A helpful Thesaurus:

Sensei – Teacher

Jutsu – ninja art

Byakugan – Hyuuga clan's bloodline trait

Chakra – Energy, life-force, the source of a Shinobi/Kunoichi's power

Shinobi – Ninja

Kunoichi – Unofficial term for a Female ninja

Ashita – tomorrow

Outousan – father

Gomen – I'm sorry

Gomen kudasai – I'm sorry (formal)

Godaime – fifth

Hai – yes

Sankyuu – thank you

Itoko – cousin

Douitashimashite – you are welcome

Kuso! – Shit!

Kami – god

Ohayougozaimasu – good morning

Tanuki – a raccoon dog.

Baka teme – stupid bastard

Jigoku e Ike! – go to hell!

They'll likely be used again so keep in mind that this is here

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4. Day in Konoha, Gaara Meets the People!

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A/N: The characters and original storyline used in this story are owned by Masashi Kishimoto

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For the first time since the Chuunin exams, Hinata found she was unable to sleep. She was just too excited! Somehow, she had managed to pull Gaara from his forced slumber. She had befriended the boy who frightened everyone, even the Fifth!

It is strangely intoxicating, being friends with someone like Gaara. Like being friends with a tiger. At any time he could turn on you, kill you without a thought, yet you feel strangely safe in their presence. It had Hinata feeling just a bit giddy as she lay in bed, watching the ceiling.

She thinks about how strange she was becoming as she lies beneath the thin sheet, wondering how others will react if she stays this way. She smiles at the thought. Even Hinata could see that she was losing some of her shyness, thanks to Gaa-kun.

Finally she throws the sheet off and jumps out of bed, her bare feet thumping on the floor almost silently. She makes the bed, the blankets crisp and flawless, evidence of years practice making the beds.

She cleans her room up some, busywork more than anything. Once her room is spotless, she runs out of things to waste time doing in the house. She can't go wandering around the house; her father might run into her.

She frowns at the thought and seriously considers climbing back into bed, chastising herself moments later. 'If I can stand up to Gaara and his siblings, I should be able to stand up to Outousan…' she thinks to herself.

And so, with a defiant nod, she sets about preparing for a little midnight exercises.

Given her crazy scheduling these days, Hinata had taken to wearing her clothes to bed, for which she was thankful now. Clothes from the day before would be perfect for training in, and wouldn't require dirtying a new set. Not that anyone would notice, she pretty much wears the same thing every day.

She brushes a comb through her hair a few times, noting that it's starting to get some length to it, debating on whether or not she will cut it again. 'Perhaps I need a change…' She plays with her hair a bit in front of the mirror, wondering how it would look longer. After a moment she shrugs, having never been one for vanity; spending life as wallpaper was easier.

She slipped outside of her room before long, bare feet padding along the polished wooden floors to the courtyard. She considered training there, but she couldn't risk Neji or Outousan discovering her, that would be humiliating. So Hinata moves slowly and silently on bare feet, her Byakugan searching for anyone that is awake and wandering like her. Finding no one, she moves a bit faster, her hand on the pouch at her thigh, more for security than protection.

The young Kunoichi passed the Hyuuga gates unfettered, making her way to the training ground that had so often been her vexation.

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Unbeknownst to her, there was someone awake on the Hyuuga compound, well hidden from her even as he followed her. Neji did not need to follow closely and thus moved slowly, calmly. 'Coming home late is one thing, but sneaking off at night is a bit reckless… Hinata… what are you up to?'

He tells himself that concern is merely his duty to the main house of the Hyuuga clan, as a branch house family, it is his duty to protect the main house and its members. But he wasn't entirely convinced.

Hinata had fought him, the genius Shinobi of the Hyuuga clan, and she had survived. He knows that she can endure an attack, and he doubts that Hiashi-sama would punish him for not watching after the Hyuuga clan disgrace. So it had to be something else…

For being a genius, he should have known to begin with. It has nothing to do with the families or his duty. It wasn't even that she is a member of his village, which he is sworn to protect as a Shinobi of the Village Hidden in the Leaves. It is simple, profoundly so. Hinata is family, not to mention a fellow Shinobi. She's younger, weaker, and his cousin and it's his job to look out for her.

Of course, none of this occurred to Neji on this night, as he followed Hinata through the village and forest out to the training grounds.

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Hinata walks into the clearing that is the training ground, smiling as the cool night breeze makes her midnight mane dance. She moved to the center of the grounds, letting the wind pull at her black Capri pants, her loose black t-shirt whipped to the side before the wind died down.

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Neji crouches on a tree branch, watching his cousin without being in plain sight. His own long black hair was loose, his curse mark clearly visible.

He'd been preparing for bed himself when he'd sensed Hinata's movement, and hadn't taken the time to rewrap.

He watches Hinata in silence, too intrigued and curious to interrupt her just yet.

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Hinata just breathes for a moment, just relaxing and focusing her body.

After a moment she takes her gentle fist stance, focusing her chakra toward her hands. She activates her Byakugan, smiling when she sees the soft glow envelope her hands. She starts by just taking practice strokes, her movements unsure even against an imaginary opponent.

