Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, nor any places, things, characters, or ideas therein. The aforementioned belong to Masashi Kishimoto, Viz Media, and Shonen Jump. I am merely borrowing the characters for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain.

Summary: Hyuuga Hinata has felt like a failure her entire life. But when her father sends her away to marry a man she's never met, rumored to be a murderous monster, she finally has a chance to make a difference ... and rediscover her forgotten past. :Gaara x Hinata:

Rating: T

Warnings: Violence

Pairings: Gaara/Hinata, side pairings of Neji/Tenten, Itachi/Temari, and a teeny bit of Shikamaru/Ino

Dedication: To Mama Jo, without whom I would not have the courage or ability to do half the things I do. Here's hoping your birthday is a happy one!

Author's Note: Since this is a birthday fic for my beta, I've obviously not asked her to look over this, so all mistakes therein are my own. I apologize for the ones I missed. As for the story itself, this idea has been growing for about six months now, and I'm excited to embark on this journey with you. I'm hoping to update at least once a week, but there are a lot of serious things going on in my life right now, so it might have to be every couple of weeks. But, without further ado, I really hope you enjoy Shadows, and thanks for reading!



*~Chapter I~*


"This isn't fair!"

Hyuuga Hinata fought her threatening tears for the hundredth time as she very carefully placed the folded kimono in her hands into the trunk sitting next to her bed. "We've b-been over this, Neji," she replied quietly.

In the doorway of her room, Hyuuga Neji stood with his arms crossed and a dark glower fixed on the opposite wall. "How can you be so calm about this, Hinata? He's been using you as a shougi piece for years, but this is the last insult! He's sending you away, Hinata, to marry someone you've never even met! How can you not be angry? How can you not fight back?"

Hinata paused her packing and inhaled deeply, drawing the tattered remains of her pride back around herself. "Father is finally g-giving me a chance to b-be useful, Neji. Our village's relations with Suna have b-been slowly wearing thin for centuries. If I marry the leader of the Sand, we c-can b-begin to repair the damage without the destruction or loss of life a war would b-bring."

Neji's fists flexed against his upper arms. "But you've heard the rumors about him. Don't pretend you haven't. He's a murderer! Hinata, how can I let you walk away like a lamb to the slaughter and not try to do something to save you?"

Abandoning her packing completely, Hinata went to stand in front of her older cousin and take his angry face in her hands. "Neji, you're the older b-brother I've never had, and I c-cannot tell you how much I appreciate all the things you've d-done over the years to protect me when I've not b-been strong enough to do it myself. B-But this time I need to take a step forward and do something myself. I'm not stupid. I know Father intends to do this to send me away, to get my life of d-disappointment away from him and this family. I know his intentions, and I intend to make something g-good come of this, even if it d-does kill me." She'd had time to think about this. In fact, she'd spent a sleepless night staring up at her moon-washed ceiling pondering this loveless match into which she'd been thrust, and how she might make the best out of it. My father will give me neither his time nor his attention, no matter what I do. But I can do something which will benefit him, my family, and my village. I will make some good come of it.

Despite her best intentions, however, Hinata did not dare let herself hope there could ever be love between her and her future husband.

Before Neji could say something in response to her speech, the pattering sound of running footsteps approached. Her cousin vacated the doorway just in time to keep from being trampled by Hinata's younger sister, who stopped with a hand braced on either doorframe to support herself as she panted breathlessly.

Hyuuga Hanabi's wide pale eyes wildly surveyed the room and its contents, scattered about on every available surface and overflowing the trunks surrounding her older sister's bed. "No!" she wailed. Her eyes finally came to a rest on Hinata's face, and her young features twisted in pain. "Father told me, but I couldn't believe it was true! Hinata, no!"

For her entire life, Hinata had always felt more like Hanabi's mother than her older sister. Part of it was due to the age gap between them, and the rest was the knowledge her father would never remarry or make an effort to find another motherly influence for Hanabi. As those familiar motherly feelings washed through her, Hinata stepped forward and enfolded her sister in a hug. "Shh," she whispered. "Shh, Hanabi. It will b-be all right." Despite her own turmoil and feelings about what was happening, she needed to be a calm, comforting influence for Hanabi.

As soon as Hinata's arms went around her, Hanabi burst into tears. "You can't leave me, big sister!" she sobbed. "What am I going to do without you?"

