Hey guys, and welcome to chapter 17 of Crimson Sands!

Sorry it's taken so long, I had to get the next chapter of my other fanfiction done first along with a few other things. However, there's only 2 more chapters left of that one and then I can focus most of my attention on Crimson Sands! :D

Thanks so much for the support guys!

"Gaara!" Naruto cried happily as his red headed friend approached their usual spot on the beach. He quickly stood up and ran to meet the other halfway, skidding to a stop once he was right in front of Gaara. "I heard about what happened! Are you okay?" Naruto studied his friend carefully, concern shining in his cerulean orbs.

That was a very good question. Was he okay? Gaara had ended up spending the night at the hospital for observation instead of leaving that day, and now he was walking around again as if nothing happened. Well, not quite nothing. Gaara knew that he didn't see Neji the same way that he did before, no matter how much he wished otherwise. Now he was confused on what he should do. He could simply act as if nothing happened and ignore the slight warmth in his chest when the sorcery demon was around, or he could take a chance and accept Neji's request to court him. Although it wouldn't matter that much anyways seeing as how mating season was only four more days away. Gaara continued to think silently to himself before he came to a conclusion.

He needed another opinion on this.

"...I need to talk to you." Gaara muttered, not even bothering to answer Naruto's question.

The blond raised an eyebrow at that but didn't question it. "Alright. What do you want to talk about?"

Gaara lightly grabbed his sleeve and pulled him further away from the others so that they were out of earshot. He turned towards his friend and teal orbs stared into deep blue. "I'm...confused." He admitted quietly, glancing down at his shoes as if there was some sort of hidden secret in them.

Naruto frowned and studied his red-headed friend carefully. This was new. Gaara always seemed highly sure of what to say or do, so for him to admit that he was confused about something meant that it had to be pretty serious.

"Confused?" he questioned, crossing his arms and tilting his head to the side. "About what?"

Now Gaara hesitated. Just admitting to the fact that he felt something for Neji would mean that he was taking a fairly big step. He wasn't use to big steps.

"About...Neji." Gaara looked up at him and didn't break eye contact, hoping to fully express what he meant with his eyes.

The fox demon was silence for a few moments before his eyes widened in realization. "Oh...OH! Wait, do mean that...?" Naruto studied him carefully, searching for any clues that would give away what the redhead was feeling.

Gaara quickly looked away again, his eyes darting to the sand at his feet. Silence filled the space between them for a minute or two before Gaara decided to speak up again. "I think...," he hesitated, his grip tightening around the strap of his bag. "I think I'm going to accept Neji's request to court me."

Naruto watched him for a minute with a contemplative expression on his face before stepping forward and placing a hand on each of Gaara's shoulders. "Are you sure about this, Gaara?" he asked, nothing but concern lacing his voice. "I know Neji helped you out a lot the other day, but that doesn't mean you're obliged to accept his request or do anything in return."

Ignoring the fact that something extremely intelligent just came out of Naruto's mouth, Gaara nodded and gently grabbed the other's wrists, setting down his arms back at his sides. "I know. I just...feel like its something I should do. For my own sake."

Naruto continued studying him, looking for any signs of doubt or unsureness. Once he was sure that the other wasn't some alien imposter, Naruto gave Gaara a small smile and crossed his arms. "Well, alright. If you're sure about this then I'll support you the whole way, and I'm sure the others will too."

Gaara didn't smile but there was undoubtedly a hint of gratefulness shining in his teal orbs. "...Thank you." He muttered, feeling a lot better about this whole ordeal now that he had Naruto backing him up.

The blond's smile suddenly turned into a wide, teasing grin. "Well, Gaara," he started, throwing an arm around the smaller demon's shoulder. "I guess there's nothing left for you to do but go get your man, huh?"

Gaara scowled at the other's choice of words, giving him a sharp nudge in the stomach. "Shut the hell up." He hissed.

Naruto laughed at the other's hostility and began guiding him back over to the group. "Don't Worry, Gaara. I won't even mention it to the guys until you've officially accepted Neji's request. I know how you feel about gossip." He gave the redhead a reassuring smile.

"...Thank you, Naruto." Gaara said slowly, not too surprised by how understanding the blond was being of all this. Especially seeing as how Naruto was dealing with courting problems of his own. Speaking of which...

"How are things with Uchiha?"

Stumbling a bit, Naruto turned his head towards Gaara, a bit of a dumbfounded expression on his face. "W...what do you mean?"

