Crap. Crap. Crap. Naruto fumbled opening the door to his apartment. He was late. He'd stayed too long at Ichiraku's.
What are the chances that he hadn't noticed?
Naruto quietly, as quietly as is possible for Naruto (being Naruto), slipped past the door. He slowly crouched down to take off his shoes. One and then the other.
Maybe he could pretend like he had been here longer than he actually was.
He felt eyes on him. He sighed. So much for that.
"Hey, Gaara. Sorry, I..." Naruto just trailed off into nothing. No excuse would be good enough, but he had to say something. He didn't want today to be a bad day.
It's not everyday that Gaara's in Konoha, what with him being the Kazekage and all.
And Naruto was the one who had begged him to come over his house even though he was already busy here, so naturally there's no excuse. Naruto should've been here.
Naruto felt terrible, even if he was only an hour late... or was it two?
He prepared himself for the inevitable 'Where were you? ' but it never came.
Gaara just simply asked, "Do you remember what you told me that day?"
Naruto looked up at him. "...Huh?"
Gaara sat stone faced on the couch, staring straight ahead. He didn't offer him a glance or any kind of explanation.
Naruto stood back up, raising an eyebrow. "I've told you a lot of things Gaara. You're going to have to be more specific."
Something in Gaara shifted along with the sand.
Naruto tried not to seem unsettled. Tried being the operative word.
Gaara recited with frightening accuracy the words Naruto himself had spoken all those years ago, "It's almost unbearable... isn't it? The pain of being all alone. I know that feeling...
I've been there in that dark and lonely place."
Naruto didn't know just yet how Gaara was saying it.
Was he fondly recalling the past, the exact event that had changed their relationship, and him, and even Naruto, for the better permanently?
Or was he remembering the moment they had nearly beaten the crap out of each other? Naruto nodded either way, because it was the truth. He did remember.
Gaara still didn't move. It was like a wall was up between them, and Naruto wasn't referring to the agitated sand.
Gaara tightened his grip on the arm rest. "You told me that your loneliness had changed because of the people you found. Your friends."
Naruto smiled, softly, but his eyes never left Gaara's clenched hand. "Yes, they--"
Gaara cut him off. "You told me you'd kill me to protect them, because they were the first to save you from yourself."
Naruto paused. He could feel the sand on him now. His mouth went dry. Don't be afraid of him, he told himself. He won't hurt you.
But something in the back of his mind kept telling him to run like hell. You shouldn't be alone with him. Gaara had changed, sure, but not that much.
Not as much as everyone, even Naruto, liked to believe.
Naruto could see that clearly on days like this.
Naruto swallowed the lump growing in his throat. "Why are you bringing that up now?"
Naruto sighed, steeled himself, and walked over to the redheaded ninja. He always hated when he got like this.
He stood right in front of him and crouched down, just as he had when he was taking off his shoes. He reached out. One hand and then the other. Then he hesitated.
He pulled his hands back and opted for just resting one on Gaara's knee. He didn't want to provoke him. "Gaara--"
Naruto flinched. The look in Gaara's eyes made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He hadn't seen that look in awhile. He thought he'd never see it again.
"I understand," Gaara said it as calm as ever, but that didn't take the edge of an accusation off of it.
"You understand what?" Naruto asked. What kind of "understanding" could possibly make Gaara look at him like that? The fear. The anger. The hatred... the betrayal.
Of course Naruto had seen all of that before, on a daily basis in fact.
Especially when he came home this late during Gaara's visits, or his own to Suna, but it had never been this bad since that day in the forest.
Since the day they had nearly killed each other, and that had to be the cause hadn't it?
He had no idea why Gaara was thinking of that day, in this light, but it must be what Naruto said that day that's got him all worked up. Naruto had meant every word of course, at the time.
He was prepared to take Gaara down if need be, but it was different now. Gaara was different, and it wasn't like Naruto had wanted to. But once Gaara got something in his head...