She stops after a minute, glancing around with her Byakugan nervously. She doesn't look too hard, pretty sure that there's no one out this late at night at the training ground.

She crouches lower, spreading her arms out and mimicking Neji's stance for his jutsu.

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Neji smiles to himself, further intrigued by Hinata's apparent imitation of his jutsu, and settles in to watch.

He activates his own Byakugan so as to study her chakra as she spins, but finds it was unnecessary a moment later. She wobbled as she spun, unable to match his stance. He winced when she landed right on her ass, and chalked it up to size difference.

'Hinata has potential to be faster and more agile than I am, but she's not going to be able to use my stance,' he contemplates, 'she's shorter and smaller than I am, and her momentum is off balance when she doesn't take that into consideration.'

He contemplates correcting her, but he realizes that the embarrassment at having been caught and having her fall witnessed would likely upset her more than his advice would do her good. And so he sits, silvery gaze watching every move.

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"Oof…" Hinata hits the ground hard. She fights the urge to lay back and quit, rising to her feet slowly. She wipes the dirt and grass off of her butt and regains her composure.

After another moment of calming her nerves she smiles, and lets the winds relax her frazzled mind. She reaches her arms out to each side and spins like a child, the movement simple.

She stops and pushes away the dizziness for a moment, then does it again, this time, moving her feet less.

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Neji watches the childish playing change, becoming more fluid and smooth.

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Hinata continues the experiment, spinning faster each time, moving her feet less and less. Finally she pulls her hands toward her heart, her elbows still out. She throws her arms out as she spins on a single foot, her left, giving more momentum to make her spin.

She does it a few more times, then experiments further. She jogs across the training ground, pausing to spin on her left, and then spinning onto her right to maintain the right path.

The movement starts out jerky and strange, but after a few tries, she's made it a fluid, natural, effortless movement.

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Neji watches in mild amazement. He knows that Hinata is capable of movements just as fast as he is, but it is still fascinating to see her pick it up so quickly.

It occurs to him that she had been thinking about the mechanics of these movements for a long time, but hadn't been able to train, thanks to him and the Chuunin exam.

He smirks, remembering how amazed he'd been then. 'She's certainly capable of the unexpected… I've seen that personally…' He gets more comfortable, settling in to watch his young cousin work.

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Hinata goes through basic motions for a good while, memorizing every minute detail so that she can practice it again and learn to corporate it into her fighting style, which she knows needs serious work.

She remembers watching the others fight and train. They were so strong, so aggressive. Even Neji, who uses gentle fist, just like she does, is powerful and aggressive.

The memory of her battle with Neji pushes her that much harder, makes her that much more determined to become better.

After a while she gets bored with spinning around like a top and chooses to focus on her chakra control for a while.

She watches as her hands are enveloped by the familiar glow of her chakra and smiles. She moves her hands up and down, watching the trail of chakra fade away. She moves her hands as one, forming a glowing figure 8 in the air, the glow growing stronger as chakra extends from her palms, following the curvy path.

She pulls her hands apart, watching the strings of chakra follow after. She focuses on the strands of chakra, her hands still for the moment.

She focuses on changing the thread, on controlling its size and intensity. She smiles as she manages to shrink it down to the width of a thread, the chakra a shimmering glow to her chakra enhanced eyes.

The thread of chakra disappears when she hears a twig pop and lavender eyes go wide, searching for the intruder.

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Neji curses silently, searching for the cause of the noise, his hand gripping the tree branch beneath his feet.

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Both sigh with relief when they spot the doe skirting the edge of the training ground, watching Hinata intently.

Hinata smiles and turns away, letting the gentle creature be for now.

She focuses on her palms, where the glow of her chakra is most intense.

She moves her hand again, focusing on keeping the trail from fading. After a few tries Hinata manages to keep the chakra trail strong, and smiles. She tries with both hands, making an X of lingering chakra on the first try.

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Neji's eyes widen, impressed with Hinata's skill. He smiles at the sight of her delighted "teehee" and watches as one by one lines of chakra are added to the original X.

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She grins, ecstatic at the sight of the crisscrossing web of chakra before her.

The doe approaches slowly, regarding her movements with interest; truly an odd creature.

Hinata smiles and allows the chakra net to fade, the glow that envelopes her hands also fading. She reaches out for the doe, and giggles when its ear twitches.

The doe approaches hesitantly, sniffing at Hinata's palm. Chocolate orbs peer into amethyst and something passes between the two, a meeting of souls perhaps. The doe licks Hinata's palm after a moment, making her smile warmly. She rubs the sweet creature's nose for a moment before lowering her hand. The deer turns and walks along on her way, leaving a sense of calm in her wake.

Hinata smiles and sighs, content to go home. She glances to the sky, smiling to the growing moon and shimmering stars above.

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Neji maintains his perch, waiting for Hinata to begin the walk home. When she does, he follows, keeping out of sight.

The trip home is met without incident, and Neji waits for Hinata to be headed for her room before he makes his way to his own bed.

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Hinata smiles as she closes the door to her bedroom, finding the bed a very welcoming sight now that she'd burned some of her energy.

