Warnings: This is a YAOI FIC. Der. Possible lemon(s) in future. Also, contains spoilers for, well... >>;; almost everything? Especially post time-skip.
Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine, yadda yadda. The fic, however, is. No stealy!

/Chapter 1\

Kankuro shifted the weight of Karasu across his shoulders and flicked a hooded glance towards the tight-faced Jounin standing between him and the group of visitors. What the hell was his name...? Iraku. Kankuro recognized him only vaguely, but the few times he'd seen the older man, he'd seemed like a solid enough ninja, able to take most things in stride.

The sudden appearance of almost ten Leaf and an alarmingly large red-furred dog had evidently shaken him a bit out of his normal stoicism.

Or maybe it was the result of having to deal with a certain big-mouthed, brightly-colored blonde moron who was standing boldly at the front of the group, fists planted firmly on his hips in a confident pose.

"Yo, Kankuro! Tsunade-baba told you we'd be comin', right? Didn't take as long as we thought it would. This isn't everyone, of course. Kakashi-sensei sent us ahead; said he'd bring the rest later if things got too rough. Hah! Like we can't handle it ourselves. Hey, where's Gaara? He still Kazekage around here? I thought he'd be here to see us."

Kankuro lifted his gaze upwards for patience, automatically checking the sun's position in the sky. The day had been way too long already to put up with someone as boistrous and blunt as Uzumaki Naruto. Iraku was sputtering slightly at the Leaf's casual refferance to the feared Kazekage, and Kankuro grimaced inwardly. If Naruto called his own Kage by such an informal name, it was going to be a pain in the ass to get him to call Gaara by his proper title. Someone was eventually going to have to try to beat the respect into him, however, unless he wanted to scandalize every ninja in hearing range.

He turned his attention back on the waiting Konohagakure ninja, crossing his arms over his chest and keeping his expression as neutral as possible under the circumstances. "We didn't know your Kage would send so many," he admitted. "We only requested a small contingent; Sand is able to take care of itself."

Naruto glanced over his shoulder at his friends, then offered Kankuro a lop-sided smile. "Yeah, well, we're allies now, ain't we? Besides, now that Gaara doesn't have his Tail, we thought--"

Kankuro cut him off hastily. Iraku's face was crimson from trying to control himself. "Half of you are still Genin. Who's the group leader?" His eyes turned automatically towards the oldest present.

Shikamaru confirmed his guess by pointing his chin towards the patient-looking Jounin beside him. "Yamato's in charge. I'm the leading Chuunin, I guess, if we ever need to split the group in half for patrols or whatever."

Yamato nodded in agreement, stepping forward and settling a hand on Naruto's shoulder to silence him as he met Kankuro's hooded gaze. "The Hokage said we were to report to the Kazekage immediately upon arrival. If you think it'd be less disruptive, Shikamaru and I will go see him alone; the rest of my group should get some rest. I pushed them hard to get here quickly."

"What??" Naruto squawked.

"Shut up, Naruto," Sakura snapped, giving him a smack upside the head that almost bowled him over. "Anyway, you've done nothing but bitch about how hungry you are; don't you want to get some food and rest?"

Kankuro ignored him completely, gesturing to Yamato. "All right, you two follow me. Iraku will show the rest of you where you'll be staying while you're here."

"Hey, waitaminute!" Naruto yelled as the three of them started off down the road. "I wanna come, too! 'Sides, I haven't even seen Gaara in over a year, an' I wanted to see how he was doin'-- OW!"

"Shut up, bigmouth," Kiba growled, shaking his fist under Naruto's nose. "You're makin' us look bad!"

But Kankuro had come to a stop and was looking back at Naruto with a slight frown on his face. Abruptly he shrugged. "Fine, you come, too." Iraku sent him a horrified look, obviously wondering what on earth would possess him to bring such a brash lunatic in front of their touchy Kazekage. "Gaara knows you; I guess he kinda respects you. Might help if there's a more familiar face there."

"Hell yeah!" Naruto ducked past Sakura and ran to catch up to the other group, grinning wildly.