Naruto cleared his throat. "I don't know why you're saying this stuff. I'm trying to understand but I can't read your mind. You know my interrogation skills are terrible...
" Naruto half-heartedly chuckled. "Help me."
Still Gaara said nothing.
Naruto continued. "I can say this. I love you, Gaara. I know you hate when I say those words, because other people didn't mean it. But I don't care. Because I mean it.
And I'm sorry that I can't take back what I said that day. Because I meant it.
But if it's any reassurance, I like to think I meant it more hypothetically," he chuckled lightly again, still trying to lighten the mood. Get Gaara to look at him. "Like, if I had to.
Not that I'd like to." Naruto smiled weakly, as a peace offering. A "please, I don't want to fight right now."
Nothing changed in Gaara's demeanor. In fact, whatever was stirring in his eyes seemed even more resolved. He looked so dejected. "I understand now, Naruto.
Why you told me that they were the first to accept you. That you would protect them at all costs, even at my expense.
I understand that it was because you wanted me to know that I would always come second to you."
For fuck's sake, Gaara. Leave it to him to always come up with the craziest conclusions.
First the whole, "I must kill to have a purpose in life" thing and now this? Naruto didn't even know what to say. "Gaara."
He moved so that Naruto was no longer touching him. "I think that I need to return to Suna."
"What are you talking about? You still have two days here." Naruto moved closer.
This time Gaara blocked him with a thicker fog of sand, a warning. "I can leave when I want."
"You're in the middle of an important political decision with three other nations. You can't just up and leave. Tsunade--"
"You can leave when you want." Gaara said, still looking into Naruto's eyes.
"That's not true."
Gaara opened his mouth, then closed it. He looked away, staring off into nothing for awhile. Then another accusation came out of him, almost hesitantly. "...
Where were you?" Gaara whispered so low that Naruto had barely heard it. That's because Gaara wasn't sure that he wanted to know the answer.
But all the same he asked it, because he had to know, and Naruto didn't look like he knew what the heck to say.
Naruto fumbled with his words. "I was just hungry. I went to Ichiraku after the meeting."
Gaara shook his head. He looked so... defeated, even though he was still wearing that same emotionless mask. "...Where were you?" His voice broke.
Not in the sense of some school girl wailing out, or sobbing. His voice broke in the way only his could. A slight raspiness. A running out of air.
He couldn't even make eye contact with Naruto, let alone breathe properly.
Naruto rushed to him, sand wall be damned. It felt like sandpaper rubbing against him, not enough to take skin but enough to be uncomfortable.
And it was uncomfortable, holding Gaara in his arms and Gaara standing stock still, willing him away, incapable of reciprocating.
Gaara just stood there, off in his own head, and Naruto was afraid that nothing he did or said would change anything.
"You were with him." Gaara said.
"No." But the truth is that he was. He had gone to see Sasuke again, despite the better judgement of everyone, including his partner. But it wasn't what Gaara thought. He just needed to see him.
To know that he was okay. But Gaara would never understand. So he just had to lie to keep the peace, especially with the sand wrapping around his legs the way it was.
"Don't touch me right now," Gaara said, and it broke Naruto's heart.
"I love you," Naruto said. "I've loved you ever since I realized that you understood me in a way no one else could. And I understand you. I wanted to save you, Gaara. I'm trying to, everyday.
When I thought you were gone... there was nothing left. I love you. I want to love you. Just let me love you--"
"No." He shook his head. "I love you. You love him. You're obsessed with him."
"He's just a friend," Naruto said.
"He's not your friend. He hates you. He tried to kill you, and you still love him."
The sand starts wrapping around Naruto, so tight to the point it hurts.
"Gaara, please. Sasuke is just... a brother to me," Naruto gasps out over the tightness around his chest.
"You're lying. I don't feel for Kankuro what you feel for Sasuke."
Naruto tried to reach out to him, but he couldn't move. Would he... Would he have to fight him?