She undresses slowly, yawning as she pulls her shirt over her head, tossing it in the basket of clothing to wash. She slips into her nightclothes, and then beneath the sheet, her eyes closing as her head hits the cool pillow.

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Gaara had spent most of the night on the sill of his room's window, watching the stars shine in the sky above, having had more than his fill of sleep for the next lifetime.

He lay in bed once the night sky became boring and day grew closer, allowing him to appear asleep in case his siblings or any other Shinobi check on him before Hinata comes to collect him.

He smiles at the thought of spending the day outside with her, his light blue orbs reflecting his tentative pleasure. A part of him worries about the general reaction to his presence on the streets, and he knows for sure that there will be one or two young Shinobi who will wish to attack him.

He sighs. 'I don't want to subject Hinata to that; she'll spend the rest of the day afraid…' He contemplates drawing such fools away from her and simply disposing of them before she notices, but decides against it. 'That would likely scare Hinata even more, and she may be attached to some of those idiots… Wouldn't be good for diplomacy between the villages either…' He mutters in his head, quite sure that the next few days would require proper behavior and good acting.

He shakes his head, almost missing the ability to just do whatever the hell he wants and have no consequences. 'But now, Hinata could end up taking the blame if I step out of line…' He sighs again and shakes his head, "This is going to suck" He bangs the back of his head on the wall gently. 'But it will be worth it…' Two voices say at once in his mind.

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As dawn breaks, Hinata is rummaging around in her room, searching for something special to wear. She panics, looking through drawers filled with identical outfits within them.

"Kuso!" The swear sounds comical in her soft voice, but she certainly means it. She sucks on her thumb, which had just been slammed into a drawer. She looks at the nail and sighs 'At least it's not broken…'

A chuckle sounds behind Hinata, making her spin violently, hands up. She slumps her shoulders when she sees Neji leaning against her doorframe, his arms crossed, smirk in place. 'I need to put bells on that door…' Neji chuckles again as if reading her mind, and glances around his cousin's bedroom. "Going on a hot date?"

Hinata turns away, blushing, and begins fixing her drawers, not about to give Neji the satisfaction of ribbing her to her face.

The young man only chuckles again, pushing off from the doorframe and walking into the room. Silvery orbs shimmer as his gaze sweeps the room, curiosity winning out. He sees her nervous glance in the mirror and smirks again, pretending to be distracted as he approaches.

Hinata busies herself, not wanting to look him in the eye. Her gaze is lowered, her bangs hiding her lavender gaze.

Deciding that he'd teased enough for the moment he tugs on the back of her hair, forcing her to look up without being rough. "If you have to dress up for him, he's not worth it, ne?" He keeps his gaze matching hers, making sure the message sinks through. Despite how odd the protective tendencies may seem to him, he rarely fights them.

Satisfied when she looks away again, he turns, leaving her room at his own leisurely pace.

Hinata blushes furiously, moving to shut the door before changing out of her bed clothes. She wears her usual black Capri's and t-shirt, slipping on her sweater before tying her forehead protector around her neck and attaching her shuriken pouch to her right thigh, bandaging around the pouches strap to keep it firm.

She packs an extra ointment into her pouch, just in case her muscles decide to mutiny later in the day. She smiles as she fiddles with her hair, unable to do anything fancy with it.

Deciding to take Neji's words to heart, she decides that she looks just fine and grabs her pack, slipping out of her room without a sound.

She makes a picnic lunch for two and puts everything in her pack, moving as quietly as possible as she prepares for the day. Before long she's al packed and ready to go, and quietly heads off of the Hyuuga grounds, thankful that Outousan is too busy with Neji to notice her today.

Hinata goes straight to the hospital, directly to Gaara's room. She activates Byakugan before walking down the hall, satisfied that Gaara's siblings were not in the room this time. Saying a silent thank you to Kami she slips into his room, her brightest smile in place.

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Gaara sits on the bed, his back to the headboard, his head resting against the will, his eyes closed.

Hinata smiles at how sweet he looks, having half expected him to pacing the room with boredom.

As she approaches, Gaara opens an eye, the sky blue orb clear and directly on her. He opens the other as he turns, his feet draping off the edge of the bed.

"Ohayougozaimasu Gaara-kun." Hinata bows her head to him, her smile warm.

Gaara nods in return. Still not one for excessive words, he finds Hinata's gentle voice to be pleasant, and she doesn't require that he respond, or that they speak at all.

Hinata gestures to the pack as she places it on the floor, rolling her shoulders once they are free of it. "I brought us a lunch." She smiles, rubbing her shoulders at the ache. "How's your shoulder Gaa-kun?" She notes that the bandages are still there.

He glances down to his arm as if he'd not noticed the bandages, his lips pursing slightly. "It's fine." He tugs at one of the straps, succeeding in tightening the other wrappings.

The Kunoichi giggles at his growl of annoyance, raising a hand to cover her tittering. "I can get it if you like…" She watches the bindings tighten as he tugs again. "Here, let me"

Gaara narrows his eyes, tempted to have his sand shred the silly cloth. But he doesn't glare at Hinata as would have in the past, accepting her assistance with dignity. He would never admit weakness, but if she wished to assist, he would not deny her.