Gaara rolled his eyes at how obvious the blond was, crossing his arms and halting in his steps. "You know what I mean, idiot. Sasuke requested to court you. What are you going to do?" He was honestly curious, which was strange for him considering he hardly ever gave a rat's ass about what was going on with others.

"How did you know about that?!" Naruto demanded, utterly confused about how the raccoon demon had come to receive that information.

An exasperated sigh left Gaara's lips, giving the blond a tired look. "Neji told me in the hospital. Now stop avoiding the question."

Naruto fidgeted in place, scratching the back of his head as he tried to convey a good way to explain it to the redhead. "I...well...I honestly have no idea what to do. I mean...," he sighed, rubbing his face. "I'm not gonna lie, I am physically attracted to Sasuke-"

"Obviously."

Giving Gaara an irritated stare for interrupting him, Naruto slowly continued. "...And I do sometimes enjoy our fights. The thing is...I just don't know if Sasuke is right for me-"

Gaara held up a hand, successfully cutting him off again.

"You think...that Sasuke might not be right for you." The sand demon repeated slowly, making sure he'd heard right.

Naruto gave him a curious look, not quite sure where his friend was going with this. "Well, yeah. I mean he-"

"Stop talking."

"But-"

"Shut up."

Naruto finally shut his mouth and, once sure that it would stay that way, Gaara continued. "You've already admitted to being physically attracted to Sasuke and enjoying your fights," he muttered, teal eyes boring into Naruto's. "Think about something, idiot. Sasuke is flocked by tons of girls every day, and instead of wanting to court one of them he chooses you; a hyperactive idiot who likes to wear bright colors that he practically gives all of his attention to. You're not going to find someone like that every day. Sure he teases you and gives you a hard time, but its obvious he likes you. So don't be stupid."

Naruto was silent for a moment as he took all of this in, tossing it around in his mind. Slowly, his signature grin spread over his face.

"...You do realize you basically just described you and Neji, too...right?"

Gaara could have nearly stumbled back at that, a sack of bricks practically smacking him in the face with the truth. He was Gaara, however, so obviously he didn't do that. Instead, he simply stared at Naruto with a somewhat irritated expression. "...Just shut the hell up and accept Uchiha's request."

Naruto couldn't help but laugh at that response, watching as Gaara began stalking back over to their group.

Sometimes Gaara could make a very good point, even if it backfired on him.

~~~CRIMSON SANDS~~~

"NEJI HYUGA! YOU ARE ONE OF OUR YOUTHFUL CHALLENGERS TODAY!"

Everyone in Asuma's Weaponry class cringed at Gai's booming voice as he announce one of the two competitors for today. Even Neji made a face at hearing his name yelled in such a disruptive way. The class reveled in the short rest that their eardrums received before Gai announced the second competitor.

"OUR SECOND YOUTHFUL CHALLENGER WILL BE...SHIKAMARU NARA!"

Everyone heard a loud, disoriented snort, both Gaara and Naruto looking over to see their lazy friend lifting his head from his desk, obviously having just woken up. "...Huh?" he grumbled tiredly, earning a few chuckles around the of the other students in the class nudged him and quietly explained the situation, eliciting an exasperated groan from the shadow demon.

"...Can I just forfeit and be done with it?" Shikamaru asked with a yawn, scratching the back of his head.

Gai and Asuma glanced at each other for a moment before returning their gaze to the student, the latter providing the answer. "If you want. But if you do, you'll receive a zero for two test grades." Asuma warned.

Shikamaru let out sigh at that and closed his eyes, obvious that he was dreading what he was about to say. "Troublesome...I guess I'll do it then."

~~~CRIMSON SANDS~~~

"ALRIGHT BOYS...BEGIN!" Gai boomed, swiping his hand down to signal the beginning of the fight. Neither Neji nor Shikamaru moved for a good minute or so, one sizing the other up while the other simply stood there out of boredom.

Gaara watched the two carefully as he waited for something to happen until he felt a nudge to his side. Looking over he was met with the grinning face of Naruto. If the blond started commentating on the fight then the school would have a body to dig out of the sand.

"What?" The redhead asked irritably, actually wanting to watch the fight.

Naruto raised an eyebrow at him but decided to dismiss the hostile tone. "I just wanted to know if you've talked to Neji yet."

Gaara gave a soft sigh of irritation, delicately pinching the bridge of his nose. The idiocy he put up with... "I made up my mind only two hours ago, Naruto...so, no. I haven't talked to him yet."

A small whine came from Naruto's throat, and Gaara watched as he placed his hands on his hips and childishly tapped his foot. "Sorry! Its just that I'm waiting to talk to Sasuke until after you've cleared things up with Neji...Just to see how things turn out, ya know?"

