Now for some notes: You know Kishimote owns Naruto so you KNOW you can't be like suing me. Next: Tanuki: A racoon-like canid found in Asia. It has large testicles, which in Japanese mythology, the tanuki often uses as an impromptu drum. In fact, tanuki's just mate a lot.

Sabaku no Baara: Bara is the Japanese word for rose. Ino's clearing playing on the similarity in sounds. Baara's not a real word but I bet if you tried hard enough you could find kanji that would make sense.

The sun was shining on the Fire Country's number one ninja village, Konoha-Gakure no Sato. Sabaku no Gaara found himself wandering the streets of the village, which were nearly empty in the early hours of the day. The air was crisp and cool but Gaara hardly noticed. Something that could be partially blamed on the thin shell of sand covering his body. But he was also again lost in his thoughts which were a constant battle between his sanity and the Shuukaku's will to be free.

For a moment he paused as he passed Uzumaki Naruto's favorite haunt: Ichiraku Ramen. The boy sang the praises of ramen and this particular restaurant's dishes. He looked through the crack of the curtains and peered inside, but Naruto was not there, something to be expected so early in the morning. Gaara was set to continue when the sand flew up to protect him from a deadly kunai aimed for his chest. He hardly flinched as he was used to numerous murder attempts.

However this one was different, there was no follow up attack and there was a note attached to the tip of the kunai. Gaara snatched the note from the air through the sand and opened it. The top part was in a neater scrawl than the bottom which was slightly skewed to the right. It read:

If you know what's good for you, you'll come to the training grounds at noon. It's time that you got what you deserved.

The Sand shinobi looked up towards the direction of the assault and clenched his fist. He walked away, wordlessly leaving two shadowed figures in the trees. They were not sure whether or not they were seen but all the same they remained motionless until Gaara was well into the distance.

"Do you think he'll come?" asked the cloaked figure in blue. "It's hared to tell with that guy," he muttered under his breath.

The green cloaked figure stood up from his crouch, head turned in the direction of the retreating Gaara. "I don't know but if he comes, we'll be ready for him." With the speed of well-trained ninja, they disappeared with no trace.

(.-)/

The training grounds were empty today. There was no training for students scheduled today. The wind blew a few leaves across the field but there were no other indications of life. Gaara was slightly disappointed at the lack of traps laid to do him in but this was a complete insult. He went out of his way to come here and for at least three minutes he encountered nothing more aggressive than a fly.

He clicked his tongue in disgust and made a move to leave to halted as he realized there was a presence behind him. He waited for a moment then settled back into his typical stance of nonchalance, arms crossed.

"Gaara of the Desert…" Gaara said nothing. "I'm glad you came." Still Gaara said nothing. He was not interested in small talk. "… Because of your father, you have been given a great power, but because of this power many have suffered…"

Gaara closed his eyes. The lecture before the self-righteous attack. Most were more arrogant and expected him to be another weak child. Sadly mistaken, such fools were no longer among the living. However, this was a slightly new approach. But it didn't matter, as with all other fights it would end the same.

"Many have suffered… Yourself included." The last was said strongly and Gaara clenched his eyes tighter involuntarily. A mental attack? He wasn't interested.

"If you're just going to talk, I'm leaving."

"Would you rather fight?" the mysterious assailant said with a hint of humor. This is why the sand wielder came; to fight. He was ready as the assailant jumped into the air and pulled out several smoke bombs. A cheap trick but Gaara's sand would protect him without fail, even if he couldn't see the attack coming.

The field filled with smoke but Gaara didn't so much as cough. Arms crossed, he patiently anticipated the next move but as the smoke cleared nothing happened. What was the plan? Would there be more fighters? Did he seriously think that an army would take him down? Gaara smirked at the idea. Now he was interested.

However, when the smoke was little but a thin veil, Gaara dropped his arms and stared a bit wide-eyed. There were tables filled with food and drink and decorations everywhere. It was almost an entirely different scene than a few minutes ago. Falling from the sky like cherry blossoms were sparkles and streamers. But perhaps the most shocking decoration of all was a large banner that in bright letters said, "Happy Birthday Gaara!"

A crowd of Konoha's genin were there. Some Gaara had previously met like Rock Lee, Haruno Sakura, and Uchiha Sasuke. Others he was less acquainted with such as Nara Shikamaru, Inuzuka Kiba, and Yamanaka Ino. There were even some of the more prominent figures of Konoha: Hatake Kakashi, Fifth Hokage Tsunade, and Iruka. But why? Why were they here? Why the death threat, the intrigue? Why…the…giant cake??

"It's you birthday! It's a party!" Naruto said exuberantly, tossing the hood of his costume back. He was grinning madly. "I told Sasuke that you couldn't resist! I told him!" Sasuke snorted derisively and turned his head from Naruto in distaste.

Gaara hadn't moved. He was still on edge. "My birthday?" he said in confusion.

