Naruto stood at the his office window, looking out at the bustling streets below, at his people, watching the time pass, remembering all they had had to endure in the past few years. He was proud of his people, proud of their endurance and strength, their often good humour in the face of adversity. He still remembered that day five years ago when the war with Madara came to a head, when the final battle was decided. Looking up from the battlefield into the eyes of weary nin from each of the nations, the allied shinobi forces, he saw relief, a bone- …no soul-deep relief that it was finally over. It was a miracle, that day: somehow while others had fallen in the days leading up to the final battle, and while the casualties were high in that end push, there were no fatalities.
All who made it to the end of the war, to that deciding victory, survived, though some would never quite physically or mentally be the same; that was the price of war. That was a magical day. No one knew how it had happened – perhaps Nagato had had a hand in it when he used Gedo Rebirth to revive the villagers after his attack, perhaps it was just the man’s own stubborn will, but though the great Toad Sage, Lord Fukasaku had seen his student fall, descending to the depths of the sea a good number of months before the formation of the allied forces even began, after the war was over a message was received. A message delivered by an ecstatic runner with tears in his eyes as he sought out their then Hokage, Tsunade. The messge was simple: Lord Jiraya’s body had been found, washed ashore on a river bank just inside the border between the Land of Rain and the Land of Fire. He had somehow been put in a state of suspended animation when he fell into the water. His injuries were severe, but his physical being still contained chakra. He was alive! At this, and seeing that her people were largely alright, though scarred and exhausted, Tsunade had rushed from the front to the border.
She had not been able to save her brother, nor her young love all those years ago, but as she had worked through her own exhaustion into the night, switching out with Sakura when the strain became too much, she gave a startled, weeping cry of ecstatic joy when her old teammate opened his eyes once again. They were still in the village, still protecting their people, but after Jiraya’s return, Tsunade had stepped down as Hokage, wanting to spend more time with the man she had loved for years, and thought lost. It was her decision, backed by the council after each of the heads of house seconded it, to name Naruto the new Hokage. Everyone was glad Itachi’s plan to assassinate Kabuto had been successful before he could learn of Jiraya’s return and attempt experiments on him.
Chuckling at the sight of children playing in the grounds below, he still remembered the day his old friend, Sasuke had finally come back to the village. He had hoped that when next they met it would not be greetings of hostility, but he could not have predicted the overwhelming joy at seeing his childhood friend and secret love standing before him again, wanting to reclaim his place in Konoha, as his late brother Itachi had wanted. Even more surprising was when he had dropped to his knees in front of the entire village, offering up his sword, the snake blade, to Naruto, a sign of his sincerity to the Leaf and devotion to the man himself. However, it was not till later, when they had once again reclaimed their old camaraderie that Sasuke confessed his feelings to the blonde man, though the vast quantities of sake he had imbibed prior to the admission prompted Naruto to readdress the issue to a blushing, nervous, sober Sasuke the next morning. Naruto still felt flushed when he remembered hearing his long-time crush, the man he had yearned for for years declare that Naruto was his reason for living, his source of joy and sorrow, though sorrow only for having caused him pain. It had been Sasuke’s decision to return to the Leaf’s forces, though in the Hokage’s guard, rather than on extended missions, which suited them both just fine.
It was about this time that Naruto noticed a familiar energy entering the village’s boundaries, though he couldn’t immediately place its origin. He had his suspicions, but it was not until a familiar brilliantly red head of hair came into view that he knew it was Gaara and a contingent of Suna-nin. Leaving his office to greet his friend and fellow Kage, Naruto tried to figure out why he was here, not that the blonde was unhappy to see the redhead, but it was odd that there had been no prior message.
Meeting Gaara at the ground level, Naruto gave his long-time friend an enthusiastic hug, though he was quite shocked when it was returned, albeit more sedately than his own. Cocking his head slightly, he looked at the other man. Gaara had changed some since the Shukaku, Ichibi, was forcibly removed from him several years ago, but he seemed to have relaxed quite a bit since the last time they had met. It was a curious situation and one Naruto was eager to decipher.
“Naruto,” Gaara began in his usual, raspy voice, ”I have some important matters that I must discuss with you.”
Seeing the seriousness in his friend’s expression and the gravity in his words, hints of worry began to filter into his mind. Though it had largely been quiet for the last several years, since the war, occasional squabbles still occurred, though with the aid of the allied forces which still often patrolled border regions, many were resolved swiftly and with little or no bloodshed. Retuning up the stairway to his office, Naruto, Gaara, and Gaara’s contingent, one of whom the blonde recognized as Gaara’s student Matsuri. Seeing all parties accounted for and the door shut, Naruto turned to the others.