He slips off the white shirt that someone had put on him, wondering idly where his actual clothing was.

Hinata blushes at the sight of his naked torso, quickly turning her focus to the bandages that wrap his arm, shoulder, and torso. She moves to sit behind him on the bed, captivated for a moment by his lean form. She'd not seen many boys totally shirtless in her short life, and it is a bit of a shock for her.

She chooses the lowermost strap of bandaging that wraps around his ribcage, twisting it in her fingers, her chakra slicing clean through the strap. She smiles as she unbinds the cloth, her gentle hands brushing warm flesh every now and again as she unwinds the bandaging.

She works her way upwards and then does the same with his arm, starting from the bottom and going up. Soon the bandages lie in a crumpled mass on the floor, Gaara's flesh marred from where the cloth had bitten into his flesh. She moves around to be face to face with him, examining his shoulder. It had healed into a pretty good scar.

She touches the scar gently, flipping open the pouch at her thigh and pulling out a small, unmarked jar between two fingers like a shuriken. She shifts her hand and curls her fingers; transferring the container to her palm and twisting open the cap in one smooth motion.

Gaara crinkles his nose at the smell of the ointment, not sure he wanted it near him.

Hinata smiles and dips two fingers into the jar, her fingers slick with a clear gel when she removes them. She rubs the soothing ointment onto the scar with a small smile. "It should minimize pain and help the scar fade…" she blushes, her voice low as if not confident in her apothecary skills.

Gaara smirks, glancing to his scarred shoulder. "Good, I wouldn't want anyone to be able to prove that I've ever actually been hit in battle…"

Hinata blushes and closes the jar, slipping it back into her pouch. She leans forward slightly, her sweater sleeve sliding up her arm as she pulls open the nightstand drawer, revealing his clothing, having been cleaned and folded when he'd arrived.

Gaara smiles and lifts the pile of clothing from the drawer. Hinata stands quickly, scurrying toward the door. Gaara chuckles and the sand moves to block the door in an instant. "Why your hurry? I have to dress first."

Hinata attempts to reach through the sand, but the wall is solid. "I am giving you privacy…" She glances to him, her cheeks warm and pink.

Gaara arches a brow as if confused and chuckles, shaking his head. "Just watch" he winks, wanting to show off his skill.

Hinata covers her eyes with her hands, horrified. The sand flows past her, the grains caressing gently as they pull her hands down. She opens an eye reluctantly, only to see a sphere of sand form around Gaara and the bed.

When the sand sphere dissipates, he is fully dressed in his usual t-shirt, fishnet sleeves covering his arm from the elbow up into the sleeve. His pants come down to his calves, the remaining visible parts of his legs wrapped in white bandages. Unlike Hinata's, Gaara's sandals are brown. He tosses the long white scarf over his left shoulder with a smirk to the young girl that stands before him. Last, he slips the brown leather over his right shoulder that straps his gourd to his back, his forehead protector tied around the belt at his waist. The scarf loosely wraps down around Gaara's right hip, the knee length remainders trailing down his left leg both in front and behind.

Hinata stares for a moment, amazed at how quickly his appearance can transform.

Gaara bends to retrieve her pack and Hinata wakes from her momentary trance, taking it from him with a furious blush and smile. He returns the smile, enjoying this reaction that he's getting.

"So…" he glances to the window. "Where to first?"

Hinata smiles and glances from the window to the door, deciding that the window felt more mysterious and adventurous. "You'll see" She smiles as she climbs up out of the window, waiting for him to follow.

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The first few hours of the day had been largely uneventful, most of the younger Shinobi busy with training in the early morning. Gaara was enjoying the activity as well as the company, noting that Hinata rarely stops to greet friends. He began to wonder if she even had any besides him, and his worries did not last long.

Kiba and Akamaru were the first to approach Hinata, Shino following closely behind.

"Hey Hinata!" Kiba waves as he jogs up, Akamaru in his usual resting spot, inside Kiba's jacket front. The pup growled when he recognized Gaara, who had seemingly gone unnoticed by his master. "Whoa…" Kiba steps back, remembering how Gaara had acted in the forest during the Chuunin exams, and how he'd scared Akamaru.

Hinata sighs inwardly, expecting a confrontation as Kiba distances them from Gaara by pulling her arm. "What are you doing with him?!" Kiba asks in a voice that was decidedly not quiet.

Gaara remembered the loud-mouthed one from the Chuunin trials. 'He was the one to fought Naruto Uzumaki…' Gaara muses to himself, also remembering that Hinata and he are teammates. It is that alone that prevents him from being equally rude to the boy and his dog.

It is then that Shino makes his appearance, strolling up calmly. He nods to Hinata, his shades flashing as they catch the light. "Hello Hinata. Glad to see you're feeling well." He glances to Gaara as if studying a particularly interesting bug, which, to a member of the Aburame clan, is a bit of a compliment, if not a normal practice.

Gaara stares right back, letting the whelp and his pup run their respective mouths. This one he seems to recall as well, having vague memories of hearing him challenge his brother. Gaara hadn't been awake enough to witness to details, but he seriously hoped that his brother had gotten his ass kicked.

