to doubt me. I could handle it.
There had been a time when I'd never really considered planning for my future. It never occurred to me that I even had one. My very existence had been hard enough to deal with when I was a child. Only by ridding the world of other people did I feel that I was allowed to continue living myself. If it could have been called living. I'd let the hate from those around me and my own resentment mold me into a monster. But it was so different now. And all because of a single person that had showed me there was another way. Someone who had known the same pain as me but hadn't let it be the only thing to shape his path.
A small smile pulled at my lips as I thought of what Naruto would be doing if he were here. He would most likely be complaining about the heat and making a general nuisance of himself. I wondered what he was doing right now. It wasn't often that I got to see him and I always cherished his rare visits even if he spent a good deal of time whining about the temperature. My smile widened. In two days, I would be making a trip to Konoha and I'd asked Tsunade to keep my arrival on a need to know basis. It was partly for security reasons but mostly I just wanted a chance to surprise my friend. His startling blue eyes would widen and a foolish grin would light his face up like a beacon.
I felt a surge of warmth that had nothing to do with the weather and I sighed quietly. What was I going to do about Naruto? He was easily my closest friend but sometimes I wondered at the depth of my feelings. I didn't have any experience to guide me since I'd never had any real connection to another person before. I wanted to see him, to be around him all the time. Whenever he was near, I wanted his attention and when he wasn't with me, I missed him. Was that normal? Should I worry? How much was too much? And how the hell would I ever get the answer to those questions without embarrassing myself and whoever asked?
It wasn't just wanting to be around Naruto, it was much more complex than that. I couldn't quite figure it out myself but I couldn't talk to anyone else about it either. My feelings had really started to shift the last time the unpredictable blonde had come to Suna. I noticed when he arrived that he seemed to be extremely uncomfortable but when I asked him, he tried to shrug it off as nothing. Only after a certain amount of prodding had he shown me what the problem was and pulled off his jacket and shirt. His normal complexion was usually a golden tan but his back had burned a brilliant, swollen red. Apparently he'd stopped at the oasis for a swim and had fallen asleep in the sun.
I had merely shaken my head in weary amusement and pulled out a jar of aloe before sitting Naruto down on a stool in front of me. He let out a cute little 'eep' and squirmed when I started spreading the gel down over his shoulder.
"That's cold." It wasn't really. I could feel the heat radiating from his skin as I continued to cover the burn. The aloe just felt cold in comparison. But after a few moments, he sighed softly. "Actually, that's nice." Naruto looked over his shoulder at me and smiled. "With your pale skin I bet you burn to a crisp in the sun, Gaara."
I don't know why but that's when I felt that first surge of warmth just from looking at him. His skin was warm under my fingers and his smile was radiant. The scent of the aloe blended with Naruto's sweat and the earthly hint of forest shadows. My eyes traveled down over the leanly muscled planes of his back to the waistband of his pants. I swallowed hard and was surprised to feel a tightening tingle below that had never happened just from looking at someone before. Naruto saw me staring and frowned.
"Hey, your face is kind of red. You didn't get burned too did you?"
No, the heated flush creeping up to my hairline had nothing to do with a sunburn but I couldn't tell him that. I shook my head and told him it was nothing. How could I explain that I was dangerously close to becoming hard just from looking at my best friend? I was afraid that If I told him, it would change things and I valued our friendship far too much to endanger it. Fortunately, he didn't push and I was able to finish with the aloe quickly.
That was several months ago but it wasn't the last time that I'd become aroused just from the thought of him. There were occasions where I lay in my bed thinking of him, shamelessly enjoying the pleasurable sensations from my body's reactions. I had come to terms with the fact that I was a teenager and was suffering from the same fluctuating hormones as everyone else my age. But I always felt a little guilty after. What was wrong with me? He was my friend. If he ever found out, what would he think? Would he be disgusted? Would he push me away? I felt compelled to tell him but I wasn't sure I could. I had no frame of reference to make any kind of sound decision and I was so afraid of ruining everything.
Shaking my head as I attempted to shake off the self-doubt, I looked out over the village. I'd become a better person because of Naruto. He'd shown me that there was another path that I never would have considered myself. My continued existence no longer depended on ending the existence of others. Instead, I'd sought out acceptance where there had been none and managed to find my place. Without Naruto, I'm not sure that would have been possible for me.
"There you are, Gaara. I wondered where you'd snuck off to."
I didn't turn when I heard Kankuro's voice behind me. He'd made no attempt to hide his presence but that wouldn't have mattered. I'd gotten much better at sensing when others were near me. Aside from finding my own sense of self-worth, I had started working on finding less destructive uses for my sand. Now I always surrounded myself with a cloud of fine particles soaked in my own chakra that were invisible to the eye. I could feel the presence of any people around me without needing to physically see them.