Yamato sighed, shaking his head minutely as Kankuro led them down the street. "Naruto, I know you knew Gaara, but that was before he was Kazekage. So please--"

"Nah, he was in charge last time I saw 'im," Naruto corrected airily, looking around at the sand-colored buildings curiously. "He'd just been made head cheese. He was still kinda messed up, then, especially after..." he hesitated, a more somber expression settling on his face.

"So it's true Gaara no longer has Shukaku inside of him?" Shikamaru asked, arching a brow at Kankuro's back.

Kankuro scowled, keeping his face forward. "Yeah," he snapped. "The bastard's gone, and good riddance. But I wouldn't bring up that name around here, if I were you. No one likes talkin' about it, and that goes double for Gaara."

"So that, like, leaves him pretty defenseless, huh?" Naruto asked incorrigably. "I mean, the Tail gave him all that chakra, and his ultimate defense--" he ducked reflexively when Yamato shot a warning Look his way.

Kankuro shook his head to himself. Maybe he should have left the idiot back with the others. He was blunter than a rock, and it was probably going to get him killed. Hell, Gaara hadn't lashed out at anyone who wasn't a clear-cut enemy in almost two years, but Naruto was the type of person who had the ability to give someone murderous intent just by the stupid drivel that came out of his mouth. "Gaara can still control sand as an element," he said firmly, unwilling to point out any of his brother's weaknesses, even to an ally. "Let's leave it at that for now." He gritted his teeth in a flash of anger. "Problem is, you're not the only one who assumes Gaara's practically defenseless, now. We think that's why there's been the attacks."

"This is probably a touchy subject," Shikamaru drawled, "but are any of these assassination attempts coming from the Sand themselves?"

Kankuro tried to hide his flinch with an expressive shrug, sending the other boy a sideways glance. He made a quick mental note to keep a close eye on the guy and watch what was said in his hearing range. Temari had grudgingly warned him that the laid-back Chuunin was a hell of a lot sharper than most his age. "One or two confirmed ones, yeah," he forced himself to admit. "There's still some around here that don't trust Gaara, or flat-out don't like him. Mostly those that were around when he was younger. They don't care that Gaara's trying to change and gain their trust; they just want him dead while he seems like an easier target."

"And they failed?" Yamato pressed.

Kankuro snorted. "Obviously. Gaara got the first one, but..." he hesitated, not ready to reveal too much about that particular occurence. "Anyway, the ANBU got the next one, and Gaara's managed to capture the others without killing 'em so we could do some interrogatin'. Only one of 'em's talked so far."

Yamato pretended not to notice the pause. "And the ones who weren't Sand-- who were they working for?"

"We can talk about this inside," Kankuro said shortly. "Gaara will fill all of ya in."

Naruto scrunched up his face, but didn't say anything, for once.

Kankuro led them to the largest building in the village, nodding at the two silent ANBU stationed at its front door as they started up the stairs. "The Kazekage's offices and quarters are on the second floor. I know your Hokage wanted you guys to help out some with watching Gaara's back, but most of you would be better use to us as patrols and watchmen for the village as a whole. The attacks aren't always centered on him; we've lost four Genin and two Jounin in the last week alone. Some of them were on patrol, and the rest of them were watching at the wall. But living arrangements have been made on the ground floor for two Leaf ninja, if you still insist on helping out the ANBU guard we've already got watching the place."

Yamato nodded firmly. "Even if it's only a few of us, Tsunade-sama would feel better if we helped out with the Kazekage's personal protection. We're allies, now, and the loss of your leader is as unacceptable to us as it is to the Sand."

Kankuro grunted, but didn't answer.

"You guys got ANBU out in plain sight watchin' Gaara's place?" Naruto asked, referring to the men stationed outside. "I thought they usually stay hidden."

"Desperate times call for desperate measures," Kankuro quoted grimly, and pointed ahead to the silent ANBU standing outside the door to the Kazekage's office. "Gaara doesn't like it, but he doesn't really got much of a choice. Sometimes I think he only tolerates it to humor the rest of us, though. Even without that damned Tail, he still seems to think he's invinsible."

The ANBU stepped aside without a word at their approach, and Kankuro knocked loudly on the solid door. After a moment, a female voice called them inside.