So that's why the blond wanted him to talk to Hyuga so bad. "I'll talk to him at the end of the school day," the redhead confirmed, turning his body back towards the fight. "Now shut up."

Obviously satisfied with such an answer, Naruto did as told and turned his attention back to the fight as well. Things had progressed a bit as the two had conversed, both Neji and Shikamaru now in action. Gaara watched with an intense gaze as Neji worked on attacking while Shikamaru started to defend. The sorcery demon was moving at a fairly impressive speed, he motions fluid as he presented his unique style of fighting. Gaara noted the veins that prominently stuck out around the Hyuga's eyes. The Byakugan, Naruto had called it. When the redhead had learned this information, he was somewhat irritated that the Hyuga family had named a restaurant off of one of their fighting techniques.

He continued to watch, however, and he couldn't help but admire the quick and precise strikes that Neji aimed at Shikamara. The shadow demon only had enough time to dodge, no opportunity for a counter-attack coming up. This honestly surprised Gaara, seeing as how tactical Shikamaru was. Of course, he was also lazier than a sloth soaking in a bath full of molasses, so that might have something to do with it, too.

Eventually, Shikamaru made a few quick jumps back and managed to put some distance between himself and Neji. The shadow demon crouched down and made a few quick hand signs, Gaara watching in interest as his shadow suddenly shot out and stretched in Neji's direction. The redhead knew enough about shadow demons to know that if Shikamaru's shadow managed to touch Neji, then he would have control over the Hyuga's body and force him to copy whatever action he made. Realizing the danger, Neji quickly shot to the side and began working his way in different angles to try and get to Shikamaru while avoiding his shadow at the same time. A lot easier said than done. Shikamaru's shadow snaked across the sand at a nice speed, following the sorcery demon as if it was locked on like a torpedo.

Neji soon managed to get close to the shadow demon, but instead of attacking him straight on like Gaara had been expecting, the Hyuga suddenly jumped into the air. He brought his left arm in and, at the same time, lashed out with his right arm. A burst of chakra shot from his hand, nailing an unsuspecting Shikamaru in the side and successfully knocking him off his feet. Then, Neji was racing forward, trying to take advantage of the moment to land another blow on him.

However, Neji had miscalculated slightly. While Shikamaru had fallen down, his final hand sign had not been broken, and when the Hyuga got close enough the shadow demon shot up from the ground. His shadow shot out and, before the other could react, trapped Neji in his jutsu. Everyone held their breath, Neji and Shikamaru standing nose to nose. Then, Shikamaru took a step back, the Hyuga doing the exact same thing.

Over in the crowd, Sasuke cursed softly when he realized what happened. He didn't think any less of Neji, however. It honestly had looked like Shikamaru lost control of his jutsu, and he wasn't afraid to admit that he would've done the same.

Shikamaru stared at Neji, his usual zoned out expression on his face. "What to do with you..." Shikamaru sighed, studying the other carefully. Neji frowned at this, having expected the other maneuver his body to try and knock him out.

"What do you mean, 'what to do with me'?" He asked curiously. "You have the opportunity to win right now. Why aren't you taking it?"

Neji watched as the shadow demon sighed again and scratched the back of his head, scowling since he was forced to do the same. Shikamaru seemed to look at something behind him before returning his attention to the Hyuga. "Well...the way I see it is if I win this just because I managed to trap you with sort of a cheap trick, you'll look bad in front of Gaara. And from what I've heard, you've finally managed to get on his good side, right?"

Neji stared at the other incredulously, hardly believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. Of all the conversations they could be having at the moment, that was the one the shadow demon chose to pursue?

"Are you saying that you want me to win, just so I can impress Gaara a bit more?"

Shikamaru shrugged shoving his hands in his pockets, eliciting and irritated grunt from Neji. "I guess you could say that."

A ways away, the other students watched in fascination at the scene occurring before them.

"Are they just...talking?" Naruto asked in amazement, looking over at Gaara.

The redhead was watching as well, a suspicious gleam in his teal eyes. "They're planning something." He muttered suspiciously, glancing back and forth between Shikamaru and Neji.

Everyone continued to watch the two, waiting for something, anything, exciting to occur. After all, what could be more exciting than watching two classmates beat the shit out of each other? Well, maybe the entire football team streaking across the sand, but that wasn't the point.

All of a sudden, everyone watched as Shikamaru was sent flying across the beach, the jutsu obviously broken as his body bounced a few times before sliding to a stop. All eyes turned to Neji, who was casually dusting off a bit of sand from his shoulder.