Hinata pulls herself out of Kiba's grip, her smile kind but just a bit strained, a fact that Gaara did not fail to notice. She takes one step, bringing herself closer to Gaara while remaining close to her teammates as well, trying to stay in the middle, just in case. "Kiba, Shino, this is Gaara. Gaara, these are my teammates: Kiba and Akamaru of the Inuzuka clan, and Shino of the Aburame." She bows her head slightly, silently begging all three to make nice.

Strangely enough, Gaara acts first, reaching out his hand to the two. "It is nice to meet the honored teammates of my friend." He makes the statement and humble and diplomatic as possible without any hint of a threat, and he thought he'd done fairly well for his first try.

Kiba glances down his jacket to the pup that was sniffing at Gaara's hand. Akamaru yipped after a moment, satisfied that the boy was trustworthy. Kiba seems satisfied by it and shakes the sand Shinobi's hand, though squeezing just a bit too hard to be deemed totally friendly. He let it go, chalking it up to a protective friend, and it only made him respect the boy more.

Shino nodded when he was introduced but doesn't offer his hand, which does not bother Gaara in the slightest once he remembers the specialty of the Aburame clan. "Shino… you fought my brother didn't you…"

The shades flash as Shino nods again. "Yes, that was me…"

"Gaara smiles, his black-rimmed eyes taking on a dark look for a moment. "Did you win?"

Shino takes the question in stride, intrigued by the sand Shinobi. "Ask him… that is, if he's not too busy repairing his puppets… My bugs can get… overzealous… at times…"

Gaara smirks, liking the young man immensely. "I wish I could have been there to see it then, I have been threatening to rip those things apart for years…"

Shino's stature changes by a fraction of a degree, a sign of relaxation for him. Hinata smiles, glad that things are going so well. "Where is Kurenai-sensei?"

Kiba chuckles to his own private joke. "Probably with Asuma… that's where she always is." Akamaru yips in agreement, and somewhere nearby a crimson-eyed jounin makes a personal note to pound the fool for his comment.

Shino turns to Hinata, his answer much more helpful. "I would imagine that she is watching you… she has been… distracted lately. Kiba has been thankful for the chance to become lazy…"

Hinata smiles and blushes slightly, remembering that her sensei had promised to keep an eye on her.

Gaara watches the exchange with mild interest, glancing around every once in a while, sky blue orbs drinking in the village.

After a few minutes the group parts ways by way of Shino practically dragging Kiba from the other two. Hinata made a mental note to make a special gift for him and his insects soon.

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The pair walks around the village for a good while, occasionally pausing to talk with the other members of the so-called Rookie 9. She smiles at how well Gaara is interacting with her friends, occasionally brushing her hand against his and finding subtle ways to show her gratitude without speaking the words.

Overall, the response is similar; surprise at seeing Hinata with Gaara, suspicion of the sand Shinobi's intent, and eventual acceptance of his presence. Gaara even surprises himself with how well he is behaving, and how interesting and cordial the village Shinobi are. 'I shouldn't be surprised, this is Hinata's village… of course they're nice.'

He recognizes many of the rookies from the Chuunin exams, learning their names and clans via his lovely tour guide, as well as their obvious personalities.

There was a pair of boys that had struck him fascinating. One was rather rotund, to say it nicely, the young man having spent the conversation munching potato crisps between statements. Gaara couldn't help but remark on it. "I can't help but notice…" Gaara noticed that Hinata had visibly tensed beside him and he chose a kinder approach. "Your appetite, it is fascinating…"

The others had been ready to grab at Chouji, but the boy had simply smiled, apparently taking it as a compliment. "All members of the Akimichi clan are great eaters, it keeps us strong!" He'd puffed out his chest at that, and Gaara decided that he liked the Akimichi clan.

Chouji's friend was less cordial, but not in a rude way. He simply didn't seem to care, the slender boy's attention waning as he glanced to the sky every now and again. Chouji didn't seem to notice his friend's apparent boredom, which Gaara took to mean that it was a commonplace occurrence for the boys. After a few minutes it dawned on Gaara; he remembered the skinny one from the Chuunin exams.

"You… you battled my sister…" Gaara smirks, remembering that battle. "With your shadow technique, yes… You're supposed to be a genius…" Shikamaru simply shrugged, not caring what Gaara thinks of him. "Quite clever, using your shirt as a distraction… I very much enjoyed watching that fight…" Gaara had smiled relishing at the memory of the apparent weakness of his siblings.

Gaara made nice with everyone throughout the day, even the incorrigible blonde that had followed shortly after Shikamaru and Chouji, apparently named Ino. Hinata had laughed at his immediate dislike of her, her cheeks pinking slightly.

Gaara noticed the girl that Temari had beaten in the first round of the Chuunin trials in passing, but she did not approach, nor did she seem to see them. Hinata had blanched at the sight of the girl, but would not divulge why.

He did not see the obnoxious young man that he had had fought, Lee had been his name. Gaara thought guiltily that he was probably still hospitalized, his cheeks pinking for a moment. He respected the strangely dressed boy; he'd been as strong fighter.

