In a small field behind Ichiraku Ramen Hut:

"Um, Naruto, I... I have something for you."

"A present? For me?"

"Well, I know it's kind of late, but it's a birthday present."

"Wow, thanks Hinata. And don't worry, two months and seventeen days isn't that late." She's now blushing.

"Here you go."

"Yeah!" He yells and rips the box open. "Alright! A year's supply of ramen at Ichiraku! Hey, thanks! I'm gonna go get some ramen to celebrate. You want to come Hinata?"

"N-no thanks." She says, sounding disappointed.

"Okay, well see you later, Hinata!"

"Bye, Naruto." Hinata leans up against a tree and starts crying. "He didn't remember my birthday."

"Stop crying." She quickly looks toward the voice. "Gaara!" She gasps. Gaara holds out a rose to Hinata, "Happy birthday Hinata." No one had remembered her birthday today so far. But Gaara? Hinata, obviously very shocked stammers,

"Th-thank you, G-Gaara."

"What's wrong? Why do you look so shocked?"

"I-it's nothing. Thank you, Gaara." She hugs Gaara. Now Gaara is the shocked one. But then he smiles and gently puts his arms around her.

"You're welcome, Hinata."

All of a sudden, three shuriken whiz by Gaara's head. Hinata looks up,

"Kiba, Shino! What are you doing here?" Kiba shouts,

"Hinata, get away from him! He's dangerous! Akamaru, go!" Akamaru and an army of beetles start racing toward Gaara.

"Kiba, Shino, stop! Please!" pleads Hinata. They are almost to Gaara when all of a sudden a giant gust of wind blows the beetles away and a puppet jumps in front of Akamaru. Temari and Kankuro jump out of the tree. Temari shouts,

"Gaara! You have to get out of here, now! Before it happens again." Gaara nods, and runs into the bushes. But then he stop, turns around and offers his hand,

"Hinata! Come with me, please." Hinata reaches out a trembling hand but notices a beetle crawling on her arm and draws it back.

"I'm sorry. I can't go with you." Gaara looks really hurt, stares at her for a moment, and runs off.

"Akamaru! Are you okay?" Hinata turns around. The fight seems to have ended. Temari and Kankuro are gone. Shino is gathering back his bugs and Kiba, with a few minor scratches, is dressing Akamaru's wounds. After gathering up his bugs, Shino asks,

"Hinata, what were you doing?"

"Yeah! What's the big idea, hanging around with that guy?" Screams Kiba. Hinata now has tears pouring down her face.

"Please go away…" Her voice is shaky.

"But we just saved your life, aren't you even going to thank us? Look at Akamaru!" Yells Kiba.

"I'm sorry about Akamaru, but I have no reason to thank you. You did not save my life. I was with him of my own free will.

"B-bu…" stammers Kiba. Hinata's now screaming.

"Listen! I don't want to hear it! You just made the only person that actually remembered my birthday run away!"

"Your…"

"Yes! Today just happens to be my birthday, Kiba!"

"…"

"Now please just leave me alone. Stop marking me with dog scent, a-and stop sending your bugs to follow me! I can't stand you guys any more!" Looking confused and hurt, they slowly walk away.

"Hey, you were pretty harsh on them." Hinata looks around,

"Oh, Temari! I-I know I was harsh but they just make me so, so…"

"I know. It's hard when you're always being watched over and followed. But they care about you. And you still care about them. That's why I sent Gaara away."

"W-wha…?"

"I care about my little brother too. If he had started fighting, he would have killed them. I didn't want anything to happen to him, or them, so I made him leave. Sometimes he can't control himself and gets pretty scary. I didn't want him to get hurt." She stops for a moment, thinking. "Hmm…"

"What?"

"You know what we need to do?" She says with a little smirk.

"What?"

"We need to think of some way you can see Gaara without those two finding you."

"How will we do that?" Says Hinata with a hopeful glimmer in her eye.

"First we need to get you washed up, you smell like a dog."

"Oh! I'm sorry!" she's blushing madly.

"It's fine. Then we need to get you some new clothes. You can use some of mine. It's foolproof! Let's go!"

At the hot springs:

"I'll hang these up for you next to mine for when you get out. Take your clothes off and give them to me. I'll take care of them. Here, wash up with this." She tosses her a bottle of soap.

"Okay. Thank you Temari."

"No problem. Now let's get you washed up."

"Okay."

