Welcome to the last chapter! I know it's kind of sudden, but with school starting again in a few days, I don't know if I'd have time to update as often as I should, so I'm ending it here. I'm also terribly sorry for the delay; I've been having a bit of writer's block. I apologize for the major OOCness of the characters as well. Don't worry; this chapter is especially long, so you still have stuff to look forward to! Actually, I may have overdone it on the length…

I can't believe how successful this story has been, especially since, when I started, I was still pretty new to the fanfiction world. It's certainly been a roller coaster of sorts, hasn't it? We went from psychotic perverts, to a brand new pairing, to the legend of the dragons; and so many people have stuck with me through it all. I'd just like to thank everyone who's not only reviewed, but just read this story to the end. To those of you who did review, whether with advice or just encouragement, I can't thank you enough. There's nothing better for a writer than knowing that people read and like their work. Thank you all so much. I suppose the only thing I can ask for at this point is to reach 200 reviews, but even if I don't, this has been an amazing experience, and I look forward to writing more Naruto stories in the future.

Also, as a quick note, Aoi means blue, Midori means green, and Aku means red. It'll make sense as you read.

And now, I present the final chapter of Unusual Encounter.

Disclaimer: I do not own Hinata, Gaara, or anything else associated with Naruto.


"Rai-san…" Hinata whispered softly, tears welling up in her eyes. She never had been good at handling death, even of those who weren't human. She was barely aware of someone tending to her wounds; she would later realize that it was Shino. Each time the kunoichi blinked the tears would roll down her cheeks, leaving small, almost-invisible trails behind them.

Nearby, Kankuro was attempting to help his brother but wasn't having much luck. Being the stubborn shinobi that he was, Gaara refused to accept help from anyone, even when he clearly needed it. Hinata, who was finally beginning to come to her senses, looked over to see what all the fuss was about. Gaara stopped when he saw the girl's tears; it was something he wasn't used to seeing. "P-please Gaara-kun, l-let Kankuro-kun h-heal you," she whispered, stuttering more than usual because of her constant sniffling. The Sand shinobi complied, sitting down on the sand to let his brother tend to him.

"It looks like all the fighting's over," Temari commented as she and Kiba watched from their spot on the beach. Her wounds had stopped bleeding, and she sat next to Kiba on the sand. She had insisted that they go and help their friends once she was all bandaged up, but the Leaf genin had protested, telling her to rest and that he would fight instead. As he was about to run to join the battle, however, Temari had grabbed his hand and, with a flustered face, asked him to stay.

Temari never let go of his hand. Even as he sat down beside her she kept it firm in her grasp. It was like the day when the two had sat on the hills of Konoha and watched the sunset, only this time they weren't watching for enjoyment. At first, Kiba had just let his hand lie limply in hers, but soon he relaxed and gave it a reassuring squeeze. Temari's face reddened as she leaned her head on his shoulder; her eyes widened in surprise when she felt his head on hers. And there they sat for the remainder of the battle, with their fingers intertwined and Temari's head snuggled into Kiba's neck.

At one point, when Hinata intercepted Hiroshi's attack, Kiba's grip on her hand tightened. "You should go to her," Temari said softly. Kiba could have sworn that there was a hint of sadness in her voice. He shook his head. "If I went, who would stay here and protect you?"

"I don't need protecting," Temari said defensively; still, she hadn't moved from her original position. Kiba laughed. "I know. But what other excuse do I have to stay?" Temari smiled and nuzzled deeper into his neck. "I guess I'm not a good enough excuse, huh?" she replied teasingly. They hadn't said anything more for the rest of the battle; the silence between them was only broken when the kunoichi commented on the end of the fight.

"I suppose we should go make sure everyone's alright," Kiba said with a sigh. Temari agreed, and the two stood up and began to head over to their friends. Kiba had his arm wrapped around her shoulders, saying with a red face that it was only to help keep her steady as they walked.