Idiot... Gaara thought in slight annoyance. It was obvious that Shikamaru had purposely deactivated his jutsu. Neji had no way of getting out of it without the other running out of chakra, not enough time having passing for that to have happened. Of course, Gaara was basically the only one who noticed this besides Sasuke. Shikamaru slowly stood back up, tenderly rubbing at his shoulder as he took his time coming back over to where the others were. He approached Asuma, still rubbing at his shoulder.

"I think my shoulder might have popped out of place," the shadow demon sighed, the look on his face showing that was obviously not the case. "I'm going to go ahead and forfeit."

Gai and Asuma glanced at each other, the latter eventually letting out an exasperated sigh and rubbing the back of his neck. "Well...alright. We'll take your word for it. Gai, call it."

The green-clad teacher stepped forward and raised his hand in the air. "THE WINNER OF THIS YOUTHFUL FIGHT IS NEJI HYUGA!"

There were a few claps among the students, but not many. After all, it wasn't that exciting of a fight. Soon after, the bell rang, and the crowd of students slowly dispersed. Neji, deciding to wash up a bit before heading to his next class, turned to do the same. He was halted, however, when he felt something give a light tug to the back of his shirt. Turning his head a bit, Neji was surprised to see Gaara hanging onto the back of his shirt, his head bowed slightly as if he was deep in thought.

He had originally told Naruto that he planned on talking to Neji after school, but after thinking things through during the fight, Gaara decided that if he didn't do it now then he'd lose the nerve to do it all. With everyone already leaving for their next class, now was a fairly good opportunity anyways. Especially since Naruto was no longer around, having ran off after Shikamaru to probably talk about the fight.

"Did you need something, Gaara?"

Neji's voice snapped the redhead out of his thoughts, reminding him that he stopped the sorcery demon for a reason. When Gaara let go of his shirt, Neji slowly turned to face him, an elegant eyebrow raised in question. In all honesty, Gaara was surprised by the lack of teasing coming from the other. Not like he was going to complain, though.

"...Okay."

Neji only seemed to look more confused by the single word. Alright, maybe that had been a little too straightforward. Taking a deep breath, Gaara decided to try again.

"I...accept," he muttered slowly, speaking loud enough for only Neji to hear.

The Hyuga stared at him for a moment, and you could practically see it when realization hit him, his lavender orbs widening ever so slightly. "You don't by any chance mean...?" His voice sounded a mixture of astonishment and hopefulness, as if he couldn't quite believe what he was hearing.

Gaara gave a nod to his unfinished question, bowing his head a bit to try and hide the small blush that was creeping over his cheeks. He let out a startled cry as he was suddenly lifted into the air and spun around in a circle, a loud, jovial laugh coming from the Hyuga holding him up. It was a strange sound to hear coming from him, but Gaara found it to be somewhat...pleasant.

"Put me down." Gaara growled, although it seemed to be lacking its usual bite.

Neji lowered him, as requested, and wrapped his arms around the redhead in a hug. Another foreign sign of affection for the smaller demon. As much as he wanted to, Neji did not kiss him for once. As soon as Gaara has said the word 'accept', the rules of the courting ritual were put into action. Now, he could only kiss Gaara with his permission, which was alright with him. He was just happy to finally be able to say that he was courting the little redhead..

"I promise you that you will not regret this, Gaara," Neji assured, pulling back and giving him a genuine smile. He was surprised that the fiery redhead had not clawed his face off for touching him so freely, but he liked to think of it as a sign that Gaara was getting used to receiving affection from him.

Gaara huffed softly, looking up at him with burning cheeks. How cute. "You better not." He threatened, finally brushing his hands away. Ah, there was his familiar raccoon demon.

Neji merely chuckled at the threat, giving a small bow. "I assure you, you won't."

Looks like he wasn't going to have to rely on the Mating Season after all. That thought alone brought more joy to Neji than he thought possible. The moment was interrupted, however, when Gaara's phone went off, signaling he had a call.

Neji was going to kill that damn device.

Slightly turning away from the other, Gaara slipped out his phone and opened it, pressing it to his ear. Before he could even get a word out, the person on the other end of the line greeted him first. The happy atmosphere was instantly shattered as Gaara's expression turned dark, instantly putting the sorcery demon on edge.

"Hello...father."

DUN DUN DUNNNNN!

Yes, I know. I'm a dick for leaving you guys hanging for so long and then leaving you with a cliffhanger. But never fear! All will be revealed eventually!

But seriously, I'm so sorry for taking so long. I'll definitely try and do better.

Hope you enjoyed!

Pleeeease Review! :D