"Ah!" Sighs Temari. "I love coming here. It's a perfect place to relax and relieve stress."

"Yes. It is quite wonderful isn't it?"

"Yeah. Hey, stop looking so worried, we can pull this off."

"I'm sorry, I'm just thinking about... I'm fine…"

"You sure?"

"Yeah…" Fifteen uneasy minutes later, Hinata finally comes out with what was bothering her.

"Temari?"

"Yes, Hinata?"

"Why is Gaara always so quiet and…" She stops, searching for the word.

"Alienated?"

"Yeah."

"Well, he's always been like that. It's a long, sad story, are you sure you want to listen?"

"Yes. I need to know."

"Okay, well, I'll start at the beginning. Our father was the Kazekage. The One-Tailed badger demon, Shukaku, was inside a tea kettle and we had to seal it. So, when little Gaara was still in our mom, our father sealed the demon in him. Our mom died giving birth to Gaara that day, cursing the Hidden Sand and the Kazekage as she left. But before she died, she asked our uncle, Yashamaru, to look after Gaara.

"The gourd he carries on his back everywhere has special sand in it. It contains the charka of Shukaku. Since it contains that charka, even without his command to do so, it raises up to protect him whenever he's in danger.

"As he was growing up, he was always alone. None of the other kids would play with him because they were scared of him. One day, he was with Yashamaru. He asked him what love was. He replied, 'Love is when you care about someone a lot and they care about you back. Like the way I care about you. I love you.' That was the first, and only time I've ever seen my brother truly smile.

"The next day, people from our clan were sent by the Kazekage to assassinate Gaara. They thought he was too dangerous for his own good. None of them succeeded and their lives ended in bloodshed. After all their failed attempts to kill Gaara, one man still believed it was possible to succeed. He threw kunais and shuriken at Gaara and they were all blocked by the sand. Then he tried to fight the sand but collapsed to the ground, defeated. He said, 'My sister died because of you, cursing you and the sand as she left.' Gaara was so shocked, he exclaimed, 'Yashamaru!?' He couldn't believe it. Yashamaru continued, 'She asked me to look after you. I did, but I hated you. I've always hated you for the pain she had to go through. She did not deserve any of it!' Then he died and Gaara cried the whole night. The one person he thought he could love and confide in had tried to kill him. He was so confused. He never asked to be transformed into a monster. He had never gotten a cut, or even a scratch. He just didn't understand any of it. He took a knife and tried to stab his hand but the sand kept blocking it. He had never felt so alone in his whole life.

"That was when he decided that everyone had to have a purpose. He concluded that his purpose was to live for, and love only himself. He lived to kill other people and his goal was to kill everybody and anybody that got in his way. He enjoyed killing so much, he became even more dangerous. He only loves himself. That's what the Kanji on his forehead stands for.

"Hinata, my brother is so lost and alone. He needs someone to love him. You are the only person that can give him that. He likes you a lot. He's used to things happening to him like they did earlier. But there was something different about his reactions today. He hesitated. I could see it in his eyes. I saw the way he looked at you." Temari's eyes start to water and there is a long pause. "He smiled again today, Hinata. It was a real smile I thought I'd never see again. And it was because of you." She smiles, hugs Hinata and tries to prevent herself from crying. "Thank you, Hinata."

"Oh my." Says Hinata. "I-I never knew how much he had gone through. That's horrible! No one should ever be treated like that! I-I should to go find him."

"But, you know where he is."

"Yes I do."

"Really, but how?"

"I've seen him out in the woods hidden by sand, rocks and trees when I was training with my Byakugan. He's always in the same spot every time."

"Why didn't you ever speak to him?"

"He most likely didn't know I knew he was there. He was always hidden and crying so I thought he wanted to be alone. I didn't want to scare him off and make him move to a different spot. He returned to the same spot every time which meant that he was comfortable where he was. I didn't want him to leave because of me. I was also with Kiba and Shino whenever I was training. I didn't want them to know he was there because, as you saw today, they don't like him very much. And they would never let me leave their sight and sneak off to see him. I never understood why he was crying, but now I know. Thank you again Temari, but I should go."

"Okay, you're welcome. See you later." Whispering to herself, she finished, "Please help him." Hinata then ran out of the springs as fast as she could with a look of worry and determination on her face.

