A/N- Wow, it's been a while since I've written a chaptered work, eh? Never fear, my writing is just as dry and boring as it ever was. Hope you enjoy.

Disclaimer- I OWN NARUTO! (Phone Rings) Hello? What? I don't? Oh... well, damn. Apparently someone named Masashi Kishimoto owns Naruto... and also a bunch of people who turned it into an anime. I fail.

xXx

Hinata Hyuuga stood before the gates of Suna with feelings of trepidation. The tan uniformed guards conferred among themselves behind the mesh masks that allowed them to work under any desert condition. The object was to keep sun and sand from their eyes and mouths, but the effect was that no one could see where they were looking or what they were saying. Even hearing their words required more effort than normal. Hinata was supposed to be allowed entry into the city as an ambassador of official business. She was the representative of Clan Hyuuga and the only emissary from Konoha as well. The pressure this put on her weighed heavily on her mind and the continued muttering of the guards only heightened her anxiety. She fingered her travel pass nervously.

One couldn't tell by looking at her just now, but Hinata was much different than the shy girl who had taken the chuunin exams. Circumstances beyond her control had caused her to grow up quickly and learn to take charge. For once in her life, she was proud to say that she rose to the challenge. The Hyuuga clan was in her control. At first it had perplexed her as to why the Hokage had chosen her for this negotiation mission (an A mission, by the way), but later one of her servants had explained it to her. Though he had changed his tune significantly, the Kazekage was still a dangerous man by all accounts and must be handled with the greatest of care.

"A touch," the old woman had elaborated, smiling warmly, "That you are well known to have." Hinata had returned to her mirror, flushing with pleasure and waving away her implied compliment with great modesty. Her journey had been filled with anticipation and hope. She had been confident that she would live up to everyone's expectations, including her own.

Now that she stood here with the taste of grit in her mouth and blinking away the savage dryness, her courage quickly failed her and Hinata watched herself fall back into old habits with dismay. She brought her forefingers together in front of her chest and pushed them together shyly. She made eye contact with no one and allowed her shoulders to fall and make her seem smaller. Hinata cursed bitterly at herself. Couldn't she hold it together until she was alone at the very least?

Her head servant came back to her. Mine was an older woman in her late forties with silver streaks restrained in a severe bun. She bobbed a small curtsey that had refused to be argued out of her manner. "There had been a mistake in the papers, Hyuuga-sama." Hinata flinched reflexively at the formality even though she understood the need for the image it created. "And?" she prompted, drawing some dignity from deep inside her that clamped onto her backbone and spoke, "What are we expected to do? Wait out here in the coming storm until it's convenient for them to sort it out?" Hinata made a dismissive gesture perfected by long hours of practice in a mirror. Mine bobbed once more in acknowledgement and returned with small, quick steps to the man who seemed to be in charge. Her back floated away.

Hinata returned to her finger tapping. She knew it was childish and arrested some of her authority, but no other habit had taken hold. She had tried to start rubbing a necklace thoughtfully to no avail. Rubbing her shoulders or her chin made her feel narcissistic. Even tapping her foot felt silly. So, on these now-rare occasions when she needed the comfort of the familiar, her hands would return to their places on her chest and the tips of her fingers would push against one another.

The hairs on the back of her neck prickled. The storm she had mentioned was coming on quickly. In Konoha, this meant latching all of the windows of the house and clearing away the drains. What would it mean here? Sand found ways through even the smallest cracks. Was there a jutsu that would take care of that or did they stuff rags into the cracks? Hinata wondered and stared off into the distance until Mine returned and informed her that the matter would be settled by the Kazakage immediately. Hinata gulped nervously. All of her memories of the present Kazakage frightened her. He had only been a kid then, but his anger and power were equal to any dictator. Now that he was fully grown, what would he be like?

xXx

Hinata firmly believed that everything in Suna was the color of sand. All of the buildings looked like they were made of it, all the people looked like they wore it and even the air which choked her carried it. She bit back an angry curse at Tsunade-sama for making her go on this crazy mission. What was the point of it anyway? Some negotiations? Surely not. Hinata was not a message hawk.

It was a surprisingly short journey to the main part of town. Mine showed her how the town was built in a sloppy oval shape and they were cutting across it. Hinata doubted the sensibility of this idea, but Mine assured her that at one time there had been a river running through the oval. Harsh weather and drought had all but dried it up decades ago. While it filled up the last of the journey nicely, Hinata didn't have time to think about geographical matters when she found herself staring at the door to the Kazekage's office. She steeled herself, preparing for the worst and assumed the blankly polite expression reserved for politics, rejecting suitors and poker games.