The Sand ninja looked up from his seat on the beach to see Hinata standing next to him. To his relief, she had stopped crying, though a few stray tears still lingered in her eyes. She silently sat down beside her, placing her hands in her lap as she stared out at the sea. It seemed so long since they had been struggling against the raging currents, even though it had only been a few hours. A calm silence fell over the two as Gaara waited for the girl to speak. When she did, however, it was far from what he was expecting.

"Gaara-kun, do you think you could bury her?" Seeing his confused face, Hinata continued. "Rai-san, I mean. She…we couldn't have defeated him without her help. She may have been our enemy, but it wasn't her fault, or her siblings' either. It seems like a burial is the least we could do, and I thought you could do it with your sand." She looked forward with a determined look on her face, never stuttering, never faulting.

"Sure," Gaara said, rising to his feet. His sand wasn't usually used to bury a dragon, but this once he would make an exception. "But there's one condition." Confused, Hinata looked up at him. "You can't cry anymore. What happened, happened; crying won't do anything to help it. What you can do is move forward and not dwell on the past. She wouldn't want you to." If there was anything Gaara could relate to, it was having painful experiences and learning to put them behind him.

Hinata wiped away the last of her tears before standing beside him. "You're right," she said with a smile. "Thanks, Gaara-kun." The Sand ninja nodded before heading towards Rai, removing the cork from his gourd as he walked. "Stand back," he said to Hinata, who had followed him. He placed his hands in the sand and muttered, "Subaku Taisō." The sand beneath the dragon began to collapse, and soon she was buried deep beneath the surface. "Thank you, Rai-san," Hinata whispered before turning to Gaara. "And thank you too, Gaara-kun. Not just for this, but for protecting me all this time." She leaned over and, standing on her toes, planted a small kiss on his cheek.


The journey back to Konoha was a quiet one.

Temari and Kiba were walking side by side and would talk to each other occasionally, but no one else said a word. Gaara was walking ahead of everyone, while Hinata was in the back; they seemed to be putting as much distance between them as possible. After Hinata's brave show of gratitude towards the Sand shinobi, which no one else had seen, Kankuro came up to them to let them know that Kiba and Temari were both safe, and that they should head back to the Village Hidden in the Leaves for proper treatment for their wounds. The two had instantly agreed, both slightly red, and had followed their companions without a word.

"Geez, this is like a funeral march," Kankuro commented to the trees, not really intending for anyone else to hear. Behind him, however, Shino nodded. "Everyone appears to be extremely tense," he said, stealing a glance towards Hinata, who was behind him. She was walking with her head down, as if the ground were the most interesting thing to look at.

"I suppose we can just blame it on everything that's happened," Kankuro replied. "Besides, we're almost there. We can ditch them after we report to the Hokage." Though Shino didn't entirely agree with that plan, he had to admit that this wasn't the best group he'd ever been in; at least at the moment. They soon arrived at the village and began to make their way towards Tsunade's office. They were interrupted, however, by a certain annoying ninja.

"Hey, Hinata! You're back!" Naruto yelled, running up to her. The kunoichi was surprised, to say the least. "N-Naruto-kun, w-what are you doing here?" She asked, noticing that she wasn't stuttering as much as normal; her heart wasn't doing flip-flops in his presence, either.

Naruto grinned. "It seems like everyone's been on missions lately except for me, and I'm really bored! So when I asked Tsunade-baa-chan if there was anyone left for me to train with, she said that your group would be back soon, and I decided to wait for you. So come on! Let's go!" He reached out and grabbed Hinata's hand, pulling her along behind him.

Gaara's eyes narrowed as he glared at the blond-haired boy, resisting the urge to strangle him with his sand. He realized that after they had battled, he thought of Naruto as almost a friend; or at least the closest thing he'd ever had. Still, at that moment, he felt angry at the boy for getting so close to Hinata, and worse, touching her. He unconsciously clenched his hand into a fist, narrowing his eyes even more.