In the woods:

Hinata was running as fast as she could. She was so deep in thought and concentration she kept tripping and stumbling over rocks and fallen logs. But she didn't care at all. She was thinking to herself, "I have to find Gaara. I have to talk to him and explain everything. I have to tell him my true feelings… He should be around here somewhere." She went over to a mound of sand and crouched beside it. She could just barely hear the sobs coming from inside.

"Gaara? Can you hear me?"

"Hinata?"

"Gaara please let me in. I'm sorry about everything that happened earlier.

"Why are you here?"

"Please Gaara, I need to talk with you." A small hole appears in the of the mound and Hinata climbs in. It forms back into a solid wall behind her.

At the Hot Springs:

Temari got out of the water and went into the room where her clothes were set up. She dressed, brushed her hair and gathered up hers and Hinata's things. She stepped outside and was stopped be Kiba and Shino. Kiba and Temari were shocked to see that Shino was the first to say something.

"We just saw Hinata run out of here wearing your clothes and were wondering where she was headed. Then we saw you come out carrying her clothes and figured we'd ask you. So, where is she? What were you two talking about that made her run away like that?"

"As for wearing my clothes, she wanted to try a different, more comfortable style, so I let her borrow mine. As for where she was going, how should I know? She probably went to go see Naruto. I am carrying her clothes because she asked me to bring them back for her. She was running because she probably wanted to get back to Ichiraku before Naruto left. And as for what we were talking about, that's none of your damn business!"

"Geez, you don't have to make such a big scene out here." Says Kiba looking around nervously. "We'll bring her clothes back for you."

"No. She asked me to bring her clothes back for her, and that's what I'm doing. You guys really need to give her some space." She then opened her fan and flew off.

"Did you get her scent Akamaru?" Akamaru whines. "Damn! Oh well. Come on, Shino. Let's go home and wait for her to come back."

"Nah. I'm going to go for a walk in the woods. I'll see you later."

"Okay, see you." They both walked off. Kiba headed towards the town and Shino headed towards the woods.

In Gaara's hideout:

"Oh Gaara! I'm so sorry about before!" Hinata exclaims and throws herself on him, hugging him. "I wanted to come with you, I really did. But Shino's bugs were on me and I didn't want them following us. Temari told me everything. I know I could never truly know how you feel, but I want to understand." She's crying and clinging on to him.

After five minutes of listening to her sobbing, he finally replies, "It hurts."

"W-what?" She looks up at him.

"It hurts. Always being alone. Having no one there for you. No one there to love or talk to. Always having people run away from you. Every time, you just get more and more numb until you're in a daze you can't get out of. It hurts when you have no one to trust." They are looking each other in the eyes and Hinata has stopped crying.

"Gaara, you can trust me. Others may run away from you, but when I'm around you, I feel safe. I feel no reason to run. I feel close to you. Whenever I'm around other people, I feel so distant and separated from them. But you are different. You make me feel like a person." She stops and smiles nervously. "Gaara, I-I, ugh." She looks away sadly. Gaara smiles and leans in closer to her. He holds her hands and she looks at him.

"I love you Hinata." And he kisses her. Hinata is shocked at first and blushes madly. But then she closes her eyes and kisses him back and they sit there for what feels like could last an eternity. When they finally pull back they both smile and Hinata says,

"I love you too, Gaara." Then they hug but Hinata gasps and pulls back. Something is crawling across her leg.

"What's wrong?" Says Gaara, a bit confused. She clasps her hands together.

"Byakugan!... No! Gaara, you have to leave! You must leave now!" There is a tiny hole in the side of the wall and the thing that she felt on her leg crawled through it. She watched it crawl over and onto a dark figure's hand. It was Shino and he was talking to it. He knows they are there!

"What? Why? What is it?" Hinata is crying and stammers,

"It's Sh-Shino! He knows we're here! B-but I don't understand. Kiba's not there. But that's not the point. You have to leave. I'll cover for you."

"Why does he keep following you?"

"I-I don't know. Please just go."

He hesitates for a few seconds but then agrees. "Okay fine, I'll go." He kisses her on the cheek and whispers, "I love you."

"I love you too." And with that, the mound collapses around them and Gaara dashes off through the trees.

"There you are, Hinata." Says Shino. "My friend here tells me interesting news. Why were you with him again? You're only going to get hurt."

"How did you find me?"

"I saw you run out of the springs so I sent my bugs after you. Lucky for me you didn't use your Byakugan to find this place, huh?"