“So, what did you need to discuss? Moreover, why did you need to discuss it in person and without letting me know you were coming? You know I always like to see you, but it would have been nice to be able to get things ready for you – a place to stay while you’re here at least.”
Turning a sheepish look on his friend, a sight that quite shocked the blonde, Gaara took a deep breath and not quite knowing how else to go about it, knelt before the Hokage, head bowed and holding out a scroll for Naruto to take. Seeing this, the blonde gaped for a moment, before truly noticing the outstretched scroll. Taking it from the strong hand, he saw the Suna crest emblasoned on one edge, though he was unsure what he was to do with it. Sensing his friend’s confusion, the Kazekage, still kneeling, spoke quietly.
“Since you sent him to us an emissary, my world has been veritably toppled, and not only due to the taijutsu training we began some time ago. My people have seemed more alive—I have felt more alive and happier than I can ever remember.” Taking a breath, Gaara paused.
Comprehension slowly began to dawn on the blonde’s face, though he waited patiently for his friend to continue.
“His unbridled passion for life has influenced us all,” he continued. “I did not realise it at the time, nor could I determine when if asked, but I fell in love and a few months ago. After a particularly grueling spar, he revealed his own feelings to me. It’s like nothing I have ever known before.” At this, many of Gaara’s people were misty-eyed and, though kneeling still, raised his head.
He had heard from his Suna emissary that he had fallen deeply for someone not long after relocation to the desert village, though the man was certain nothing would ever come of his affections. Though no names were written in their correspondence, nor spoken when he had come back to Konoha periodically over the two years he had been stationed there, it was now obvious to the blonde. Smiling, he gestured for Gaara to rise, and quite plainly asked the other man what was on his mind.
“So, Gaara, how is Lee doing these days? I’ve not heard from him for a while.”
While Gaara was not often shocked, it seemed he was rather surprised to be met with only this as response. Attempting to regain his shaken composure, he answered, “Well enough. I do not think he is quite used to the desert heat as of yet. He… well, he still insists on wearing the green jumpsuit,” Gaara said, looking slightly uncomfortable.
At this, Naruto laughed, remembering his own stint as a green-clad shinobi after Lee’s hospitalisation following the Chuunin exams all those years ago.
“They are quite comfortable and supportive,” he said, causing not-so-masked laughter to break out in the group behind the Kazekage.
Attention being drawn back to the contingent surrounding the leader of the Sand shinobi, the two Kage exchanged a look before motioning Matsuri, his apparent second in command, to withdraw to the corridor.
When they were alone, the redhead looked back to his friend, replying, “That may be so, but it’s still a skin-tight spandex body suit,” Gaara said, a faint flush staining his features.
Noting the look, Naruto decided a change of subject was in order. “So, I’m glad you two have found each other, but what was the whole presentation about just now?” the blonde asked, confused.
Scratching the back of his neck in a nervous gesture Naruto had only ever known Lee or himself to use, the Kazekage looked at his friend and said in a rush, “I want to ask Lee to marry me.”
Naruto blinked for a moment before a brilliant smile broke out on his face, followed shortly thereafter by his usual confused expression. “That’s great! I’m so happy for you guys! …But why are you telling me this, instead of him?”
“That is the interesting part, is it not? I would have simply asked, but I remembered a conversation we had some time ago in which he said that if he was ever to marry, he would want his Hokage’s blessing before asking his potential partner,” the redhead finished.
Though initially speechless, after a moment, that truly did sound like something Lee would do. A thought forming, he asked his friend, “Out of curiosity, when was it he said this, exactly?”
“About three months into his appointment. Why?” Gaara asked, confused.
Chuckling to himself, Naruto thought back to the third letter he had received from his eccentric, green-clad friend.
I have settled in here and have employed the full power of my youth to aid the Kazekage as you requested. He has improved greatly, though still has a way before he is a master. I have also been assisting Kankaro and Temari in their youthful efforts to train the children. On a more personal note, I have fallen in love with someone. I did not think it possible, but the lovely Sakura no longer owns my youthful heart. Though I doubt anything will come of it and I know I probably overstep my bounds in asking, I would request that I be allowed to remain here as emissary between the Leaf and Sand.
Your youthful friend,
Shaking his head at the memory, Naruto noticed Gaara’s reserved expression and hastened to reassure his friend.
“I was just remembering the third report Lee sent in. Did he ever say why I had him stay on permanently?”
“He said you thought he was needed in Suna.”
“I did and still do. I was thinking about it already, as he seemed to quite enjoy helping Kankaro and Temari with the school, but in that letter he asked me for something… it was probably a bit before your conversation about marriage, actually.”
“Yeah. He wanted to stay on in Suna as a link between our villages,” he said, watching his friend’s reaction carefully, “because he had fallen in love.”