Stroking her sister's long hair, the same color as their father's, Hinata closed her eyes and relished these last few precious minutes with the sister she might never get to see again. Hiashi had already forbade Hanabi from journeying to Suna with Hinata to attend the wedding, though he'd seemed all too happy to send Neji with her. "You'll keep g-going," she said firmly. "I've taught you all I c-can. You are a strong young woman, and I've b-been proud to watch you grow up to be the person you are today. Just remember all I've told you, and keep d-doing what you're d-doing, and you'll be just fine without me."

Hanabi sniffled and snaked her hand up between them to wipe at her cheeks. "I'll miss you," she muttered into Hinata's shoulder.

Swallowing back the tears threatening to tighten her throat and steal her voice, Hinata kissed the top of her sister's head and said, "I'll miss you too, Hanabi."

When Hanabi finally stepped away, Hinata lifted her gaze back to Neji's. "D-Don't you have some packing of your own to do?" she asked, somewhat pointedly. Though she loved her cousin like the older brother she'd never had, sometimes his hovering grated on her nerves. Particularly when he was being overbearingly overprotective, as he was at the moment.

Neji let out a gusty sigh. "Tenten's taking care of it," he said, effectively absolving himself of any and all responsibility he might otherwise have felt.

Hinata lifted one eyebrow, forcing a smile to lift the corner of her mouth. "She chased you out, d-didn't she?"

Her cousin's expression turned sheepish, though fondness for his wife of seven months continued to glow in his pale eyes. The two of them had been through a lot to be together, and despite the fact Hiashi had agreed to allow his nephew to marry a "social inferior" only to rub the situation in his older daughter's face, Hinata was happy for her cousin. She'd rarely seen him as happy as he quite obviously was when Tenten was nearby. "I decided to leave her to it after she threw a sandal at me," he agreed. "Apparently my help was being more of a hindrance to her efforts."

Even though the Hyuuga household employed a hundred servants, thereabouts, Hinata and Tenten both shared the desire to pack their own belongings. It was one of the many reasons the two women got along so well. "Perhaps she'd still like your c-company," Hinata suggested. "Just d-don't try to pack anything."

Neji's expression made it clear he knew she was trying to get rid of him, and while he was complying with her wishes, he intended to finish their conversation later. "All right. If you need something, don't hesitate to come get us." He vanished through the doorway, gone as quickly as he'd appeared.

"Neji should be a ninja," Hanabi declared, staring after her cousin. "He moves so fast, and so quietly."

Hinata returned to her packing, picking up the half-folded kimono she'd abandoned earlier in favor of conversation. "D-Don't be ridiculous, Hanabi. You know as well as I ninja are a thing of the past. The d-distant past."

Hanabi flopped down on the end of her sister's bed and crossed her arms, a pout evident on her strong features. "I think they still exist," she said contrarily. "They're supposed to work in secret and be quiet and unobtrusive, right? So who's to say they're not still around, just doing their work perfectly?"

Oh, but Hinata would miss her sister's moments of strange wisdom. "I wish you c-could c-come to the wedding," she blurted before she could stop herself. As soon as the words were past her lips, she wished she could retract them. It was one thing for her to know the words, and quite another for her sister. Hanabi was upset enough about the entire situation. She didn't need Hinata adding to it.

When Hinata turned around, she saw her sister's eyes brimming with tears again. "Me too," she agreed quietly. "I tried everything, but Father refuses to let me go. He thinks Neji and Tenten's being there is more than good enough. I disagree." She crossed her arms. "And why does it have to be so far away as Suna? It's boring there, all hot and dry and full of sand. There are plenty of people here in Konoha you could marry."

Ignoring the grief threatening to rip open a gash in her chest, Hinata forced a smile and handed Hanabi a pair of delicate slippers to hold as she made room for them in the trunk. "My marriage to the leader of Suna will b-bring about a new opportunity to repair the eroding peace between our villages," she replied. "I see this as a g-good thing. And I'm sure I'll b-be able to c-come b-back to Konoha every now and then to visit. And once you're older, who knows? Father might let you c-come and spend a few weeks with me and my husband." Providing, of course, the stories about Sabaku Gaara are just that: stories. Surely he was nothing like the gossipy whispers of Konoha painted him, all shades of black like a murderer and red as the blood he supposedly spilled.

"I suppose there might be something interesting in Suna," Hanabi sighed. Hinata could tell she was only trying to be agreeable so she wouldn't make her sister's parting even harder.