Kankuro, his elder brother, had a party favor clenched in his teeth and a silly hat on his head. "What? You forgot your on birthday?" To punctuate his sentence, he blew the whistle in his mouth, unrolling the paper and causing the tassles on the end to flap wildly.

"Gaara? You've never really celebrated your birthday have you?" Temari had on a silly hat as well. Her expression was apologetic. She always had sad eyes towards him. Gaara shook his head, relaxing a bit.

Naruto rubbed the back of his head. "Well…I've never really had parties either. I think Iruka-sensei gave me stuff but it was always lame and babyish…" This prompted a nasty look from Iruka but it was quickly dispelled with the next comment. "But… I always appreciated it deep down inside." Naruto felt the weight of a large hand on his shoulder. His teacher and mentor looked down at him with a warm smile.

Temari looked over at Gaara. The warm moment reminded her younger brother of sadder times. That kind of love he never really knew and deep down inside it left deep scars on his mind and heart. That's why she was always so sad for him. Sakura also noticed and felt the same way.

I always found him so creepy and strange. When Naruto asked me to do this, I didn't understand but… there always seems to be someone softer under those cold exteriors. She looked over to Sasuke, who was stealing a sushi roll from the table in boredom. She grabbed a party hat from the table and walked over to Gaara. Her heart was beating faster as she approached him. He was so unpredictable, like the sand that always surrounded.. But as she slipped the hat over his bowed head, no sand rushed up to stop her. Gaara lifted his head but instead of the serious eyes he always wore, he looked like a shocked and confused boy. She smiled and adjusted the hat, giving him her biggest smile. "Happy Birthday, Gaara-kun!" She gave him the 'V' for victory sign and backed off a ways. Gaara looked up as if to look as his hat but, of course, he couldn't see it.

Naruto rushed to Gaara's side and declared that is was present time. Rock Lee raised his hand dutifully. "Please allow me to go first!!" He stood up and approached Gaara as though he were handing in a very important report. "Gaara-kun, please accept this gift." He shoved a book with a red ribbon around it at Gaara. "This is a very good book on geology. Since you can use sand, I hope you can find some useful information in it."

Gaara regarded the book. He knew he would probably never open it once but when he looked at Rock Lee, he realized that there was a genuine desire in the taijutsu specialist's eyes that he was being helpful. Whether he wanted to or not, Gaara couldn't bring himself to tell Rock the truth, but what should he say?

He felt a nudge in his ribs. Naruto leaned over and whispered. "Thank you." Gaara blinked at him. "You say, 'Thank you', ya know."

"Ah! Tha-thank you, Lee. It…it means a lot." Rock grinned and gave him a thumbs up. Gaara raise his hand and made an awkward thumbs up back. Rock punch the fists together lightly.

"Sometime, let's train together!" Gaara nodded.

Sakura, emboldened by the hat ordeal and not one to be shown up by Fuzzy Eyebrows was about to walk forward to present her gift when she was intercepted by a blonde blur.

"OH! GAARA!" Ino squealed. "Let me go next!" Something in Sakura snapped and Ino's ponytail was being yanked back.

"MOVE IT, INO-PIG! I was next!"

Ino retaliated by pulling on Sakura's cheeks roughly. "GET YOU HEINOUS FOREHEAD OUT OF MY WAY! I'M NEXT!" Gaara had no idea what was going on but everyone else looked exasperated except for Temari.

"Look, Kankuro. Those girls are fighting over our, Gaara!" She wiped away a little tear of pride. Kankuro, however, was dubious and perhaps a little jealous. He simply snorted. Shikamaru, standing at Temari's side, shoved his hands in his pockets, bottom lip prominently stuck out. Ino doesn't even KNOW Gaara. Why is she acting like an idiot? Pft, women make no sense. Troublesome…

Suddenly, Sakura's fist in Ino's cheek and Ino's in Sakura's gut, the two stopped and looked behind them. Naruto was looming over them, cracking his knuckles. "Oi….What….are you…doing?"

Sakura immediately backed down, bowing. "Sorry, Naruto! It's just that INO-…Ah?" She looked around for Ino, who was just there but was suddenly gone.

In fact, Ino was attached to Gaara's arm, with her free hand she held something behind her back. "Gaara-kun, when I heard it was going to be your birthday, I just HAD to make you something special." She pulled a potted flower from behind her back. It was something like a large rose balancing on a delicate stem.

"It looks fragile but it's really sturdy. I grows well in sand and warm areas. I thought it was so perfect for you, that I gave it a very special name. It's the 'Sabaku no Baara". Get it?"

Sakura scoffed. Deep inside she was screaming. "LAME! INO-PIG and her STUPID FLOWER ARE LAME!!!!"

Gaara nodded, sweating slightly. Ino was strange. "Ah….thank you." Smugly, Ino took her place by a table, wallowing in her slight victory. Sakura, the wind taken out of her sails and replaced with a little steam, approached Gaara.