Kankuro flicked Naruto a warning look over his shoulder. "Try to keep your mouth under control, Uzumaki," he muttered. "Temari's been in a bad mood lately, and she'd probably just break your jaw to get you to shut up."

"A worse mood than usual, you mean?" Shikamaru grumbled under his breath.

Kankuro flashed a fierce but humorless little smile and pushed the door open, leading the way inside.


"Haruno Sakura, Aburame Shino, Yamanaka Ino, Inuzuka Kiba, Hyuuga Hinata, Akimichi Chouji." Iraku glanced up from the list he was jotting down, peering at Sakura. "And the other three are...?"

Sakura adjusted her gloves a bit self-consciously, wondering why the hell Iraku had seemed to pin her as the stand-in leader when the other three had left. She'd thought that Shino, as the tallest, would have looked older and more the part. "Uzumaki Naruto, Nara Shikamaru, and Yamato-sensei."

"Don't forget Akamaru," Kiba spoke up, his arm thrown casually around the big dog's neck.

Iraku winced, but finished scribbling and lowered his clipboard, gesturing to the doors lining either side of the hallway. "We weren't sure exactly how many to expect, and I'm afraid we don't have much room available for extended stays. Some of you will have to pair up; we've set aside three rooms for men and two rooms for the women. Ladies' rooms are on your left. You may figure out the room assignments on your own, but Yamato-sensei will be allowed his own room as the ranking officer. Also, from what I understand, two of you at a time will be possibly be staying in the Kazekage's building." He tucked his pencil behind his ear. "There is a dormitory kitchen area on the second floor; you can make yourselves a snack if you wish, but for the time being, I request that all of you remain in here until someone comes to get you. Catch up on your sleep and be ready for your orders this evening."

Ino managed to wait until he'd left before saying quickly, "Two rooms and three girls means one of us gets a room to herself. I claim it!"

"Just a minute," Sakura protested irritably. "What if I wanted it? Or Hinata?"

"Th-that's okay," Hinata insisted.

"Dude, if Yamato's gettin' his own room, that means one of the rooms is gonna have three guys in it," Kiba grumbled. "That's dog shit." Akamaru snorted loudly in agreement.

"Not if two of us are at the Kazekage's building," Chouji pointed out, rubbing his stomach and glancing wistfully upwards. "Did he say something about food..?"

"I'm not gonna be in the room with two other dudes," Kiba said loudly. "Akamaru takes up enough space as it is--"

"I claimed it, so I get the room," Ino was informing Sakura hotly.

An argument quickly broke out among the four, while Hinata tried unsuccessfully to calm them and Shino watched in silence.

Sakura gave up in frustration and put two fingers in her mouth, emitting a piercing whistle. Everyone flinched and quieted for a moment. "Look, there's only one fair way to figure this out," she said quickly. "Especially since Naruto and Shikamaru aren't here to put in their two cents. We'll draw for it." She gestured to herself, Hinata, and Ino. "We'll draw separately to see who gets to have a room alone; you guys can draw for roomies. All right?"

The others grudgingly agreed that this was fair. Ino dug around in her pockets and pulled out a scrap of paper. Checking to make sure it wasn't important, she tore off several pieces and handed them out. "Put numbers on yours," she ordered the boys. "Whoever draws one will be roomed with whoever gets two, and three, four, and five will be stuck together." She tore two of the remaining three strips in half and stuffed them in her other fist. "And whichever girl gets the long piece will get a room to herself. Got it?"

Hinata ended up getting the single room. Kiba seemed satisfied with the results, as he and Shino managed to draw one and two. "Cool, Shino's already used to Akamaru, anyway," he said smugly, ruffling his dog's ears fondly. "Sorry, Chouji, looks like you gotta put up with Uzumaki."

Chouji looked relieved to be in the same room as his best friend, but shook his head at Kiba's jibe. "Naruto's not so bad. And he gets along with Shikamaru all right."

Ino and Sakura exchanged a disgruntled look, but the drawings had been fair, so neither made an argument. Sakura glanced at Hinata, feeling a bit guilty. In the end, it was probably best that the quiet girl got a room to herself. Sakura and Ino had their differences, but they had once been very close. Neither of them knew Hinata very well, and were sometimes unsure how to handle her shyness. "All right," Sakura said, noticing Chouji's little dance of impatience, "we might as well eat something and try to get some sleep. There's not much else we can do until Yamato-sensei and the others get back, anyway."