"Why do you keep following me? And why isn't Kiba with you?"

"Kiba is a clumsy fool. He would just slow me down and make too much noise. I needed to know what you were doing so I had to follow you as quickly and quietly as possible."

"Why?"

"What do you mean, why? I didn't want you to get hurt. Doesn't that matter to you?" He's walking towards her and she is slowly backing up.

"Why are you acting like this? You're scaring me. Please stop."

"Love works in strange ways, doesn't it?" His bugs are gathering around them and he stops right in front of her.

"Love?"

"Yes Hinata, love. I love you. Can't you see that? Don't you love me?" He grabs her hands and holds them in his as the bugs swarm closer. He leans in. She leans back turns away, and clasps her eyes shut. Panicky, she says,

"No, I'm sorry, but I don't love you. I love Gaara and you're scaring me. Please let go and get away from me!" She's sobbing uncontrollably. He sees the fear in her face and stands there for a moment deciding whether or not he should let go. He finally releases her and summons the bugs back to him.

"I-I'm sorry." He finally stammers. Hinata now looks fully terrified. She turns around and runs off towards the town. Shino is just standing there, motionless. She doesn't stop or look back at him. She just keeps running as fast as she can.

At Team 8's House:

Kiba was outside in the back, so he didn't notice when Hinata came back. She flew into her room and slammed the door shut behind her. She flung herself onto her bed and cried into a large, soft pillow. She didn't want to think about what just happened. She just wanted to lay there forever. If only Gaara was there with her.

Then she knew what she had to do. She had to find Gaara. No, she needed to find him. She needed to see him again, to hold him again. She sighed and rolled off her bed. She put her own clothes back on and put Temari's clothes aside in a neat pile on top of her dresser. She would return them later. As she shut the door behind her she thought, "I hope I can find him."

Around the Village:

"He might be back in that spot again." Hinata wondered out loud, ignoring the stares trailing after her as she ran through the town. Here was the shiest, quietest girl in Konoha running around, and muttering to herself. She was a wreck. Her clothes were wrinkled, her hair was a mess and her eyes were still red from crying. Did they think she was crazy? She didn't care, as long as she found Gaara.

She got to that spot and looked around, calling his name. But the only response she got was the rustling of the leaves on the ground. Desperately, she used her Byakugan, but he was nowhere to be found.

She frantically ran back through the town to the river. Maybe he was here. She had seen him here once before. He wasn't there either. She had no idea where to look, but she wasn't about to just give up either. She began to search any random spot around town she could think of. But still, he was nowhere to be seen.

She ended up at the river and sat down near the bank. It was nearly dawn and she was exhausted. She unconsciously picked a flower and rolled it between her fingers. Had he left? Had he gone back to Suna? No, he would tell her if he was going to leave. He was still hiding somewhere. Right?

That Morning:

The high sun shone brightly in her eyes, forcing her awake. When did she fall asleep? She noticed that she was in her bed and rolled over to face her bedside table. The clock read one o'clock pm. She sat up and yawned. Then she realized that there was something next to the clock. It was the flower from the night before and it had a note attached to it. It had two words written on it, "Go outside".

She put a new set of clothes on and brushed her hair out. She went back to the window and opened it. She didn't feel like explaining why she was out so late to Kiba and Shino. She hopped out of the window. But instead of landing on the grass, she landed on a cloud of sand. She was carried to a high branch in a tall oak in her yard. There he sat, back against the trunk.

As soon as she got off the sand, she was in his arms. She started crying again. "Where have you been?" She wailed. "I have been searching for you all night. I couldn't find you anywhere! I've been so worried. I thought you left me." She finished, whispering and buried her face in his shirt.

"Shh. It's okay now. I'm here. You don't have to worry anymore." He rubbed her back, trying to soothe her. "I would never leave you. I went back to my house for a bit and when I took a walk this morning, I found you by the river. I brought you back home and waited for you outside. I'm sorry."

She looked up at him, smiling and was about to say something to him when a loud rumbling cut her off.

"You haven't eaten in two days. We need to get some food in you before you starve. Where would you like to eat?"

"Aren't you worried about people saying things though? What if they try and…" He put his finger over her mouth to stop her.

"It doesn't matter. What can they possibly say anyway? Now, where would you like to eat?"

"I don't know… How about Ichiraku?"