"I made this for you. It's not as dangerous as the real thing but…" She held a medium sized package up to him. Gaara took it and unwrapped the paper. Inside was a duffle bag, that was nearly a perfect replica of the gourd on his back. Sakura had stitched everything right down to the symbols on to it. Gaara was shocked. It was a very nice gift…But… He remember back to his first real encounter with Sakura. She was on the receiving end of his fury. Why? Why did she give him a such a nice gift?

When he looked at her she was smiling kindly. There was no malice in her face at all. He looked down a little ashamed. Sakura notice and leaned in. "Hey, no frowns on birthdays. It's the number one rule." How did she manage to look so much like Yashamaru…! He forced a very small smile and nodded.

"Thank you…" She nodded and backed off. Naruto was grinning at him. But it was the kind of suspicious smile of someone who is up to no good. Gaara put down his other gifts on a nearby table, never taking his eyes off of the boy who somehow, knowing the pain of loneliness, always managed to smile through it.

"Hey…" Naruto snickered. "You know your demon?"

That was a stupid question. "Yes."

"It's a tanuki, right?"

That was another stupid question. "Yes." Naruto tried to hold in his laughter but did so poorly. The blonde shinobi of Konoha village held up a boxed gift. Gaara took it and gingerly unwrapped it. Nothing happened. It was a simple white box. So, tilting the opening away from his face (it might explode) he opened the top. Nothing happened. When he looked inside he saw a smiling plush toy tanuki. A far cry cuter than Shuukaku, for sure. But when he pulled he out, he saw why Naruto loved it so much. True to tanuki form, the toy had irrationally large plush testicles, which the tanuki was drumming on.

Naruto reached over and squeezed a testicle and the toy started to play music. Gaara looked mortified. Next thing Naruto knew was getting drop kicked by Sakura. "PERVERT!!! WHAT THE HELL KIND OF GIFT IS THAT!?"

Sasuke sidled over to Gaara and plucked the toy from his hands. "Moron," he said with disgust. "Let me…'deal' with this…..'thing'."

Gaara felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and Temari leaned over from the other side. "Our turn, little brother." Kankuro was looking smug. A lot of people were feeling creative about gifts, it seemed. Gaara looked over to Naruto's twitching body on the ground. For better or worst….

"Hey, do you remember the stupid-beAH…." Kankuro felt a pinch on his arm. Temari glared at him. "I mean…that…stuffed bear of yours, from when you were little."

Gaara nodded. "Yeah. I lost is sometime ago…"

"Oh, no you didn't! Dad took that thing and set it on fire!" Gaara looked like someone had just punched him in the groin. Temari cracked Kankuro on the skull.

"MORON!" She immediate went about damage control. "Well, at any rate, we decided to get you a new bear. It's much better I think! So without further ado!" She pulled a sheet off of a giant plush bear. But unlike, Gaara's plain dodongo of the past, this one had been dressed up to look like him. However, Temari looked a bit shocked.

"What…..the….hell…." She was staring in morbid shock at the giant claws that had somehow found their way onto her design.

Kankuro rubbed the knot on his head. "I decided to jazz it up. I mean it was too adorable. Gaara's almost a man now. He needs a man's bear. So I got rid of the cute eyes, added some artillery. It's awesome now!"

Temari started shaking. "Didn't…I tell you…not to touch it, Kankuro?"

Kankuro gulpled. "Yeah but…"

"I gave you….specific orders not to lay a FINGER on this bear, didn't I?"

"Well…yeah but…"

Temari smiled sadistically and grabbed her fan from behind her. She heaved it about her head. "THERE ARE NO BUTS, NO EXCUSES!! ONLY PAIN AND JUSTICE!!!" With that, she clocked Kankuro again on his skull. Shikamaru looked shocked for a second then rolled his eyes.

Naruto chuckled and looked over at Gaara. His head was bowed and he was shaking. Naruto hurriedly tapped Sasuke on the shoulder. Sasuke looked alarmed. Soon all eyes (except for Kankuro's) were on Gaara. When Gaara put his hand on his head, there was an intake of breath. Was the Shuukaku ready to explode? Perhaps the party was about to be put to a violent end…

But Temari leaned in a little closer, Gaara was making soft noises. "Gaara…" A sparkling tear squeezed through Gaara fingers as he looked up. His face was wet but he was smiling. No one could believe it and they all moved in closer.

Gaara started to…laugh. "Thank you all…so much." He clenched his chest over his heart. "I think…I think I understand…I feel warm inside. It's not heavy and it doesn't hurt…I think…I feel happy." Naruto blinked then grinned.

"WAAAHOOO! YES! I ROCK! I AM AWESOME! I HAD A GREAT IDEA!!!!!" But his victory was cut short by a punch from Kakashi.

"Show off."

Naruto pouted but only for a second.