"W-wait, Naruto-kun!" Hinata called, wriggling free of his grasp. "I-I can't train with you right now. W-we just got back, a-and we have to report to Tsunade-sama. I would also like to r-rest a bit before doing anything. I-I'm sorry." Naruto looked disappointed. "Oh, ok. I forgot that you just got back from your mission. Some other time, alright?" Without waiting for an answer he ran off, hoping to find someone else to train with.

Kiba raised an eyebrow. "Well, I don't think I've ever seen you turn down Naruto before," he said with a smirk. Hinata turned slightly red. "W-we really should be g-going now," she said as she began to walk again. "W-we can't keep Tsunade-sama w-waiting." Kiba smirked as he saw Hinata cast a quick look behind her at Gaara, causing Temari to look at him strangely.


"I see…so that's what really happened," Tsunade said, her elbows resting on her desk. She had been writing down the main details of the genins' mission report on a piece of paper, but stopped when they got to sad tale of the dragons. The Hokage let out a soft sigh. "I never dreamed that they would actually be real; I figured they were some kind of genjutsu or something or the sort." She looked towards the three Sand shinobi. "It seems as though I've put you through quite a bit of trouble these past few days, haven't I? If you like, you can rest up here in Konoha for a day or two before you begin your trip back to your village."

Hinata felt her heart tighten. During all the time they had spent together, she had forgotten about Gaara and his siblings returning to the Village Hidden in the Sand. After everything that's happened…does he really have to go? She wondered, clutching her hand tightly in front of her. Beside her, Kiba was wondering the same thing about Temari.

"Thank you, Hokage-sama," Temari said, feeling quite sad herself. "We'll gladly take you up on that offer." All six genin bowed as they left Tsunade's office, trying to think of somewhere the Sand shinobi could stay.

"Temari and I will go check out some of the inns," Kiba suggested. He looked at Hinata and smiled to himself. "Shino, why don't you take Kankuro and show him around the village? Hinata can do the same for Gaara." Before Shino or Kankuro could complain about having to be stuck together again, Kiba sent him a quick glare that said, "Shut up and do what I tell you." Shino just nodded before looking at Kankuro. "Let's go," he said before walking off, leaving behind a very confused Kankuro. The Sand shinobi just shrugged and followed.

"Well, Temari and I are off! Have fun, you two!" Kiba said, winking at Hinata before leaving with Temari, laughing silently to himself. You'll thank me for this eventually, Hinata, he thought as they rounded a corner and disappeared out of sight.

"W-well, shall we g-go, Gaara-kun?" Hinata asked, twiddling her fingers together nervously; it was the first thing either of them had said since Rai's burial. Gaara only nodded, muttering his traditional 'Hn' before following the kunoichi, who had already started walking ahead.


"You sure seem amused about something," Temari commented as she and Kiba looked for an inn with an available room. Their search wasn't very successful, however, since the annual Konoha festival was to be held in the upcoming weeks, and most of the rooms were already booked.

Kiba turned to look at her. "What, don't tell me you haven't noticed!" Temari's blank look told him she hadn't. "I think Hinata has a crush on Gaara." The Sand kunoichi stopped in her tracks, a very strange look on her face; then she burst out laughing. "You can not be serious!" she said between giggles. Kiba had to smile. "Actually, I am; though I have no clue why."

Temari stopped laughing and began to think. "Now that you mention it, they were alone during that last mission, weren't they?" She placed a finger on her chin thoughtfully, then smirked. "Wait, we were alone too, weren't we? I guess I shouldn't really be saying anything." Kiba laughed, and Temari decided to change the subject. "So, what's this festival all about?" she asked as they resumed their search.

"Well, it's basically a celebration where all the allied nations get together," Kiba explained. "The same villages that come here for the Chuunin Exam are invited. There are games, food, and a bunch of other stuff." He shot Temari and sideways glance. "You know, since the Village Hidden in the Sand is allied with Konoha, I'm sure Tsunade-sama wouldn't object to you going with me."