Nor did he see the other Hyuuga Shinobi, the one who'd fought and beaten Hinata. He smiles at the memory of seeing Naruto pound the insolent little whelp, wishing for a moment that he'd had the chance. But back then, he'd not had a reason to. That was before Gaara had faced Naruto Uzumaki himself…

He had looked for the bright blonde spikes all day, but he'd not seen them, nor had he seen the black mane of the Uchiha boy, Sasuke. He didn't worry much over it, he wasn't exactly eager for that reunion…

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Eventually, the pair made it to the training grounds, now blissfully empty, their picnic lunch still warm and waiting.

Gaara watches Hinata look for a perfect spot and smiles. "How about under that tree?" He nods to a nearby tree, the shade perfect while giving an excellent view of the sky. Hinata smiles and nods to him, commending his superior choice. "It's perfect…"

Gaara strolls over to the tree, the harness and gourd off within seconds. Sand flows out of the gourd, giving a comfortable layer of soft earth to put the blanket on. As the sand flattens and becomes even, Gaara helps Hinata take off the pack, setting it gently on the ground, with a smile, his sky blue orbs bright in the sunlight.

Hinata nods her thanks, her lavender on him as she takes the soft black blanket from the pack. Gaara takes it and tosses it on the pile of sand, the chakra enhanced earth unfolding and flattening it for him, the sand holding down the edges without blowing away or getting them dirty.

Hinata smiles, wondering idly what Gaara would do if he found himself on the beach, her soft giggle confusing him.

"What?" His brow furrows, wondering what's funny

She shakes her head, her smile still in place. "Just thinking…" She pulls the parcels from the pack one at a time, the meals still warm to the touch. She slips of her sandals before stepping onto the blanket, setting the parcels of food down before finding the thermos of sweet tea, ice cubes still clinking around inside

Gaara arches a brow but moves to the blanket as well, his spotless sandals not marring the blanket. He sits next to Hinata, politely accepting the cup tea. He sips it and blinks, surprised at how cold it still is. "This is good…" he smiles, setting the cup down to sniff at the parcels of food. He licks his lips, making Hinata giggle. 'If the taste is as good as the smell, then she's an awesome cook…'

A separate voice chuckles in his mind. 'If it is, you should propose right fucking now…'

Gaara winces at the faint sound of the Tanuki demon's voice, wishing idly that the seals were strong enough to keep the baka teme out of his head. 'Jigoku e Ike!'

Shukaku smiles, his chuckle sounding in Gaara's head. 'You know you want to… look at her, she's fabulous… and you can bet… no, I'll tell you That part when you're older…'

Gaara's inward growl makes Hinata jump, but at a glance she can see that it's not directed at her, his glare is more inward. She places her hand over his, making him jump while pulling him from then silent conversation. Gaara mutters an apology, his cheeks flushing.

Hinata smiles and offers him one of the lunch boxes. "I hope you like it…"

Gaara takes it with a smile and nod, hi fingers brushing hers as he slides the box out of her hand. "It smells great…"

The voice chuckles again, enjoying this new bit of mischief. 'So does she…'

Gaara wishes he could yell at the wretched whelp of a demon but stays silent, thinking all manner of rude words.

'Now don't be mean… you know you think so too…'

Gaara takes a bite of his lunch to prevent responding by mistake.

Shukaku is stopped in his next retort, savoring the flavors. 'Mmmm…' he speaks as if his mouth is full as well. 'Oh she's good… at least kidnap her and make her your personal chef… You can propose later…'

Gaara chews thoughtfully, issuing one final threat. 'Silence or I'll not take another bite…'

There is a brief pause while the Tanuki thinks. 'Mean…' His presence fades from Gaara's mind, retreating to sulk and savor the food.

The meal continues in relative silence, Gaara too enamored with the food to tell her how much he loves it. She eats slowly, taking small bites; that way, if he is still hungry when his box is empty, she can share hers.

Gaara clears his throat after a moment and forces himself to slow down enough to speak. "This is fabulous Hinata…I haven't tasted food this good in a long time…"

The girl blushes at the praise, her voice soft. "Thank you Gaara. I hoped you'd like it."

"Like it? I love it!" He smiles, acting his age for once, reminding Hinata of a different but equally mistreated young man.

As if on cue, much to the dismay of Gaara and Hinata alike, Naruto saunters onto the training ground, running his mouth. After a moment he stops, realizing that Sakura and Sasuke are no longer beside him. "Hey! Where'd you go?!"

Hinata goes rigid, afraid to move. After a moment she recovers, muttering the word "Byakugan" like a curse. Her eyes shift immediately, her jutsu activating without a moments hesitation. Her lavender gaze zeros in on Naruto then sweeps toward the forest the way he'd come. 'There they are… Oh no! They're looking right at us!'

Gaara follows her line of sight, the sand churning slightly beneath them. He may not have her Byakugan, but being the host of the Tanuki demon does have some perks. He sniffs the air, his sigh more resigned than annoyed. He could smell the Uchiha and his little girlfriend on the breeze, and he heard the faint sound of a pouch opening, but wait, that sound had been right near his ear…

He looks down to see Hinata pulling a kunai from the pouch at her right thigh ad smiles when she twists it in her hand, ready to deflect any shuriken. "Don't worry…" he murmurs under his breath, calming the sweet girl. "I'll protect you if I have to, but I won't spoil this day's fun by fighting your friends…"

Hinata smiles and looks at him with shimmering orbs of amethyst, her Byakugan almost missing the flash of the kunai as it neared. Gaara, however, had sensed it in ample time, as well as the one that follows, a flimsy paper bomb attached. That one he guessed was from the pink-haired girl that was so enamored with Sasuke, the one that Naruto had fought to save from him.