Hinata finally tucked the slippers into her trunk and closed the lid a little harder than she should have. She wouldn't see any of the belongings inside until they were emptied into the closets of her new rooms in Suna. Don't think about it, Hinata. Just put it out of your head. "Would you like to help me finish packing?" she asked.

Hanabi brightened. It was obvious she'd been expecting to be shooed away like her cousin. "Sure!"

Even though the two sisters worked in almost complete silence, the quiet was companionable and allowed the two of them to relive their own memories of each other, and make new ones of their last few hours together.

The first few pastel shades of dawn had barely begun to brighten the horizon when the group departing for Suna gathered at the massive gates leading into and out of Konoha.

Hinata reined her docile mare to a halt when she saw the group gathered to see her off. Hanabi stood at the forefront, a wide smile on her face despite the tears streaming down her cheeks, a single sunflower clutched in her hands. Similiar flowers were in the hands of the four people behind her - Hinata's only friends in the world, outside of her family.

"We'll miss you, Hinata!" Haruno Sakura said, her minty eyes filled with tears. None of them fell as she stepped forward to hand her friend the flower she clutched, but the way she moved her head to allow locks of her bubblegum pink hair to hide her face as she turned away made it clear her control wasn't going to last.

"Akamaru and I will come visit you!" Inuzuka Kiba swore as he came forward. The giant white dog at his side, almost as large as Hinata's horse, barked his agreement and left a slobbery kiss on Hinata's face when she leaned over. In Kiba's wild dark eyes lingered an additional, unspoken promise, If you need me, I'll come rescue you.

"I look forward to it," Hinata said, smiling as she accepted Akamaru's kiss and Kiba's flower. Kiba had been her first friend, one of which her father did not approve but whom had proven time and again to be unquestioningly loyal.

"Perhaps I will come with them," Aburame Shino said, his sunglasses flashing as he looked up at her. What part of his face Hinata could see was its usual emotionless mask, but she sensed his sadness as his hand brushed hers during the exchanging of his sunflower.

Smiling through her tears, Hinata patted the top of his head, covered by the hood of the jacket he always wore even in the heat of the summer. "I'd like that, Shino. Thank you."

Hinata felt her breath catch in her chest when she met the eyes of the next person in line. As always, the intensity of Uzumaki Naruto's bright blue eyes, alongside his sunshine-yellow hair and neon orange clothes, made her blink multiple times to keep her brain from overloading. She could feel a blush creeping its way up her neck, but she resolutely fought it back, knowing if she allowed her feelings to get the better of her she would fling herself off her horse and into Naruto's arms. Once there, she would proceed to beg him to spirit her away and marry her instead... But no, that couldn't happen. "N-Naruto," she greeted quietly.

He stared up at her, his whiskered face looking decidedly morose. The look was made all the more effective since his usual expression conveyed overwhelming exuberance. "Why do you have to go, Hinata?" he asked innocently.

She swallowed, knowing he didn't mean the words the way she wished he would. Even though she'd harbored a crush on him (a secret to no one but him) since childhood, he had always been oblivious. He had asked the question as a friend left behind, not a lover abandoned to the same fate.

"It's n-not like I won't come b-back to visit eventually," Hinata answered with false bravado. "And I expect you - all of you - to return the favor and c-come visit me, too."

Naruto finally seemed to remember the flower in his hand and thrust it towards her, his usual grin firmly back in place. He seemed reassured by her words. "Believe it!" he said. "We'll come visit as soon as we can, Hinata."

She swallowed back the pain and tears threatening to overwhelm her and accepted his flower. "Thank you, N-Naruto," she whispered. "That means more to me than you c-could ever know."

He smiled again, his expression as oblivious as always, but his obvious cluelessness somehow made it easier for Hinata to watch him step back to join the rest of their friends.

And then, finally, Hanabi was there. "I know I said goodbye to you back at the estate," she said. She shuffled her feet against the ground, her gaze resolutely glued to the flower in her hands. "And I had to do some fast running to make it here before you. But I guess I'm just not ready to let you go yet."

You're not making this any easier, Hanabi. Hinata, once more forcing a brave smile onto her face, leaned over in her saddle to kiss the top of Hanabi's head. She grasped the stem of the sunflower and gently tugged until her younger sister finally looked up. "You'll d-do just fine without me, Hanabi. No matter what anyone, especially Father, says, always remember this: I love you with all my heart, and I am s-so proud of you."

