"Why have you been following me?"
Hinata jumped and twirled to face the Kazekage with a guilty blush, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean - I just wanted - Here!"
She thrust out a bento and ducked her head.
Gaara eyed the offering curiously but made no move to take it, "Is it poisoned?"
Her head popped up, her lips parted in dismay, "N-No, I would never-"
He took the bento and removed a rice ball. He held it out to her.
"What?" She took it as confusion rumpled her dark brows.
"Eat it," he repeated, the intensity behind his eyes building with threat.
She took a bite and watched his sharp eyes take in every movement as she chewed. She managed to swallow and, suddenly, he seemed less . . . intense and more lost as he looked at the food.
They sharpened and she was ordered to sample every item in the bento.
She did so peacefully as she realized his reasons. They were not close, barely acquaintances, really, and, out of nowhere, from his point of view, she had done something nice for him.
Gaara was glaring at the bento now as if it were the box's fault she hadn't keeled over and died.
"Sakura told me what happened," she paused as his eyes came up to study her and she glanced down at the floor, "Between you two, I mean, and-"
"You wish to challenge her."
"No! No, I-" She cut herself off, took a breath, and met his eyes, "I just wanted you to know you're not alone."
He stiffened, "Explain."
"What I mean is . . . You're friends with Naruto because you have a-"
"We are both jinnchuriki," Gaara's eyes turned wary though his expression never changed, "That is our bond."
She blinked at him, "Yes, you do and I wish to form one with you, too."
His eyes narrowed a millimeter, "You think we are similar?"
"Not completely," she couldn't help lowering her head and hunching her shoulders, "Your family expects the worse from you, not because you are weak, but because you are so strong they worry you cannot control it. My family doesn't think I can even best my sister mush less measure up as the clan heiress."
She met his eyes.
"I guess it was presumptuous of me but I just wanted to say that you and Naruto support each other through the hardships of being jinnchuriki and I want to support you when you're family might not."
She blushed and fiddled with her fingers.
"I mean . . . I want to be your friend . . . if that's all right with you-"
"You want to be my friend," he stated with wonder.
"Yes," she beamed shyly, "I wish to change my family's opinion and I believe you can do the same. Enjoy your bento."
"Wait," he stopped her before she could leave, "Eat with me. Friends eat together." He cut her off before she could protest, "They share bentos."
She smiled at him and nodded.
They sat queitly and shared the homemade bento.
"Talk to me," he ordered softly.
She tucked her hair behind her ear and studied his face before nodding. "I didn't know what you would like so I made a little bit of everything which I know realize is a bit much!" She gave a soft laugh and continued to talk about why she cooked each item and how it was prepared.
Useless information really but soothing and personal all the same.
"What is your bond with Naruto?" He asked as the food was finally gone and she was in between subjects.
"Bond? Oh, nothing so deep," she colored and bit her lip, "We're . . . friends."
"Is friendship not a bond?" He inquired lightly.
"Yes, it is but . . ." She trailed off uncertainly.
"Not the one you wish to share with him," Gaara stated as the beginnings of disappointment stirred about his stomach.
"He sees me as dark and weird," she despaired before firming her chin, "But he also said he likes people like that so I must do my best to improve so I can be strong enough to help him if he should need it."
"I am also considered dark and weird," Gaara noted the similarity. Dark to those who still wondered about his sanity and weird to those who knew him on a personal level, of course, those particular people could be counted on one hand.
She gave him a grateful smile, "Yes, but you're a Kazekage. You can afford to be weird. I just wish he'd see me . . ."
Gaara blinked and stared at her hard, "I see you."
She exhaled a soft 'ha', "What I mean is-"
"No, I understand," he caught her eyes with no intention of letting go anytime soon, "You see me, that's why you brought me food since we both have abusive families-"
"Abusive?" She protested the strong word but was run over by his words.
"They see you as weak and unworthy. They see me as a monster and a weapon. They treated us both accordingly with harsh words and neglect-"
Her eyes were wide with surprise.
"-to toughen you up and for me to swear loyalty to only them but we didn't give in to their demands and expectations. You faced off against your cousin and showed him a different kind of strength-"
"You've grown strong on your own terms and the proof is that you've reached out to me in friendship. Where others saw an unstable, emotionless monster you saw me. The mutual pain we share and how it connects us," he took her hands when she would have fiddled with them nervously, "I see you."
Her cheeks flushed a becoming shade of pink as her eyes drifted to the side and caught on something in the distance, "I . . .
Gaara turned to see what had caught her attention and frowned as he released her hands.
Naruto was walked toward them, though, it was obvious he hadn't spotted them quite just yet.
"You love him."
Her eyes snapped back to him, horrified he'd been able to deduce her deepest secret in a matter of seconds, "Gaara-"
"I will make him see you," his lips tilted at the corners, "I will support you as well."
"But-" Hinata screamed as she was launched up into the air suddenly by sand.
She was caught by strong arms and a startled, "Hinata?!"
"Naruto!" She swallowed as her heart pounded in her chest, "I-"
"Sorry, but I must cut our spar short," Gaara spoke, startling them anew, "Naruto, you can take my place."
"Spar? With Hinata?" He blinked and glanced down at the girl in his arms, "Sure! That would be awesome!"
He grinned and set her down.
She blushed and scrambled back a safe to distance to try to calm her heart, they were going to spar together?!
"She considers you precious to her."
Naruto glanced over at Gaara who had spoken so softly it was debatable he'd spoken at all and gave a sharp shake of his head.
Hinata glanced up after straightening her jacket to find both boys staring at her, "Um, I-"
"She supports you," Gaara intoned and placed a steadying hand on her shoulder, "Right?"
"Yes," She gave the Kazekage a worried glance before her expression smoothed into one of sincerity, "I've always believed in you. You'll make a great Hokage."
There was a shift in his blue eyes, "You think so?"
She nodded without hesitation.
"Look, I-" Naruto cleared his throat and grinned widely, "I would love to spar with you, Hinata, but I was about to eat-"
"Oh," She couldn't help the disappointment on her face and voice.
"-so I was thinking you could join me and we could spar after?"
"Really?" She squeaked and covered her mouth in surprise, "I would like that."
"You would?" He blinked, "So . . . is ramen okay?"
"Yes," she smiled.
He smiled back.
A real smile.
"Well, let's go then!" He threw an arm around her and nodded at his friend, "See ya, Gaara!"
And then she was gone with a shy wave and a grateful look.
Gaara watched the future couple walk away with narrowed eyes. If it had been anyone else then he would not have been so accomendating. He would have kept her. The kunoichi was a rare find and with this sacrifice now owed Naruto nothing.
It was very typical.
The one kunoichi he wanted was the one he could not have . . .
Still, the whole endeavor had taught him many things, shown his siblings he could handle the fairer sex, and gained me two new friends.
Tenten and Hinata.
He turned to face the direction of his village.
It was time to go home and back to his people. He'd proven he was more than a weapon, more than a monster, and more than an unstable leader.
He had proved he was someone who could be loved . . .
He smiled, this had all started as a way to prove his siblings wrong after they had bruised his pride.
He was content.
He didn't have to be alone.
He chose to be.
It was a shame, Gaara thought to himself idly, she would have made a perfect Lady Kazekage. Ah, well, it was just a matter of pride.
AN: Ack, sorry about the long wait! Alot has been going on in my life but suffice it to say I'm back and I hope this was worth the wait! Michelle