Gaara had always been treated with the sort of blind respect that came from mindless fear, but lately that respect had been tempered with gratitude. His fight with Deidara almost a year ago, in which he had nearly lost his life to protect his village, had finally made him a bit more human in the eyes of his people-- or most of them, anyway.

As the Kazekage, he naturally was treated with the respect that position called for. It would have annoyed him if he hadn't grown up surrounded by people so eager to please him, even if in the past it had been out of fear that Gaara's bad moods could result in wanton murder and destruction.

Temari and Kankuro were two of the only people in the village that were blunt with him, or even argued with him, and a part of him found this refreshing at times. No one thought twice about it; they were his older siblings, and had the right to risk calling their kid brother an idiot if they thought he deserved it.

Still, there was a line one just did not cross, especially when you had no bloodties to Gaara of the Sand protecting you from a messy death, and aside from a few untrusting Council members, no one else was stupid enough to cross that line.

The two aides who were awaiting signatures from their Kazekage went white in the face as Uzumaki Naruto strolled in with his friends, loud cheery voice barking out without any resemblence to deference or respect in its tone.

"Hey, Gaara! Long time no see! Hey, your circles are almost gone. You don't look you've been punched in the face anymore; that mean you're finally gettin' some sleep? Nice office, man. I think this is even bigger than Tsunade-baba's."

Shikamaru buried his face in his palm while Yamato smacked his student hard upside the back of his head in a hasty attempt to silence him. Kankuro managed not to smirk, watching the aides out of the corner of his eye, amused despite himself at their obvious shock and mounting fear. They were already shooting nervous glances towards the young man behind the desk and the woman by the window.

"Someone put a gag on that moron," Temari growled, glaring at Naruto and drumming her fingers on the large fan strapped across her back. She shot her youngest brother a nervous glance despite herself.

Gaara of the Sand had barely even looked up from his paperwork when the door had opened, but now he was staring steadily at Naruto, pen poised above his work, face as blank and impossible to read as always. After a moment he put the pen down firmly and rose to his feet. One of the aides flinched before he could stop himself. Gaara ignored him. "Naruto," he greeted quietly. "Tsunade didn't mention that you'd be coming. Aren't you supposed to be looking for Uchiha?"

Naruto's smile froze in place, then faded slowly. "Hey, when that bastard decides to come home, he'll do it," he muttered, scowling at his feet. "It's not like he listens to me when I try to bring him back, anyway. Tsunade said this was more important right now; I can always go after him when we're done here." He looked up, already grinning again. "Anyway, I saved your ass before, so I guess the old fart thought I'd be the best one to watch your back now, huh?"

Yamato's lips were pressed so tightly together they were white, and Shikamaru was staring unblinkingly at the ceiling, as if he was not associated with Naruto at all. The aides looked shell-shocked, and Temari's face was twisting into something dangerous.

But Kankuro was watching his brother carefully.

Gaara blinked slowly, but otherwise seemed unsurprised by Naruto's babbling; and if he was offended in the least bit, it certainly didn't show on his impassive face. His gaze shifted to Yamato as if just noticing him. "Is this it?" he asked bluntly.

Temari winced slightly, but Yamato took the unintentionally rude question in stride. "There are nine of us. Tsunade has authorized reinforcements if the need arises."

Temari arched a brow. "More than we expected," she admitted grudgingly. "We weren't sure the Leaf village could spare more than a four-man team."

Yamato hesitated, glancing at the two nervous aides. Gaara caught the look and flicked his fingers towards the door. The two men took that as a dismissal and hastened from the room, looking a bit relieved.

Yamato waited until the door had shut behind them before answering. "The Hokage seems to think this involves Leaf as well, and not just because of the alliance between our two villages. The possibility that this is in part the work of the Akatsuki makes it in our best interest to lend a hand and help to keep an eye on things. Kankuro mentioned that one of the attackers had been questioned..?"