"Sneaking implies ulterior motive," I said. "I just needed five minutes that weren't filled with paperwork, petitions, or political maneuvering."
Kankuro came to stand beside me to take in the view. "Long day?"
"I've had worse." Even my worst day now would be better than a good day from the past. But then again, there really was no comparison between now and then because it was so different. We stood in easy silence for a few minutes and I was glad that my brother knew when I wasn't in the mood for conversation. Of course, that didn't stop him from prodding anyway. He'd never gotten the chance to give me a hard time when we were kids and he seemed to enjoy making up for it now. I could tell that he was grinning without even looking at him.
"You know, little brother," he said conversationally. "If you keep dodging your Anbu guards and making it look so easy, you're going to hurt their feelings."
"I'm just giving them a challenge." If they couldn't keep up with me when I wasn't even trying hard, could they really call themselves Anbu?
"Seriously though," he said. "They could get good enough that you might not be able to see them anymore. Wouldn't it be better to humor them enough so that you still know where they are?"
There was no real rebuke in his tone. We both had the same opinion of the watchers the council continued set on me. The Anbu followed me around and attempted to remain hidden while reporting on my activities. I knew exactly where they were and pretended I was unaware. No one could escape the reach of my sand but the heightened awareness was an ability that I'd kept to myself so far, even from Kankuro and Temari. I didn't want them to know that I could slip away so easily. I had sought out the position of Kazekage and had no regrets in embracing everything that came with it including the restriction of my freedom. But even I had my limits. I sighed again as I suddenly wished for solitude.
"My next appointment isn't for another hour. I think the village can survive without me for a little while longer."
"Actually you've got three hours before you have to suck up to another dignitary." There was that grin again. I think it amused Kankuro to see me play the politician. And perhaps he was glad that he didn't often have to do it himself. As the head of my personal security, he could get away with quite a bit in terms of lack of decorum as long as he didn't push the boundaries of rudeness too far. He took after our sensei Baki more than the rest of us. Kankuro chuckled quietly. "You lucked out and the ambassador canceled. I think he's having trouble with the heat again."
Said ambassador was from the Land of Snow and he'd been incredibly uncomfortable since he arrived. But he couldn't really be blamed. Even some of the more tolerant members of the village seemed to be wilting lately. "See if Temari can fit him in early tomorrow morning before the sun rises. The temperature shouldn't too bad then."
"Awww. Don't send me to make her play secretary. The swelling has just gone down." The obvious whine in his voice made my lips twitch again. Our sister wasn't fond of administrative duties and took out her frustration on Kankuro in the guise of training exercises.
"You'll figure something out." My smile turned into a small smirk. "While you're at it, why don't you ask her to talk to the Wind Lord's envoy after she's finished with that. I hear that he's complaining about his accommodations again."
Kankuro frowned, making the patterns of his makeup shift as his lip curled. "Oh, joy."
"And there's the matter of. . ."
"Alright, now you're just being mean." He shook his head and started to walk away without letting me finish. Not that I really expected him to do any of those things except reschedule the appointment and I knew he'd do that himself. He wasn't the only one who enjoyed giving their siblings a hard time. I turned to watch him go and saw him stop in his tracks.
"Kazekage-sama." A messenger stood in the doorway breathing heavily with sweat dripping down his face. It looked like he'd run all the way up here. "A sealed letter just arrived for you," he panted.
My face remained relatively expressionless as I went over and held out my hand. I could see the Leaf seal on the scroll and for some reason, I had a sudden bad feeling. The message was probably just a finalization of the itinerary for my trip. Nothing to worry about. But I couldn't quite shake the apprehension. Letting out a small pulse of chakra from my fingers, I broke the special seal. Since the Akatsuki had made themselves openly known, new security measures had been put into place including document seals that only responded to the intended recipient. And that was often on top of the usual encrypted script within.
I unfurled the parchment and scanned the contents. Tsunade's writing always looked she was slightly inebriated when she put ink to paper which usually amused me. But I was in no mood for humor now. The Hokage was a forceful and aggressive woman who didn't often dance around a subject she wanted to discuss. But the strangely innocuous message was very chatty which wasn't like her. The letter itself wasn't encoded so perhaps she was being evasive on purpose but I wasn't sure why yet.
She went on about my upcoming visit and how she was looking forward to seeing me in person and strengthening the ties between our two lands. That in and of itself worried me. In terms of political savvy, the woman was no fool but she never pandered to diplomats and was often very blunt in the way she spoke. This spill of flowery politeness set my teeth on edge. Something was wrong. When she mentioned Naruto, my stomach dropped. Had something happened? I read on and tried not to jump to conclusions.