With an audible gasp and widening of his eyes, Gaara stood there in the office of Konoha’s Hokage in a shocked daze. Placing a chair behind his friend and gently pushing him into it, Naruto watched the emotions flicker across the once expressionless face.
“You mean… all this time?” he asked in a quiet voice.
“I didn’t think he’d tell you that. It’s true though . Is that what this is?” Naruto asked, holding up the scroll still in his hand?
“Yes. It’s an official request. I thought… well, I thought he would appreciate it.”
“He probably would at that. Where is he anyway? I would have thought he’d be accompanying you here.”
“He wanted to, but he was needed at the school… and I wanted to talk to you without him here.”
Opening the scroll for the first time, Naruto read its contents. He never thought he’d see the day when he was asked to sign a formal request to propose to one of his closest friends. However, as Hokage, acting on the best interests of his diplomat to Suna, and as a close friend to both involved, he felt honoured and humbled to be asked and after quickly reading through the document, signed it and sealed it.
Looking back to Naruto, Gaara asked, “If he has wanted to be with me for that long, why did he not say something sooner?”
Giving his friend The Look, Naruto rolled his eyes before responding. “This is Lee we’re talking about. He might have seen you as a friend, which is why he called you by your given name, but you are still Kazekage of the Sand. You hold a position of authority. I mean, he is one of my closest friends and it took a good few months to break him of the habit of adding ‘-sama’ to my name after I became Hokage… now he just does it in official reports. He was giving you control on how your relationship would progress. Speaking of which, how did that particular breakthrough happen anyway?”
A blush staining his cheeks, the redhead replied, “We were sparring and I swept his feet out from under him. We wrestled for a bit before he managed to pin me. Then began to rain and he leaned down further to keep me from getting wet. And then he kissed me.” Smiling at his friend’s faraway expression, the blonde covertly signaled to his shadow to come out of hiding, before quietly speaking to him and sending him on his way. Seeing his friend come back to himself, he waited as Gaara shook off the vestiges of memory, hearing the footsteps heralding one of the two due to arrive shortly.
A knock sounded on the door, at which Naruto asked that they enter.
As both Kage turned to the door, Naruto shot a smirk at his friend.
“I figured you’d want to talk to Gai too. He can be somewhat difficult to track down sometimes, so I thought I’d just bring him to you.”
Seeing the other man standing beside Mighto Gai, the Kazekage took in his ANBU/Hokage guard uniform. “Uchiha Sasuke, you are looking well.”
“I am, thank you Kazekage-sama,” he replied with slight uncertainty hidden in his dark eyes. He knew that though he was Naruto’s lover and had regained the trust of most of the village, there were still many, especially in foreign lands, who still saw him as an enemy.
Motioning for the Uchiha to come closer, the Kazekage responded with a small smile, “Sasuke, my name is Gaara. He trusts you, and I trust him. You obviously love him greatly and for that, I am forever grateful.” Seeing the skepticism, he continued, “Naruto is as much a brother to me as Kankaro. You make him happy.” At this admission, Sasuke offered Gaara his own small smile and both turned back the other two occupants of the room, noticing the blonde’s almost vibrating energy. Exchanging a look, they rejoined the conversation in time for Naruto to blurt out, “Gaara wants to… mmmfmfm!” before Sasuke could get across the room to cover his Hokage’s mouth with his hand.
“We talked about this, dobe! Let Gaara do this himself!” only releasing the other man once he’d gotten a nod in response.
Retrieving the scroll from Naruto, Gaara repeated the steps he had undertaken not long before, kneeling before Gai and holding out the scroll, though he altered the speech slightly, only stating that he and Lee had fallen in love and that he now sought the blessings of those most dear to his beloved. At this, Gai began to sob with joy before grabbing the unsuspecting Suna-nin into an exuberant hug before taking the brush Naruto held out to him and signing his own name below his Hokage’s signature.
Shaking his head in remembrance, Naruto thought how different, yet strangly gratifying it was that the often reserved Gaara had adopted Lee’s particular brand of showmanship when it came to important matters of the heart, his love as indelible as the mark on his brow and just as visible.
Facing the gathered crowd as both friend and Hokage, Naruto began the ceremony as he looked out at those assembled. All of the Sand and those of the Leaf who could attend were present, standing in the wind-swept courtyard usually reserved for tactical maneuvers. It was fitting, really. From all accounts, the it was where the relationship had begun. They were warriors, first and foremost after all. Warriors and men. The blonde found he couldn’t keep the smile off his face, nor did he want to as the rousing cheer went through the crowd. His friends were happy – happier than a few short years ago they’d not thought possible. It might have been hard going at times, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.