Temari's eyes shifted to the side, and Naruto jumped as an ANBU stepped out of the shadows, seemingly from thin air. He looked around suspiciously, wondering just how many of the elite guards were hidden in the room, watching their Kazekage like a hawk.

The ANBU's voice was slightly muffled from the mask he wore. "He claimed to be from Iwagakure, though this could have been a lie. He refused to say anymore."

"The Rock village isn't on friendly terms with Leaf," Yamato admitted, frowning at the news. "Though I would expect any attacks from them to be focused on us, they might view Sand with some animosity since your alliance with us."

Gaara made a brief waving motion in the air as if brushing that idea aside without a second thought. "Iwagakure knows better than to face the Sand, or the Leaf for that matter," he stated bluntly. "Even if he was a Rock, it's more plausible that he was a Misen-Nin. That also means he could be working for either the Akatsuki or Orochimaru, since their members tend to be made up of skilled fighters who have deserted their own villages."

Naruto seemed to be only paying attention to half the conversation. He had been leaning to the left and right, frowning at Gaara in puzzlement. He looked around the room once, then asked loudly, "Hey, you don't have your gourd thingy on anymore. Didja get rid of it or something?"

"Naruto," Yamato hissed under his breath.

"What?? I'm just askin'!"

Kankuro and Temari both shot their brother a quick, alarmed look.

But again Gaara seemed undisturbed by Naruto's brash outbursts. He was silent for a moment before responding, tone dispassionate. "Its only use now is to ensure that I have a ready supply of sand at hand. I have the desert for that, so there's no use in wearing it unless there's a possibility I'll be sent on a mission to a place where sand or earth are in short supply." His mouth twitched just slightly in what might have been the shadow of a frown. "I am not used to the loss of its weight," he admitted, almost to himself. He reached up to rub unconsciously at his shoulder, where the strap for the gourd had once sat.

"That does bring up an important point," Yamato admitted prudently. "With the loss of the Tail, and the sudden attempts on his life, are we to assume that--"

"My brother is not helpless," Temari snapped, bristling at the implication. "As those would-be-assassins soon found out."

"Still, I'm sure its loss has left him at a certain disadvantage," Yamato bulled on. "Are there any severe limitations in his fighting ability that we should know ab--"

"That's none of your business," Kankuro snarled defensively. "Gaara can take care of himself. Quit diggin' for weaknesses in the Sand's Kazekage--"

"Kankuro." Gaara's voice was still calm and flat, but his brother shut his mouth as quickly as if he'd been shouted at. Gaara gazed steadily back at Yamato, with no trace of shame or frustration visible. "The loss of Shukaku means I no longer have the nearly unlimited supply of chakra I once did," he admitted. "It has also taken away my ultimate defense; hence the gourd's uselessness. But the sand is still my element, and my sand armour is still in place. I have had to learn to watch my back better, and be more careful with how much chakra I expend to keep it from running out." He tilted his head to the side slightly, almost thoughtfully. "Though it could be argued that this is a small price to pay for the ability to catch a full night's sleep every once in awhile."

"So you are sleepin'," Naruto interrupted with a grin, wiggling his fingers near his own eyes to indicate the dark rings on the Kazekage's face. "I can tell."

Yamato raised his hand on reflex, barely noticing his student's nimble dodge as he studied Gaara's face discreetely. Naruto was right, though he himself never would have noticed, having never met Gaara of the Sand face-to-face. The dark rings around the boy's eyes, a result of a lifetime nearly devoid of good rest, were still there, but they seemed a little smaller, and maybe not quite so dark as they had in photos he'd seen in the past.

"My body is not used to so much sleep, and I still spend many nights awake," Gaara answered Naruto calmly. "But sometimes I am able to sleep for almost seven hours at a time." He paused, gazing down at his hands pressed against the desk's surface. "It's strange. But I will get used to it."

"Hell, if you need an expert on sleep, just talk to Shikamaru," Naruto teased, jabbing his friend in the ribs. "He takes naps so much, I can't believe he can get to bed at night."

Shikamaru pushed him away with a mild scowl.