A thick wall of sand rises in from of Gaara and Hinata, solidifying just before the first kunai hits, the sand absorbing the bombs detonation without so much as getting the pair behind it dirty.

The cushion of sand beneath them shifts, straightening their legs and pushing them to their feet quickly and leaves the blanket a huddled pile in the grass, having no time for quaint pleasantries at the moment.

Gaara lowers the wall of sand as Sasuke and Sakura relinquish their spot in the trees, landing next to a very confused Naruto. "What the hell are you two doing?!" Naruto had seen the sand movement, but it had apparently not registered yet.

"He's got Hinata." Sakura muttered, having had experience with being one of Gaara's hostages.

Sasuke shushes her, seeing the barest movement through the wall of sand; the Sharingan's sight nowhere near as good as the Byakugan's when it comes to seeing through objects. "I don't think she's a hostage…"

His suspicion is confirmed when the wall is dropped to reveal Gaara and Hinata side by side, Gaara standing with his arms crossed, Hinata with a kunai in her hand. Hinata moves to raise the kunai and defend them, but Gaara holds out his arm, barring her path as he steps in front of her, effectively protecting her from attack.

Sasuke notes the look that passes between the two, not sure what to think of the exchange. After a moment Naruto's eyes go back into his head, and his shocked silence is soon gone. "What the hell is he doing with Hinata?!" He points as if the others should be as flabbergasted as he is.

Sakura shakes her head, also confused but not allowing it to mess with her focus. Sasuke stays cool, his answer dripping with sarcasm. "Perhaps she got tired of liking a loser and went for him instead." The comment is missed by Naruto, who still doesn't seem to register Hinata's affection.

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The three observant jounin watch from a safe distance, staying just close enough to interfere if absolutely necessary. Kakashi glances up from his book, then to Asuma and Kurenai, his one visible brow arched. "Shall we?" He asks idly, not bothering to close his book.

Asuma looks to Kurenai. "It is her choice, Hinata is her student."

Crimson orbs watch the situation from afar. "Let's see what Gaara does, and if anyone is in any real danger, we will interfere, this could simply turn out to be a pissing contest between young boys.

Kakashi smiles beneath his mask, knowing all too well how often Sasuke and Naruto turn disagreements into such contests. "I don't know, even Sakura looks upset, and you know how women hold a grudge…"

Asuma chuckles at the glare that Kakashi is given for his comment.

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The Sharingan stay locked on Gaara's sky blue stare, waiting for the slightest threatening move.

Gaara smirks, noting their unwillingness to attack. "Well at least they aren't just attacking me for the hell of it…" he murmurs, not really meaning to say it aloud.

Sasuke too far away to have heard the comment assumes it is a challenge, and nods. "Let's go." He rushes forward, followed closely by Sakura and Naruto.

Hinata winces, expecting Gaara to destroy all three at once. Gaara, feeling the wince, turns, lifting her chin with a finger. When the trembling girl opens her eyes, she sees his own black rimmed orbs, his smile gentle. "Don't worry." He kisses her forehead without thinking, intent on comforting the girl.

Sasuke narrows his eyes as Gaara turns his back, seizing the opportunity by grabbing three shuriken and throwing them, aiming for his spine. Sakura throws a few of her own to add to the mix, while Naruto simply bites his thumb, ready to summon Gamma Bunta if necessary.

Sasuke's eyes widen when a white flash grabs one of his shuriken from the air. Before Akamaru lands, Kiba and Shino land, blocking the other two with their kunai.

Chouji and Shikamaru appear an instant later, Shikamaru taking out Sakura's poorly aimed shuriken by tossing three of his own.

Gaara looks to the 5, including Akamaru, with wide eyes, genuinely shocked. Hinata also stares with wide eyes, equally confused and surprised.

Kiba smirks as he kneels on one knee, scratching Akamaru's ears while the dog spits out the shuriken. "We figured this would happen eventually."

Hinata nods her thanks, still somewhat confused. Shino turned his head slightly, his shades flashing in the sunlight. "We are always able to track the members of our team, just in case" At Hinata's poorly contained look of horror, he smirks, the smile unseen. "Don't worry Hinata; you are not concealing one of my insects. I know how you would react when you found it." Though his mouth is unseen, you can hear the smirk.

Akamaru yips and sniffs at the air, earning another scratch from Kiba. "Yeah, besides, Akamaru here could sniff you out a mile away Hinata. You're as familiar to his nose as I am, right buddy?" Akamaru barks with a nod, his panting smile utterly adorable.

Shikamaru and Chouji remain silent, for the exchange, save for the rustle and crunch of Chouji's potato crisps. Shikamaru watches Sasuke, calculations and battle scenarios silently running through his mind.