"Are you asking me to the festival?" Temari asked, blushing slightly as she looked at the Inuzuka expectantly. Scratching his neck awkwardly, Kiba nodded. The Sand kunoichi smiled before walking over and taking his hand. "I'd love to go."


Gaara and Hinata walked in silence.

It wasn't until Hinata looked up from her feet that she noticed she had managed to lead the Sand shinobi to a park; the same park that she had offered to take sand out of his hair. Glancing at Gaara, she wondered if he remembered. "Um, G-Gaara-kun, would you like to s-sit down and rest for a b-bit?" she asked, noticing that it was quite warm out, and the shade of a large oak tree looked very inviting. Gaara nodded, and the two went and sat down beneath the large branches.

They sat in silence for quite some time, each lost in their own thoughts. A light breeze was blowing, causing the shadow of the tree to shift positions now and then. As she gradually became exposed to the sun, Hinata took off her tan jacket and sat it down on the grass beside her, which she almost never did; she had always been next to invisible before she became a genin, and would rely on the jacket as some kind of protection against being hurt, as a thing to hide herself in. But now, she felt strangely comfortable sitting next to the Sand ninja, and didn't think twice about taking it off.

"You still have sand in your hair," Hinata said suddenly, gazing at the red clump of hair on Gaara's head. She almost giggled at the remembrance of the awkward scene they had been caught in the last time they had visited the park. "I-I guess I never did get to get it out, did I?" Hinata was proud that she wasn't stuttering as much as she usually did, and allowed a small smile to creep onto her face.

"Yeah…" Gaara said, glancing at the kunoichi out of the corner of his eye. She seemed very relaxed, with her head resting against the tree trunk and the wind blowing through her hair. He looked around and noticed there were quite a bit of people walking along the streets; he didn't remember that many when he had first arrived for his message. "There are a lot of people here."

"Y-yes, there's a festival coming up," Hinata explained, remembering the various fliers she'd seen and conversations she heard about it. "I-if I remember correctly, all of Konoha's allied countries are invited. T-that means you are, too." She said the last part hesitantly, doubting that Gaara even liked festivals; he wasn't exactly the social type.

"I guess it does," Gaara replied, still staring at the large crowds of people. "I'm sure Temari would love to go…" he added under his breath. Hinata remembered the large bag of souvenirs Temari had been carrying, and thought the same thing. "W-would you like to go then?" she said without thinking, turning bright red a moment later. "I-I mean, t-that way Temari-san can go, a-and maybe Kankuro-kun would want to go too, a-and–"

"Sure," Gaara said, interrupting her babbling. "It's not like I have anything better to do." He didn't mention the fact that he pretty much hated festivals, or anything of the sort; he didn't care much for large crowds. Still, he was almost…happy when Hinata asked him to go, for reasons unknown to him. He had no idea that Hinata was feeling the same way.


Temari and Kiba had finally found a hotel that wasn't completely full and reserved a room, already paid for by Tsunade. The three Sand siblings met there later, Temari calling the only bed and making her brothers sleep on either the couch or the floor. Gaara immediately sat down on the couch, silently making it his, leaving Kankuro to make himself comfortable on the floor.

"Hey, did you guys know there was a festival coming up?" Temari asked casually, swinging her legs back and forth as they dangled over the side of the bed. "Do you think we can go? I mean, we just got back from a mission. We should have some fun before we go home."

Kankuro smirked. "Let me guess: that dog boy asked you to go, right?" Temari blushed and looked away. "W-why do you say that?" she asked nervously. "Y-you know I love these sorts of things." Her stuttering gave her away, however, and Kankuro started laughing. "Wow, Temari, are you turning into the Hyuuga girl or something?"