Mine opened the door at a nod from one of the guards and Hinata was able to see into the office. Unlike everything else in Suna, this office was decorated in rich tones of red and gold. The sun shone in from massive windows behind a giant desk of hardwood and illuminated the piles of scrolls flowing over and off of the burnished surface. On the walls that were not glass, there were bookshelves absolutely stuffed with every kind of book one could imagine. In a corner stood the gourd. Hinata steadied herself, remembering all too well the power of the sand that protected its owner. The thought of the Kazekage returned her to the matter at hand and her immediate desire not to look like a gaping tourist. She forced the mask onto her face, determinedly making her arms hang at her sides.

A sandy-colored ninja leaned behind the wall of paperwork and murmured something. Silence fell as Hinata realized that the Kazekage had been writing and obviously put down his pen to greet his visitor. Hinata heard a heavy object, like a chair, scrape across the thick carpet and the Kazekage rose into view. The years had treated him well, she saw. Though he had remained small of stature, his frame had filled out to that of a man's girth. His face had matured and signs of fatigue were visible, though she had been informed that he was now able to sleep a full night. The rings around his eyes, the pale skin, the red tattoo were all the same as she remembered. Even his hair remained the same, spiky tousled mass of red that refused to be tamed, though the flame-colored licks were longer now.

Hinata bowed as she heard her name in the ninja's mouth. The Kazekage nodded in recognition and looked her over. Subaku no Gaara looked ill at ease in his position of power- he obviously did not prefer to wear the robes appropriate to his station and favored instead a long overcoat. His dark eyes roamed constantly over the walls like a caged animal seeking escape. With reluctance, or perhaps with relief, he allowed his attention to be diverted by the guests.

"Hyuuga Hinata. It has been a long time," he said slowly in a dead monotone.

Hinata nodded graciously and prepared her words. "Perhaps too long, Kazekage-sama. I have not been recognized for my mission, it seems. Is Konoha no longer welcome here?" It was a bit melodramatic and blunt, maybe, but coming from such a slight woman, it could easily be dismissed as idle annoyance. It wasn't, strictly speaking, but she had expected more of a welcome than a common ninja.

Gaara acknowledged this with another nod. "I apologize for your inconvenience, Hyuuga-san, but I'm afraid that the Hokage did not inform me that an ambassador was required for this mission. I was expecting someone... of different rank."

Hinata nodded to herself, though rankled at the almost-insult. At least someone else thought the same as she. "I'm sure Hokage-sama felt it was important for a flesh and blood emissary to conduct these matters." Hinata had become really quite brilliant at saying absolutely nothing and making it sound pretty. She did not share her suspicion that the Hokage was simply giving her something to do. "I trust that for time's sake, we can begin these negotiations sooner rather than later? I am sure that as the Kazekage, you have more important things to do than bicker over the half a percent an import tax on clay is worth?"

Deliberately, the Kazekage blinked. Hinata realized that throughout the exchange, he had done this only twice. It was hard to imagine since she was making every effort to keep her eyes from watering with the sand, but it didn't seem to bother him at all. Gaara stood still while the silence stretched on. At length, he waved to his guard and whispered something imperceptible to even Hinata's trained ears. The guard spoke back, with less caution and Hinata was sorely tempted to listen in, but discipline and courtesy prevented her.

Subaku no Gaara turned back to her. "I'm afraid the negotiations will have to wait until we are assured of your authenticity. As I said before, we were not expecting you and now that you are here, I am loath to let you free to wander where you will without some insurance."

"B-But," stuttered Hinata, flustered. "What about the..."

"I must cut this interlude short," barked Gaara. "I have pressing matters to attend to. Show her to her room. I'll deal with this tomorrow." He offered her a small bow and disappeared behind his desk again. A ninja appeared at her shoulder and pulled on her elbow to show her out. Hinata forcefully removed herself from his grasp. She might be suspected of hostility and have no authority here, but she would not be manhandled. Haughtily, she bowed back and stalked from the room.

xXx

Garra's eyes flicked up to his brother long enough to see his wide grin. "You're a pervert." He said, returning to the scroll.

"What's wrong with that? You have a beautiful woman staying in your house and you don't even care? Man... that's sad."

Garra closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. He was starting to see double- this would have to be the last scroll. "Some of us have more thought processes beyond the attainment what our dicks want."

"Yes, yes. Responsibility and all that," Kankuro flapped his hand indifferently. "You've had enough responsibility for a lifetime, don't you think it's time to think about other things? Have you even been laid yet?"

Gaara finished the paragraph and realized he didn't remember a thing he just read. "That is my own affair," he answered, his face not even coloring in the slightest, "What does it matter?"

Kankuro laughed. "That's how I know you're still a virgin, little bro. You wouldn't ask such a thing if you weren't."