Hanabi's responding grin outshone the sun, which was finally peeking over the horizon. "I love you, too, Hinata!" she declared, awkwardly throwing her arms around her sister's shoulders. Hinata stayed in her uncomfortably skewed position for a few more moments, clinging to her sister as she tried to commit everything about her to memory. When the two of them finally pulled away, she was surprised to realize Hanabi had managed to sneak her own sunflower into the bouquet in her hands.

Grinning up at Hinata despite her tears, Hanabi waved. "I'll see you later, Hinata!" she called determinedly.

Hinata found it easier to smile back this time. "I'll see you then, Hanabi!"

With one last glance at her sister and friends, Hinata gently nudged her horse through the gates and towards the sunlit path to her future.

Tenten guided her horse next to Hinata's without a word. Her warm chocolate brown eyes, shinier than usual, brimmed with sympathy beneath the twin buns of the same color atop her head. The two women rode side-by-side in silence for a long time before the other woman finally spoke. "I'm going to miss you, too," she said quietly. "I know I'm getting to come to Suna with you and be there when you get married, but eventually Neji and I have to come back home. I just want to grab you now and turn our horses around and bolt for Konoha."

Gratefully, Hinata smiled at the woman she considered her older sister. "Thank you, Tenten. I'm going to miss you, as well. B-But I'll admit knowing you and Neji will b-be there with me, at least at the b-beginning, is the only thing k-keeping me from running away, or losing my sanity. I know this must b-be d-done, and I am resigned to my fate. In fact, I am making every attempt to embrace it and d-do everything I c-can to make it into the b-best experience possible. B-But, at the same time..." She trailed off and shook her head. She couldn't deny the fear churning in her stomach, or the icy fingers of terror tightening around her spine. In truth she had absolutely no idea what to expect, and it was making everything worse.

Neji guided his horse to walk on the other side of his wife's. "If you ask me," he said, a hint of a sour note in his tone, "if a man isn't polite enough to come meet his future wife to take her back home with him, he isn't worthy."

"You're just b-biased," Hinata said. "Sabaku Gaara is the head of his family and his village. He is a very b-busy man. And I am moving to Suna, anyway, so why go to the trouble of having him c-come all the way to Konoha and only to turn right around and g-go b-back?"

"It is still no excuse," Neji muttered. His brows, drawn together into a nearly solid line over his white eyes, promised some sort of storm later. At least Hinata could be comforted by the fact her cousin had a sharp enough tongue he didn't need to resort to using weapons - usually.

His wife, on the other hand, had a significant number of weapons on hand at any given time. She had a passion for all things sharp and pointy, as well as the skill and motivation to use them. Hinata had often watched Tenten practice with her knives, shuriken, katana, and other various things she had no names for, and knew the other woman's accuracy was one-hundred-percent. Always.

"Perhaps we should all k-keep our preconceived notions and impressions to ourselves until we actually meet Lord Gaara?" Hinata suggested timidly. She had to admit she was struggling with doing so herself, but she was trying. When she met Sabaku Gaara, she wanted to be able to see him and get to know him without any of the things she'd heard or thought interfering.

"Easier said than done," Tenten muttered. Her husband nodded curtly in agreement.

Hinata absently stroked the neck of her mare and mourned how easy it was for her to agree, as well.

Three more days until we reach Suna. Three more days until I finally meet my future husband. Three more days until my freedom is curtailed, perhaps for forever. Am I really ready for this?

The answer was right there in her mind immediately, powerful and true and terrifying.

No, I am not. Not at all.

*~To Be Continued~*

Author's Ending Notes: Once again, my apologies for any mistakes I missed during the editing process. I'm hoping to update this at least once a week, but I have a lot of serious things going on in my real life right now, so it might have to be every couple of weeks. So, until next time, I hope you enjoyed this chapter, thanks for reading, and I promise all things will be explained in time!

Author's Ending Notes 2: I will put this author's note here and at the end of the story (and yes, this is a new addition since the story ended). I have gotten several reviews (some of which, ironically, came after I completed the story) complaining about Hinata's stutter in Shadows. "But she doesn't stutter in the anime, at least not that much!" While essentially Hinata is quite similar to the character we see in canon, she has gone through several traumatizing events in her childhood in the Shadows universe, all of which combined to cause her nervous stutter in the story. There is a reason why she stutters, and if you pay attention, it does eventually begin to ease away and then vanish entirely as the story progresses and her confidence - both in her new family and in herself - grows. I'm sorry if that "annoys" or bothers you, but there is a legitimate reason why I gave Hinata that characteristic, and I ask you to please stop criticizing both me and my story about it. Thank you.