In anticipation of my arrival, Tsunade had done her best to keep Naruto relatively close to home so he'd be there when I got to Konoha. But again, she was being evasive in the message. I had to go through it a couple of times to read between the lines. Apparently, he'd been sent out on a simple mission and should have been back more than a week ago. He'd completed his task and the contract had been paid in full by a happy client but he never made it back to Konoha.
She tried to be casual about it and asked if I'd seen him. Her theory was that Naruto had probably gotten fed up with all the low ranking missions she'd been giving him recently and taken off in a huff. It wasn't totally out of character for him and under normal circumstances, I might have thought the same. Her hope was that he'd snuck off to come see me but even though she didn't come out and say it in the letter, she was worried that something might have happened to him.
My stomach did a painful flip as I considered the possibilities while frustration and anger bubbled up from below. Why had he been sent out on a mission alone without backup? Even if it was simple, he shouldn't have left the village by himself. Not when he was target. The edges of the scroll crumpled as my fingers tightened.
"What is it?" Kankuro could always tell when my mood shifted. He came back over towards me but refrained from leaning in and reading over my shoulder like he would have done otherwise.
"Call a meeting of the security council. I want Anbu representatives there as well."
Kankuro nodded sharply once and disappeared from the rooftop. If it were a subject of no consequence and it was just the two of us, he liked to argue just for the sake of arguing. But when it was important, my brother supported me without question. I dismissed the messenger and headed back to my office.
Sometimes politics and diplomacy made things so much more difficult. The Hokage hadn't officially asked for Suna's help and I couldn't just send out patrols with the sole purpose of searching for Naruto. Suna's strength had become much more stable recently but we still had to deal with the Wind Lord. Ignoring that fact would only cause trouble. My father had been frustrated with how the military had been downsized and tried to go around the chain of command by forming an alliance with Orochimaru and the Sound Village. We'd all been deceived into attacking the Leaf in a bid to gain power. In the end it had cost my father his life and nearly brought Suna to ruin. I was not going to make the same mistake.
So I'd play by the rules and wouldn't stretch beyond my means or position. But that didn't mean that I couldn't gather as much information as I could. If Naruto had been taken down or captured, his opponent had to be formidable. He was the strongest person I knew with stamina that was unmatched. The list of people who could beat him was very short and I couldn't help but consider the Akatsuki as a possibility. If they had him, it would be very bad. But the Akatsuki threatened everyone and I wouldn't be out of line in sending out teams to gather information. And if they happened to find the wayward blonde somewhere along on the way, it would be to everyone's benefit.
Outwardly, I probably appeared as calm as ever. It was rare for me to show any sort of temper openly now that I'd become more stable. But inside I was raging. I don't remember much about what happened after I was captured by the Akatsuki. There had only been a distant sensation of fading into nothingness. With the help of Granny Chiyo, Naruto had been the one to pull me from the darkness. Literally. But if the Akatsuki took Kyuubi from him there would be no one to bring him back. And it would be worse for him because they would have to beat him down within an inch of his life just to capture him in the first place. He would fight until the very end to the point of gong beyond his limit. The thought of the pain that he would suffer before they finally brought him down was almost more than I could bear.
When I stepped into my office, Temari looked up from where she was straightening a stack of papers on my desk. A slight frown marred her face as she looked at me. "Is something wrong?" She usually had more trouble reading me than Kankuro but she knew I was bothered.
"I've called a security meeting. Everyone should be gathering in the council hall in fifteen minutes."
She stood up straight as her attention sharpened. "The Akatsuki?"
It shouldn't have surprised me that she guessed the train of my thoughts. Others would most likely guess the same but I think she understood just from the tone of my voice. There were few things that bothered me as much as the Akatsuki did. But it was the fact that Naruto was missing that really upset me. Taking a deep breath, I tried to reign in my emotions. Letting them control me wouldn't help and they would probably just create more problems.
"What can I do?" Temari asked.
"Get me copies of all the latest border patrol reports. I want to know who's been coming and going." Baki usually took care of that but I wanted to see for myself. I knew he wouldn't take it personally. "But take care of that after the meeting. I want you there." My tone had become calm again as I regained a semblance of control. I was the Kazekage and I could handle this. But even though I was momentarily settled, a stray thought drifted across my mind at how easy it had been for all those emotions to surface. That had never been an issue for me before. I'd have to be careful as I proceeded further.
The seats at the council table were mostly full when I arrived. At my entrance, everyone stood. In the beginning it had taken some getting used to but now I took it in stride as I headed to my seat. I sat stiffly and looked at every face around the table before giving a brief explanation of what I wanted. Security would be tightened around the village and any sighting of the Akatsuki would be reported and recorded. Not that we weren't already doing that but I wanted to drive the point home. We had nothing that the Akatsuki wanted since they'd already taken the Shukaku but that wouldn't stop them from stirring up unrest. And this wasn't just for Suna's sake. I had to find Naruto.