Gaara's head moved slightly so he was looking at his siblings, somewhat interested in the conversation. He noticed that Temari had stopped swinging her legs and was now looking at him rather strangely. "What?" he asked flatly, snapping her out of her trance. "Oh, sorry Gaara…" she muttered, reverting her gaze to the window. At the mention of Hinata, she had remembered her earlier conversation with Kiba about how she had a crush on Gaara, and was seriously wondering if it were true. "So, can we go?" she asked again, changing the subject.

"Whatever," Gaara muttered, failing to mention that he had already made plans to go. Temari squealed excitedly, flopping onto her back on the bed. "Wait, I don't have anything to wear! We'll have to go shopping later!" Both Gaara and Kankuro sighed, knowing it would be a long night.


Hinata fidgeted nervously as she stood outside the door to her father's office, tentatively reaching out to knock only to pull her hand back before it collided with the door. She had already repeated this process several times, and would no doubt continue to do so.

"Hinata-sama?" The kunoichi jumped, turning to see Neji standing behind her. "What are you doing? Is there something you need to talk to Hiashi-sama about?" Hinata hesitated before nodding. "I-I was hoping he would allow me to a-attend the festival that's c-coming up."

Neji raised an eyebrow. "Oh? You wouldn't happen to be going with Gaara, would you?" Hinata stared at the floor, her face bright red. "N-n-n-no! W-why do you say that? H-he's just here on a mission, a-and even if we were going t-together it'd be as friends, b-but that isn't to say we are or a-anything…"

Neji smiled. "I get it, Hinata-sama. Would you like me to go in with you to ask Hiashi-sama?" Hinata nodded, her gaze firmly fixed on her shoes, and allowed Neji to knock on the door. The sound of rustling papers could be heard from inside before a rough, "Come in!" was called out. Hiashi looked up from his desk as the two walked in. "Hinata. Neji. What do you need?"

"U-um, Otou-san, I-I was wondering if it would be alright i-if I went to the festival with some f-friends," Hinata said as she nervously shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She was always nervous when confronting her father, since it was clearly known that he didn't think of her as a true heir to the clan. Hiashi's left eyebrow moved slightly. "Oh? And who would these friends be?"

"Her teammates from her squad," Neji said, answering for Hinata. "I was wondering if I could go as well, and perhaps look after them if you like." Hiashi frowned at the lack of respect his nephew was showing him, but seemed to consider the request nonetheless. After a moment, he sighed and said, "Fine, you can go. Usual rules apply, including curfew and such. I expect you both to behave like true Hyuuga. You are dismissed."

"Thank you, Otou-san," Hinata said, bowing before she and Neji left the office. She smiled happily once the door was closed behind her, breathing a small smile of relief. "Thanks, Neji-niisan," she said, turning to face her cousin. "I-it was a lot better with you there."

"It was no problem, Hinata-sama," Neji replied. "I was actually considering going to the festival anyway, and it was a useful way to convince Hiashi-sama to let you go. Don't worry; I won't tag along with you once we get there." Hinata blushed slightly and thanked him again before heading off to her room, faced with the ever-difficult question of what to wear.


Hinata arrived at the festival with Neji and Kiba, since Shino had decided not to go. All three were wearing kimonos: Neji's was plain white, Kiba's was blue and white, and Hinata's was lavender decorated with light pink flowers, a matching rose embedded in her hair. They arrived in front of their designated meeting place, Ichiraku's ramen shop, to find that Gaara and Temari were already there. Temari wore a light blue kimono and had a large smile on her face; her hair, instead of being in its usual ponytails, was flowing down her back. Gaara, on the other hand, didn't look to happy in his kimono, which was dark red. He was leaning against the shop with his arms crossed, a scowl on his face.

"Kiba! Hinata-chan! Hi!" Temari sang as she waved. "And…the guy that's with you, too!" Hinata giggled nervously as she introduced Neji. When the introductions were done, Neji claimed that he had to go meet Tenten and excused himself, leaving the four alone. They stood in an awkward silence for a moment before Hinata spoke.