"Whatever," breathed the redhead. Perhaps he would have to read this scroll again tomorrow. His brain simply refused to process it tonight. Out loud, he said, "Kankuro, would you take these to C building? And if you could, tell Hyuuga-san that you and Temari are going to be her shadows, should she need to leave."

xXx

Hinata was furious. She raged around her guest room fuming and whispering angry words to herself. The nerve! She, head of Hyuuga clan, to be detained and observed until deemed trustworthy. And what about these 'pressing matters' eh? Wasn't she pressing enough? Oh, to be locked away in the Kazekage's own home rather than in an appropriate extablishment... it was simply shameful and scandalous. It made Hinata want to grab the nearest heavy object and break something valuable.

She flopped down fiercely in a chair before a vanity and crossed her arms, staring around the room as if each piece of furniture had done her an individual wrong. The room, in contrast to Gaara's office, was done up with powder blue and lilac colors. Their interior decorator must have been a big fan of solid color blocks. It was a rather simple room containing a desk, a wardrobe, a bed and a vanity with a couple of assorted chairs and it was a room obviously meant for only one person to occupy, judging by the size of the bed and the attached bathroom. All in all, Hinata couldn't complain about the quarters themselves, only their location.

She huffed once more, though she was running out of righteous indignation. Hinata was not one for excess anger. She was too much in a mood to meditate and improve her charka control, though no doubt the training would be valuable. What she needed was to burn off this new energy borne of angry adrenaline.

Knock, Knock.

Hinata prevented herself from jumping in surprise. She nearly called out for her visitor to come in, but thought better of it in favor of a more dignified and inviting move to open the door herself. Besides, if it was someone obnoxious, 'like the Kazekage' she thought, she could just deny him entry.

"Hello!" Hinata was startled by the sudden closeness of the nin's round, painted face. She visibly took a step back and even raised her hands into a defensive position before she regained control of herself. The sand nin laughed. "That will teach me to startle a female nin! I'm only Kankuro, here to see if there's anything you need."

"Oh." Hinata fought off a blush. The man was loud, blustery and oddly attired, but also had a pleasant voice and a rather charming smile. "I'm fine here. Everything seems to be taken care of."

"Well, good. I'd hate for a pretty girl to go wanting for something." Kankuro capped off this statement with a roguish wink, earning himself another blush. "I hate to be rude, but I'm actually here on business- Gaara wants you to know that should you need to leave, either Temari or myself should accompany you." He must have sensed Hinata's ranklement returning for his next declaration was, "Don't worry, it's an honor for me to accompany you, and I'd probably do it anyway! I know all the best spots in Suna and I'd love to show them to you. Tomorrow, maybe?"

Hinata smiled at his eagerness. He was so sincere that she couldn't help but reply, "I'd love to."

"Great! I'll come get you about 8:00, and wear something casual, ok?"

"All right," said Hinata, honestly almost speechless by his enthusiasm. She wondered what constituted 'casual' for this village. "Shall I put my hair up, then?"

"I shouldn't think so, that's for formality and missions, isn't it?"

"Maybe, but it's easier to deal with that way."

Kankuro laughed. "So says you and every other female nin! I've always liked it when a woman keeps her hair free. Seems more feminine to me." He shrugged. "Rest well, Hinata-san, I plan to wear you out!"

Hinata bowed to him giggling like a school-girl. "Good night." She turned back to her mirror after he closed the door with a quietly deliberate 'click.' Curiously, she pulled the ribbon from her hair. Lustrous black tresses cascaded from her crown to lie in waves over her shoulders. It had gotten rather long. She smiled as she remembered when she had decided to grow it out. Hinata had always preferred to have short hair for its convenience, until she heard Naruto talking to Sauske, that is. "Yatta!" he had exclaimed upon Sauske's confession that he really did like girls with long hair; it wasn't just a rumour. "Me too!," the blond had bubbled. "I was so sad when Sakura-chan cut hers! It was always so shiney," he sighed, gazing ahead with stars in his eyes. From then on, Hinata had grown her hair, nevermind the extra fuss.

Now it was long enough to pin up extravagantly, as Hinata found she loved to do for social functions. Many times she considered cutting it short again, usually during difficult missions, but each time she was glad that she didn't. She would miss the length of it. It made her feel... sexy. This thought brought a furious blush to her cheeks. "Free hair is more feminine. I suppose a female ninja could always use some more of that."

It wasn't until she had gone to bed and laid more asleep than awake under her covers that Hinata realized she had forgotten to be angry.

xXx

A/N- 'Mine' is pronounced "Mee- nah." I considered anglicizing it for pronunciation purposes, but I complain so much about television shows and movies doing it, that I don't want to become a hypocrite.

So... I wrote this before I saw Shippuden, right? Gaara's office looks nothing like that. I apologize. Just... pretend that it does, ok?

Also, I talk too much. I need to get some plot goin' on in here! Next chapter will have plot. I promise.