Sasuke keeps his glare on Gaara, watching every move, every twitch, waiting for an attack.

Naruto just stands there, the wound on his thumb having already healed. "What the heck is going on?" He scratches his head, blonde spikes twitching. His blue gaze sweeps the scene before him. "Shouldn't you guys be defending Hinata from Gaara?"

Shikamaru answers in his usual bored tone. "We don't have to; we've already determined that Hinata is perfectly safe and well guarded right where she is. It's a drag, but right now, you three pose more of a threat to her than Gaara does…"

"Huh?!" Naruto's eyes widen. "What's that supposed to mean! We wouldn't hurt Hinata, she's our friend!"

Neji strolls out from behind Hinata, Tenten at his side. His appearance makes her jump, practically sending her in to Gaara. The sand Shinobi instantly steps to the side, placing his hand at the small of her back to keep her steady, allowing her to step forward and away from her cousin and his teammate.

Neji watches this, his silvery gaze aided by the Byakugan. "I see…" he murmurs to himself, Hinata's recent behavior making more sense now. He moves around the pair, followed by Tenten, moving to stand near the line of Shinobi defending Gaara and Hinata. "Shikamaru is correct Naruto. At this moment, you are more likely to harm Hinata than Gaara is."

Naruto just looks confused.

Neji glances to Shikamaru, then to Shino, the three resident geniuses of the Konoha. The two nod their understanding, and Neji sees Kiba and Chouji not with their respective teammates, al of them understanding the situation.

Shino explains, figuring that Naruto would be most likely to understand it coming from one of Hinata's own teammates. "We have all tested Gaara in our subtle ways, some by mere observation, as Neji has just done, or through other means."

Naruto ponders this for a moment, then the confused look returns.

Neji, losing patience, explains further. "Ordinarily, I, being a member of the same clan as Hinata, would not pose any obvious threat to her. Yet Gaara responded instantly to Hinata's distress, when I had only entered their realm of perception for a moment before he acted. Just as he did when you three charged, he moved into a position to protect Hinata."

Sakura watches Gaara, green eyes showing that she begins to understand. "But why would he protect her?"

Gaara glances to the pink haired girl and then turns black rimmed orbs to Naruto. "Because I promised Hinata that I would protect her, just as I promised that I would not fight the people she cares for."

"Why would someone like you make a promise like that…" Sasuke's voice is cold, his eyes uncaring.

Sky blue orbs flick over to Sasuke. "Because she if my friend. She has been kind to me, and she may have saved my life." He makes the statements simple and matter of fact.

"Because he cares for her…" Sakura murmurs inaudibly, glancing to Sasuke as she lowers her kunai, making him the only one armed.

Gaara glances to Sakura, having heard full well her assumption. He nods once, the movement slow and deliberate. He lowers his hand from Hinata's back, his hand caressing hers as he lowers it to his side. Hinata blushes and smiles, amazed at the actions of her friends and comrades.

Sasuke continues to glare at Gaara, still angry about the upset of the Chuunin exams. He throws down the kunai, performing hand seals in rapid succession. 'Serpent, Ram, Monkey, Boar, Horse, Tiger! Katon: Gokakyu no Jutsu!'

The Jounin poof in then, Kakashi clapping his hand over Sasuke's mouth just as the boy breathes in. Asuma stands before his students, Kurenai in front of her own pair of brave boys, each one ready to take the blow if necessary.

"I think it's time we all have a little chat…" Kakashi says with a smile, his hand having moves to Sasuke's shoulder after squelching the fireball attack.

Kurenai nods and turns, hands on her hips, crimson eyes on Gaara. "That means you too."

Gaara nods, looking to the other young Shinobi. Kiba was still kneeling, looking surprised to see the jounin there. He'd been ready to grab Akamaru and turn so as to shield the pup from the attack... Shino's hands were in his pockets, but he would no doubt have escaped unharmed, he was a genius after all... Chouji had put the bag of chips in his pocket, ready to fight or run… And Shikamaru had been ready to use his shadow techniques at a moments notice.

He glances to Neji last, noticing that he had pushed Tenten behind him, just as Gaara had done to Hinata when the three had first shown up.

He also sees each head glance his way when the sand beneath their feet slid back toward his gourd. He'd been ready long before the others had, his sand ready to put up the same wall from before, this time protecting the others as well. He hadn't needed to, but the message was there. Gaara had intended to protect all of them from the blast, and all of them know it.

The sand fixes and repacks Hinata's bag while she's not watching, earning a smile from her when it's discovered. He slips the gourd's harness back on, nodding to the three jounin in thanks.

"Now," Kakashi smiles, his voice calm and cool as ever. "I think we should all go down and introduce our new friend to Lady Tsunade."

Gaara gulps, not at all eager to meet the woman who could very well banish him from the village, and ultimately, Hinata's life.

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Holy Smokes 17 pages! (this text starts page 18) I was on a roll!!!

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Chapter 5 Preview

The first battle ended before it had really begun!

Gaara comes face to face with the new Hokage!

Will the testimony of the others convince her to let him stay?

What happened to Temari and Kankuro?!

Find out next time!

Chapter 5: Enter Tsunade, Gaara Asks to Stay!