Yamato cleared his throat, trying to get back on track. "We're here to assist your village in any way we can, as well as try and gather more information on whoever it is behind the attacks. But we are also here to protect the Kazekage; Tsunade-sama insists on it. She expects at least two of us to stick closeby. Not only to watch your back, but to be of whatever use you might have for us, and perhaps be as sort of diplomatic stand-in between our two villages."

Gaara tilted his chin up slightly, staring Yamato down. "I may not have the ultimate defense of my Sand any longer, but I don't need any more people watching my back than I already have." The edge to his voice sent a prickle of warning down everyone's spine, and Yamato was quick to correct himself.

"Of course, and we have the utmost respect for your abilities. Still, it couldn't hurt, and if anything, we can also be there to keep an eye on your siblings. Any attempts on your life have the potential to branch outwards towards your relatives."

Temari seemed startled when Gaara nodded slowly after a moment, his voice even once more. "Yes. That is acceptable."

"I think you have met most of us who are here, but if you have any preferences--"

Gaara was already flicking his fingers in a vague gesture in Naruto's direction, though his gaze remained on Yamato. "Him. I don't care who you pick for the other."

Yamato hesitated, glancing towards Temari. She sputtered a bit, sending a quick glare Naruto's way. "Gaara, the idiot can't even keep a civil tongue in his head half the time," she argued. "Aside from the possibility of him getting on your nerves, think how the Council or the other people in the building will--"

"I know Naruto," Gaara stated bluntly. "At least I know his personality, and I know he can be trusted. And I don't have the patience to put up with someone following me around all the time who will be as careful and jumpy around me as our own nin are bound to be." He ignored his sister's sputters, returning his attention to Yamato. There was a slight dry note to his tone. "Since your bull-headed Hokage seems to be so determined to label one of her own as a temporary 'bodyguard', it might as well be him. I expect the other one to exert more effort into the safety of my brother and sister. Although..." a very faint smile hovered on his lips, though it was more mocking and cold than anything else, "they are not needed, and will probably regret the assignment. We can look after ourselves. Naruto and the other one will be bodyguards in name only. I expect all of you to help with keeping my people protected and our borders secure. That is your primary objective."

Yamato looked as if he was about to argue, then thought better of it. "Very well," he said slowly, shooting Naruto a meaningful look out of the corner of his eye. "Naruto will be on his best behavior and will treat you with the respect your position demands."

"I'll be the second guy," Shikamaru drawled, lifting a hand in the air lazily. "Until it's someone else's turn, anyway."

Temari smirked at him. "Funny, because last time we crossed paths, I was the one saving your ass." Shikamaru ignored that, though Naruto sniggered openly. Other than the jibe, however, Temari surprisingly made no further argument.

Kankuro gave a loud sigh of long suffering and rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine, whatever. Geeez, politics." He quirked a brow at his brother. "That all for now?"

But Gaara had already reseated himself and was reaching for his pen, ignoring them all.

Kankuro shrugged and motioned to the three Leaf. "C'mon, I'll show you where you'll be staying."

"You take Yamato back to the dormitories where the other Leaf are," Temari interrupted, striding over. "I'll show these two downstairs to their rooms." Her eyes flicked briefly towards the shadows, obviously leaving the invisible ANBU in charge. Gaara didn't even look up as they left, and made no response to Naruto's loud farewell.

As soon as they were down the hall out of immediate hearing range, Temari rounded on them all. They all took an instinctive step back, Kankuro included, but her glare was centered on Naruto.

"Look," she growled, "let's get one thing straight. If you're going to stay here and be around Gaara, you're going to have to learn to control that damned mouth of yours, or I'm going to have to control it for you. Got me?"

Naruto nodded quickly, making a face that was half nervous and half offended. "Hey, I didn't do nothin' wrong--"

"He is the Kazekage. The Kazekage, you imbecile. You need to treat him with respect-- especially in front of other Sand nin. Do you understand me?" She reached back almost unconsciously to grip her fan.

"Yeah, yeah, okay, I got it," Naruto said quickly. "Sheesh, I was just bein' friendly!"

"Do as she says, Naruto," Yamato said sternly. "Gaara is no longer on the same level you are; he is the Kage for this village, and if you treat him with such disrespect, it could lessen him in the eyes of some of his people. And possibly anger him, as well, which no one wants."