"Y-you both look v-very nice," she said, blushing as she did so. "W-where's Kankuro-kun?" Temari smiled. "He didn't want to come. He said that wearing a kimono wasn't worth it. Gaara was the same way at first, but I convinced him." She laughed slightly as she winked at Hinata, causing the shy kunoichi to adjust her gaze to the lovely decorations of the ramen shop.

"Shut up, Temari," Gaara grumbled, uncrossing his arms as he stepped away from the shop. It was then that Hinata noticed that something was missing – Gaara didn't have his gourd on his back. Temari giggled again – it was obvious she was in high spirits – and ran over and grabbed Kiba's arm. "Come on, let's go! There are so many games that I want to play!" She began pulling him towards the numerous booths, glancing at Gaara and Hinata over her shoulder. "We'll see you two later, alright?" With that, they were gone, lost in the crowds of the festival.

"W-well, should we get g-going, too?" Hinata asked hesitantly, moving her gaze slowly until she met Gaara's eyes. The two stared at each other for a moment before Gaara nodded and started walking towards the bunches of people. Hinata quickly followed, staring at Gaara's hand and thinking about how she wanted to grab it. She shook her head to get rid of the thought, and the two walked in silence.


"Aw, it got away!"

Temari stared at her broken paddle disappointedly, watching the fish she had been trying to catch swim away. She frowned. "I can never win at this game! If we were allowed to use our chakra I would get it no problem!" She glanced at the sign on the side of the booth that read, "Attention all shinobi: No ninjutsu, genjutsu, taijutsu, or chakra usage allowed."

Kiba laughed and bent down beside her, paying the vender for another try. He took a new paddle and gently dipped it in the water, slowly scooping up the fish. "See, you have to be patient. If you go to fast, it will break and the fish will get away." The paddle continued its slow journey upward and broke the surface of the water, the fish flapping on top.

"We have a winner!" the vender said as he grabbed a plastic bag full of water and gently put the fish inside. After the top was securely fastened he handed the bag to Kiba, who immediately gave it to Temari. "There you go. That was the one you wanted, right?" Temari nodded and smiled. "Thanks."

Temari held her fish firmly in her arms as they went to find some food, buying some dango from a stall and heading towards a bench to eat. "Hmm, I still need a name for this little guy," Temari said, looking down at the fish in her lap; it was bright blue, an odd color for a fish. She took one of her dumplings and popped it in her mouth, thinking as she chewed. "I know! How about Aoi? I mean, you named Akamaru because his fur changes to red when you give him one of those pills, right? I saw during the Chuunin Exam," she added, noticing Kiba's confused look; he had been wondering how she knew so much about his dog.

"Yeah, Aoi sounds like a good name," Kiba said, taking a bite of his own dango. "It's kind of ironic that you like fish so much. I mean, since you don't like water and all." Temari turned away, slightly embarrassed. "Y-yeah, well, I've always liked animals, and fish are animals, right?" She stroked the bag lovingly. "I've always wanted a pet, and it looks like I've finally got one!"

"You should have come to us," Kiba said, still munching on his dango. "Our family breeds dogs." Temari laughed. "Thanks, but if I had gotten a dog, Gaara probably would have tortured it or something. Of course, he's gotten a lot better since the Chuunin Exam," she added quickly, seeing Kiba's horrified expression. "Speaking of dogs, where's Akamaru?"

"I left him at home," Kiba replied. "He doesn't really like big crowds. Besides, he'd probably get stepped on if he wandered off or something." Temari smiled as she finished off her dango, tossing the leftover stick into a nearby trash bin. She set Aoi down on the bench as she stood and stretched, tucking her hair behind one ear. "Hey, wait here for a sec, ok?" She said as she took off running towards the booths. "I'll be right back!"

Kiba stared after her for a moment, confused, before finishing his dango as well. He looked at Aoi, who was swimming around in its bag. "Do you know where she went?" he asked, poking the bag with his finger. Five minutes later, he saw Temari running towards him, holding something in her arms. Upon closer inspection, Kiba saw that it was another fish, but this one was green.

