Nothing in Gaara’s life is soft — everything is gritty and dry. Everything he touches is caked with sand, and sand can cut you, blind you, choke you; sand can level mountains. There are very few things that Gaara can remember ever feeling on his bare skin. Not even wind, not even water; the sand won’t let anything in.
For the longest time, it was how he preferred it.
But Gaara is stronger now, stronger than the sand; it follows his will unconditionally.
He has never before willed it to leave him, though.
It’s new and strange enough that he holds his hands up to watch it fall glittering away from him; finer than sugar, softer than powder. He’s always thought of the sand as alive, and he feels its reluctance now, a feeling very much like a pout. Fingers first, newly naked tips tingling in the cool night air.
It isn’t coolness he’s after, though, it’s warmth.
The first touch of Naruto’s fingertips against his is almost like a shock. For the first time he understands just how the nervous system works; how the fingers are connected to the shoulders, the neck, the base of the spine. Naruto touches each bared finger in turn, one hand then the other, till they stand face to face, palm to palm.
Naruto has always been irrepressible, his energy far greater than his body can contain, a direct opposite to Gaara’s impassiveness. He might blame the sand for that, too, but now he knows it’s only because he’s never had anyone to show any sort of expression to, so it had never mattered. It’s one more reason he wants the sand gone, away from him, if only for a moment. But now it is Naruto who stands so stilly, eyes clear, with such incredible unfamiliar patience. It isn’t tinged with tentativeness, the way he sees Naruto treat Uchiha Sasuke since his return, worried that his friend will bolt, disappear again at Naruto’s slightest misstep.
Naruto simply waits.
Gaara turns his attention back to his hands. Slowly, deliberately, he shifts one hand slightly, finger by finger, intertwining them with Naruto’s. Finally, he clasps his hand around Naruto’s, learning about warmth, about how many textures a single patch of skin could possess.
The smile is unfamiliar, too, Gaara thinks, inclining his head to study Naruto’s face more carefully. Only the barest hint of a mischievous smirk confirms that, yes, this is still Naruto before him, eyes intent and tender as he mirrors Gaara’s earlier actions, closing his own fingers around Gaara’s other hand.
It's so easy after that, the sand falling away from his skin, unresisting, almost eager, lifting into the air like a million minuscule stars.
For some reason, the sight inspires an odd scratching in his throat, in his chest. He wonders if it’s what other people call laughter.
Naruto would feel like laughing, too, perhaps, but he isn’t looking at the sand at all.
When Gaara looks back at Naruto’s face, after the last of the sand has left him, he finds the rougish smirk back, the patience gone.
“So,” Naruto says, pulling him closer, ever relentless, ever gentle. “Your clothes were made from sand, too, huh?”
Nothing is soft in Gaara of the Desert’s life, certainly not this brash troublesome fox with his callused hands and his indomitable fire.
Naruto closes around him— warm breath on his face, warm skin on skin, and now all Gaara can do is feel.