"Ichiraku it is then." He picked her up in both arms and dropped out of the tree, returning her to her feet. They started walking. They were very quiet and Gaara noticed this. He looked over at her to see a single tear trickling down her cheek.

"Hey, don't worry. Everything's okay." He leaned over and kissed her cheek, wiping the tear away. Their hands found each other and fingers interlocked. They both smiled and suddenly the world was wonderful. People in town stared, but they didn't care. They just kept walking and smiling.

At Ichiraku Ramen Hut:

They sat on stools in an unoccupied corner. The ramen cook, who was currently wiping a glass came over to them and leaned against the counter.

"So what will you kids be having today then?" He said in a joyful tone. Gaara looked at Hinata.

"Umm… A bowl of miso ramen, please." She said in her sweet, almost nonexistent voice. The cook looked over at Gaara.

"And you?"

"I'll have the same thing, thanks."

"Righto then!" He said with a big smile. "It'll be ready in about five minutes." And he left.

"Oi, ramen guy! I need ramen! On the double! I haven't eaten since breakfast, I'm famished! Believe it!" Hinata and Gaara looked over to see a bright patch of color walking toward them. He stopped and frowned, looking at Gaara. "Oi, No-Brows! You're sitting in my stool! Believe it!" He yelled pointing at him. Gaara only glared. "Well, are you going to move or what?"

"No." He stated simply.

"What!? Hey, why not!?"

"Because I'm sitting here. Go sit somewhere else." Naruto was about to retort when Hinata interrupted.

"Umm… Hi, Naruto-kun."

"Hinata! Hey! What are you doing here?"

"She's with me. Is this a problem?" Gaara responded with a dangerous flicker in his voice.

"Ramen's up!" The cook came over with the three ramen bowls.

"Oh boy!" Naruto searched for an empty seat. He found one on the other side of the shop, taking his bowl with him.

"Catch you later, Hinata!" Gaara paid the cook and he walked away.

"Th-thank you, Gaara-kun." Said Hinata, blushing.

"You're welcome. Now eat up." He said gently. She nodded and started eating.

They finished their ramen and got up to leave. On their way out the door they were confronted by Kiba. Hinata's new, cheery state vanished. Akamaru growled.

"Hinata! Wha…!?" But he was cut off by another, shaky voice.

"Hinata."

"Sh-Shino?" Said Hinata.

"Shino!?" Screeched Kiba.

"Hinata. I'm so, so sorry. I didn't mean… I didn't want… I'm just so sorry. I should have trusted you more. I-I just… Can you ever forgive me?" Kiba, speechless and confused, just stood there.

"Shino, I forgive you." She hugged him. Kiba sighed as Shino walked away.

"Well, it looks like I'm outnumbered. I don't like this one bit and I still don't approve of it but, I guess I can live with it. Be careful Hinata." He hugged her and started to walk away slowly. As he walked past, he whispered so only Gaara could hear,

"If you hurt her in any way, I swear, I will kill you. You got that?"

"I got that."

"Good." He walked away.

"What was that all about Gaara-kun?"

"Nothing. Let's go." They locked hands again and walked out.

Around Konoha:

They walked around for a while, talking about whatever came up. They didn't have any particular destination, but that didn't matter. They were together, and they were happy, those were the only things that were important.

They went to the flower shop and Gaara bought Hinata a bouquet of flowers. Then they got snow cones at an ice cream shop. They passed Temari, who smiled and gave them a thumbs up. They smiled back and kept walking.

They ended up back at the river. Sitting down on the back, they let their feet dangle in the cool, flowing water.

"I love you so much Hinata. You are the world to me."

"I love you too Gaara-kun."

"You are everything to me. You've changed me. Because of you I have a reason to smile. Because of you I have a reason to be happy. Because of you I have a reason to live. I feel like I could even sleep without risking my sanity." He sighed.

"But it seems that another day is ending and you must sleep. I should take you home. I've been selfish. I've kept you away from everyone for too long." He stood up and helped her up.

"Gaara, I love you too… So much. You're not selfish."

"Yes I am, but we don't want people to start worrying about where you are now, do we? So let's get you home." She gave in.

"Okay…"

By the time they got to Hinata's house, it was almost completely dark. They stood outside the front door.

"At least now, people accept us. We can go anywhere together without worrying. We can be happy together, forever… No more hidden love." Gaara repeated her words.

"No more hidden love." He smiled and gave a small chuckle. Hinata smiled too. They leaned in and their lips met for one last time that night.