"I'm back!" the kunoichi said, plopping back down on the bench. "Miss me?" Kiba smiled and looked at the fish. "I see you caught one, too," he observed. "Now Aoi has a friend." Temari shook her head and handed him the bag. "Nope. This one is for you. I figured since you got me one, I should get you one, too." Kiba blushed slightly as he took the fish. "T-thanks."

"Now you have to name it."

Kiba thought a minute. "Well, how about Midori? You named yours after its color, so I'll do the same." Temari's smiled widened as she laid her head on his shoulder. "I'd like that," she said. Kiba's skin tickled from the touch of the Sand ninja's hair against his neck, but at that moment, he didn't care. He wrapped his arm around Temari and held her close, leaving his fish next to hers on the bench.

"Hey, Kiba?"


"Let's stay like this for awhile…"

Kiba smiled. "Yeah."


Gaara and Hinata had been walking in silence for some time now. Gaara would sometimes look absently at one of the booths, but otherwise showed no interest in the festival. He would glare at anyone who even slightly brushed him, making his dislike of crowds show. Hinata was just watching him, wondering if he even wanted to be there; but there was one booth that caught her eye.

"U-um, Gaara-kun?" she asked hesitantly. Gaara stopped and looked at her. "W-would you mind if we s-stopped at that booth?" She pointed to a stand labeled 'Ring Toss'. Gaara stared at it. "I-I've always wanted to t-try it," Hinata added when she got no reply. The Sand shinobi nodded. "Sure," he said, realizing for the first time that he had been completely ignoring the kunoichi.

Hinata smiled and ran over to the booth; once she had paid, she was given five rings. Before she started, so looked around at the prizes to see what she could win. "Ah, that stuffed rabbit is adorable!" she said to herself as she saw a large white rabbit hanging in the back of the stall. To win it, you needed to hit at least four bottles with the rings. Hinata, however, only managed to ring one, and was given a small keychain as her prize.

""W-well, I guess I'm not very good at this, huh, Gaara-kun?" she said, turning to face her companion; but he wasn't there. "G-Gaara-kun?" Hinata looked at the booth again, and saw Gaara with five rings in his hand. In a flash, all five rings found their way around a bottle, and the vender took the rabbit off the wall. "You wanted this one, right?" Gaara said, handing Hinata the plush toy.

Hinata stared at it a moment before taking it, holding it tightly in her arms. "Y-yes. Thank you very much, Gaara-kun." She buried her face in its fur as she followed Gaara, who was walking away from the crowd. "U-um, Gaara-kun? Where are we going?" she asked as they went farther and farther away from the festival; it was now dark, and she couldn't tell where they were.

Gaara didn't answer, but moved a tree branch out of the path so she wouldn't bump into it. Why are there trees here? Hinata wondered. And how does Gaara-kun know where we're going when I don't?

"Be careful," Gaara said, snapping her out of her thoughts. "There are some rocks up ahead." Hinata nodded, though she doubted Gaara could see her; the trees were covering up the full moon, and it was all but pitch black. She couldn't even see the path, and sure enough, ended up tripping on a large rock.

Hinata stumbled in the darkness, trying not to bump into anything as she tried to regain her balance. She felt an arm grab hers and pull her upright, and could feel her face heat up under Gaara's gaze. "I told you to be careful, didn't I?" He said, making sure she was steady before releasing his grasp on her arm.

"I-I'm sorry," Hinata said quietly. "I-I couldn't see in the dark." Out loud, the excuse sounded like something a little kid would say, and she felt even more embarrassed. Gaara sighed. "It's alright. We're almost there anyway." He reached out and grabbed her hand, then began leading her along the path. Hinata's grasp on her rabbit tightened as she stared at Gaara's hand, which was barely visible in the night. She was glad it was dark; otherwise her red face would have been clearly noticeable.