"She's psycho," Shikamaru muttered in Naruto's ear. "Just shut up and agree to whatever she says, or she's gonna make our lives a living hell."

"What was that, Nara?" Temari demanded, grip tightening on her fan as she smiled tightly at him.

Shikamaru stuffed his hands in his pockets and dodged around her quickly, ducking his head to avoid her stare. "C'mon, I thought you were gonna show us our rooms. When's dinner, anyway? I'm starving."

"Good luck, sis," Kankuro snickered, and went ahead with Yamato.

To Naruto's relief, Temari released her fan and led them both downstairs. "Dinner will be brought to you at seven. After that, it's best you go straight to bed. I don't want either of you stepping so much as a toe outside this building until either Kankuro or I come to get you tomorrow morning."

Naruto scratched at his scalp, face scrunched up in confusion. "If you guys wanted someone all diplomatic or whatever to stay with Gaara, then why didn't you just tell 'im to pick someone else?"

Temari didn't answer at first, looking straight ahead as they walked. "Well, for one, no one really 'tells' Gaara to do anything," she finally admitted dryly. "And..." she hesitated, shooting him a quick, unreadable look. "There are only three Leaf that Gaara has grudging respect for when it comes to fighting ability," she said slowly and quietly. "You, Rock Lee, and Uchiha Sasuke. But I think you're the only one he seems to respect on a different level, as well. You're actually a human being to him; a strange, stupid, loudmouthed one, but at least you register as an actual person." She winced slightly. "And though I hate to admit it, that's pretty rare. I don't think he even saw Kankuro and I that way until shortly after you said whatever you said to him at the Chuunin exams when you beat him. Personally, I think you need to learn to respect your betters and keep a reign on that tongue of yours, but..." She shook her head abruptly, voice crisp again. "Maybe your Hokage knew what she was doing when she sent you out here, after all. You might be the only one he'll actually listen to if Kankuro and I aren't around and things get bad."

Naruto stared at her, mouth open, unsure quite how to respond, but a moment later she came to a stop and indicated a door. "This is where you two will be staying while you're 'watching' Gaara. Make sure your other teammates know where it is, because I'm assuming you'll be cycled through this responsibility. Tonight someone will bring water for a bath..." she wrinkled her nose at them both, "which trust me, you both need desperately. That's the only bathing water you'll be getting until tomorrow night, so don't waste it, and don't expect anymore. You're not in Leaf anymore; water is in much shorter supply out here in the desert. If I catch any Leaf wasting water, I'll make sure they regret it. Now get some sleep and try not to start any shit your first night here." With that parting shot, she turned and swept away, leaving the two boys staring at each other.

Naruto squinted at his friend. "...Is she always like that?"

"From what I've seen of her... Yeah." Shikamaru rolled his eyes and opened the door. "She can knock the brains out of you with that huge fan of hers, though, so I wouldn't go pissing her off, if I were you. C'mon, I'm tired. As long as we're stuck inside tonight, we might as well get some sleep."

Author's Notes: Well, I tried to resist this particular plot bunny, but to no avail. @_@ I <3 the Naruto/Gaara pairing, but it's extremely difficult to get my fix. I've only found a few N/G fics, but most of them were wildly OOC, and the good ones were way too short ;_; Luckily y!gal has a whole club dedicated to the pairing, so I go there when I want to see pretty fanart XD~
Anywho... I haven't even caught up to the recent Naruto chapters; every few years I'll go back to reading the manga, but then there will be like a year or so break between when I read it. This fic actually takes place in a sort of imaginary time... It's about a year after Gaara was almost killed by the Akatsuki and had his Tail stripped from him, but obviously I take liberties on what's happened during that year and after it. Just because >>; So I guess in that way it's a little bit AU. So! I hope you enjoy this ^^ It's fun to write so far; I actually churned out this chapter in one sitting mwahaha
Oh, and PS... Naruto is going to be referred as a supreme idiot by just about everyone, but don't take that as me bashing the character. It's just the way some (most) of the characters perceive him, and they're not going to change their opinions until they get to know him. Except.. Sakura and Shikamaru, who call him a dumbass and love him anyway.. XD;;;
*darts off to eat*

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