"What's the situation?" Baki asked me. I knew there would be no way to get around explaining my motivations, especially with him. He'd almost gotten as good at reading me as my siblings had. He was also the least likely to balk at making direct demands of me without being extremely careful about it. Back when I'd graduated from the academy, Baki had been the only one who dared take me on as a student.
"I received a letter from Konoha today. Naruto has not returned home from his latest mission. He should have been back more than a week ago." I could see the speculation starting already. There were a mix of expressions around the table ranging from disinterest to outright anger. I could hear a few murmurs from the older members about other villages not being able to take care of themselves. Some were openly distressed at the thought of the Akatsuki claiming the nine tails. Only Temari and Kankuro looked genuinely worried and I knew it was for Naruto himself and not the threat Kyuubi posed. Baki was guarded as always but there was calculation in his gaze.
"It could be nothing," Baki said quietly. That wasn't what I wanted to hear but it was a possibility I had to consider. I tried not to let my impatience show.
"It's in our best interest to remain alert regardless of his actual whereabouts."
Baki regarded me carefully before nodding. "Finding Uzumaki will ensure that he stays out of Akatsuki hands and will win favor with our allies." There was no response from the council besides a few wise nods from those who wished they'd thought of it first. Baki turned to the Anbu representative who stood slightly to one side and made a small gesture. The Anbu disappeared in a puff of smoke.
I didn't honestly think I'd be able to hide any of my motivations and I hadn't really tried. They just happened to coincide with the village's interests at the moment. We wouldn't be expending resources on a search that would normally be considered a personal indulgence.
Another council member spoke. "How will this affect your trip to Konoha?"
"It won't," I answered immediately. "I have no intention of canceling or even postponing the trip."
Baki thrummed his fingers on the table in thought. "The route will be adjusted and your party will leave a day early."
That was good. Now that I was Kazekage, I didn't often leave the village anymore. This would give me a chance to search myself if only in a limited capacity. And the extra day would allow me to spend more time looking while still arriving on schedule.
I turned to Temari. "Adjust my schedule accordingly. Before I leave, I'll meet with those who have business that cannot be postponed. All others will have to wait until I return."
She nodded. "Of course." She could be extremely difficult on a good day but like Kankuro, she rarely argued when it was important.
I looked back around the table. "Unless there is anything else, we'll adjourn for now." Waiting a beat to make sure there was nothing, I rose and headed from the room. Baki walked beside me with Kankuro and Temari following close behind.
"That was well done," Baki murmured.
"How so?" I think I had an idea but I wanted him to tell me.
"Setting searches for Uzumaki without officially stepping on Konoha's toes. I just have one word of advice."
"I'll give the new route consideration. Just don't spend so much time traveling that you get there after you're expected." In other words, don't spend so much time searching that I was late in getting to Konoha. I'd thought about that myself. I knew I probably wouldn't find him but I couldn't sit and do nothing. That was probably one of the most frustrating things about my position. I depended on those around me to do what I needed when there were times when I just wanted to do it myself.
"I know my limits."
"That's not what I'm worried about. The great nations are in a precarious position right now and the balance is tenuous. Regardless of what you do, it could be perceived as preemptive action for going to war." He didn't need to remind me of this, I was well aware of how things were right now.
"I won't do anything to upset that balance. I'm young but not so inexperienced that I'd do something to endanger Suna or the Wind Nation." I set my jaw and turned my head to look at him. "Naruto is not a military asset and I will never treat him as such." I had always resented being considered nothing more than a weapon. It angered me that Naruto was often treated the same way by those who didn't know him.
"I never thought that you'd let your emotions get the best of you. You've always been the most level-headed," Baki murmured thoughtfully. "Just be careful." With that, he headed off down a side corridor.
I stopped and watched him go for a few moments. Was it that obvious? I was doing my best to keep my feelings in check but apparently they were seeping through anyway. My lips twitched in annoyance as I continued on to my office. But I guess it was true that I was usually more subdued now that I was no longer an emotional time bomb. Kankuro and Temari followed me quietly through the office door. Once seated at my desk, I started sorting the piles of papers in order of importance. Kankuro leaned against the wall by one of the windows beside me.
"He's right. It could be nothing."
"And I hope it is," I replied without looking up. I wanted nothing more than for Naruto to be sucking down ramen in some shop somewhere. Or maybe soaking in a hot spring with Jiraiya as his sensei tried to peak into the women's bath. But I wasn't counting on either of those things. I wanted to be prepared for the worst just in case.