Hinata resisted the urge to ask once again where they were going, knowing it would only come out as a squeak. Instead she followed in silence, happiness slowly swelling inside her at Gaara's touch. She was disappointed when he let go of her hand, and let her know they had arrived at their destination with a simple, "We're here."

Hinata looked up, and found herself in a large clearing. In front of her was a small lake, shimmering in the moonlight. The moon was reflected on the water's surface, broken only by soft ripples created by the light breeze. Fireflies danced above the water, creating an almost magical look to the place.

"I-it's beautiful!" Hinata said, walking over to the lake's edge and dipping her hand in the cool water. "H-how did you know this was here?" Gaara walked over and stood beside her. "I found it earlier after we finished shopping with Temari," he explained. "I decided to look around and found this."

"I-I've never seen anything like this before!" Hinata said, gazing up at the full moon. "I-I mean, I've been to this lake before, b-but never at night! It really is amazing…" She lifted her hand from the water and stood back up, looking at Gaara. "B-but why did you bring me here? If you already saw it earlier, there's r-really no reason for you to see it again…"

"I thought you would like it," Gaara said flatly. "You're the one who invited me in the first place, so I thought I'd return the favor." He looked at Hinata, and their eyes met. "Now I have a question for you: why did you do that?" He was referring to the end of their mission, when Hinata had boldly kissed him on the cheek. The kunoichi felt the blush on her face deepen as she broke their gaze. "I-I'm not sure," she replied honestly. "T-there are a lot of things I don't understand right now."

Gaara stared at her, waiting for an explanation. Hinata's mind whirled. What was she supposed to say? That she was confused because she's been feeling the same way she used to feel when she was around Naruto? That she might be…in love with him? Hinata's grip on her rabbit tightened to the point that her nails were digging into the fur as she thought of a response.

"D-do you remember how we first met?" she asked, instead of replying to the original question she had been asked. "H-how we bumped into each other before the mission started? I remember that the first thing I thought was, 'Oh, it's the shinobi from the Chuunin Exam'. I didn't know your name, or even that you were here to go on a mission with my team." The stutter she'd had when she first began talking was gone; now she was speaking with confidence.

"But now, after everything that's happened, it feels like I know so much more about you. Even if you didn't say it out loud, little by little I started to learn more about you. Like how you don't like to stay behind and let others do all the fighting, or how you always try your best at anything you do. Even now, I've learned that you don't like things like festivals or crowds.

"But you still came with me tonight, even though you didn't want to. It made me…very happy. It was like the happiness I felt when you protected me. Whenever I looked up and saw your sand in front of me, or knew that you were standing beside me, I felt so incredibly happy, no matter what dangerous situation we were in. And when you…you rescued me from Michio, all the fear I had vanished. I…I really like you, Gaara-kun!"

Gaara's eyes widened in shock when he heard her words. No one had ever told him anything close to that, and he wasn't sure what he was feeling. Anger? Confusion? Happiness? He wasn't sure, but it was something unlike anything he had ever felt before. And he enjoyed the feeling.

"You know, you confused me, too," he said, causing the red Hinata to look up at him. "You were one of the first people to not run away when you saw me, and soon it felt like it had become my duty to protect you from harm; that something bad would happen if I failed. Before, the only things I felt were anger and pain. But during our missions, I felt things that were strange to me. I think…I might have been happy. Even now, your words are confusing me, and there's a whirlwind of emotions I can't control. But oddly…I don't mind it."

Before Hinata's mind could react, her body was moving on its own. Her feet moved so that she was standing on her toes, and her hands moved up to the sides of Gaara's face; a moment later, their lips met. When Gaara didn't resist, the kiss deepened, and soon both were lost in it. As they broke, Hinata's hands fell from his face and rested against his chest, where they were soon met by her face pressed snuggly against it.

"Gaara-kun, you'll come back soon, right?


The End