Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto, nor any places, things, characters, or ideas therein. The aforementioned belong to Masashi Kishimoto, Viz Media, TV Tokyo, Shonen Jump, etc. I am writing this fic for entertainment purposes only, not monetary gain. Believe me, if I owned Naruto, the events of chapter 614 would not have happened. E-v-e-r. So, thus, I do not own.

Summary: After a few too-short days in Konoha, Sabaku Gaara's life is irrevocably changed by the sunlight breaking through his darkness: Hyuuga Hinata. :Prequel to "Shadows":

Rating: T

Warnings: Violence

Pairing(s): kid!Gaara/Hinata, hints of future Itachi/Temari

Prequel to: Shadows

Special Thanks: goes out to everyone who has read, reviewed, favorited, and followed Shadows thus far. I appreciate every single one of you, and I speak the utter and absolute truth when I say I could not have written and posted this oneshot without your support. Thank you.

Author's Note: I had a great deal of fun writing this oneshot. Writing the kid versions of Gaara and Hinata were more enjoyable than I thought it would be (I've not spent a lot of time around children, so I feel awkward writing them). I also enjoyed hinting at how Itachi and Temari met, plus introducing something else which will be important in coming chapters of Shadows. Now I want to apologize in advance for how massive this story is (my longest oneshot to date), but there was a lot to do, and I didn't want to break this story up into more than one piece. Thank you for reading Sunshine, and I hope you enjoy it!


*~Sunshine~*

.:fyd818:.


Somehow the moon had fallen from the sky, split into two, and each found its home in the eyes staring at him with shy wonder.

Six-year-old Sabaku Gaara blinked his own darkly-rimmed green eyes, halfway expecting the unusual vision before him to vanish. But when his eyes opened again, the moons were still there, peering at him around the sleeve of the man half-standing in front of her.

When his father had informed him they'd be coming to Konoha for "business," Gaara hadn't been sure what to expect. He'd been out of his home village of Suna only a handful of times, and then for no longer than a couple of days. The trip to the Leaf took three days just to get there, and that didn't even include the time they'd be staying.

Gaara's first impression of the village was how sticky the air felt. The air fell into his lungs wet and heavy with every breath he took, and it didn't take long for sweat to bead along his hairline and glue his shirt to his skin. He was used to the heat, having lived in the desert for his thus-far short life, but in Suna the air was so dry it sucked all the moisture out of him, instead of threatening to drown him in it.

The unusual creature still staring at him, however, didn't look affected by the humidity. Her short, blue-black hair shone in the sunlight as though freshly washed, and what Gaara could see of her miniature kimono looked dry and unwrinkled. She was so - clean.

"Gaara."

At his father's sharply spoken reprimand, Gaara snapped his posture straight and returned his attention to where it was supposed to be: the man behind which moon-eyed-girl was standing. He looked up (and up, and up) into an identical pair of pale eyes, though these were missing the friendliness found in the girl's.

"I am Lord Hiashi, head of the Hyuuga clan, member of Konoha's Council, and Lady Tsunade's most trusted advisor." The man's voice was as flat and lacking in inflection as his eyes.

This time, Gaara required no prompts from his father. He bowed to Lord Hiashi respectfully, sensing his siblings - brother Kankuro and sister Temari - doing the same on his father's other side. When he straightened, though, Gaara couldn't help himself. He looked back at the girl, who rewarded his attention with a shy smile.

Noticing where Gaara's attention had wandered, Lord Hiashi reached behind him to place one hand on the girl's shoulder to guide her forward. "This is my daughter, Hinata," he said. "I believe she is around the same age as your youngest, Lord Sabaku."

Gaara's father nodded. "She's what - six?"

"Five," Lord Hiashi corrected. "She won't be six until December." Releasing his daughter, Hiashi looked toward his other side, where a boy who bore a remarkable resemblence to him stood, patiently waiting to be introduced. "My nephew Neji, however," he said, indicating the boy, "is already six."

Barely sparing Neji a glance - which, oddly, was returned with a dark scowl at odds with his own pale eyes (a Hyuuga family trait, apparently) - Gaara returned his gaze to Hinata. He was pleased to see she was staring at him, too, the curiosity in her eyes spreading to her tiny, delicate features.

He decided she looked a little like one of the dolls sitting on a shelf in his older sister's room. "Nice to meet you," he said, bowing deeper to her than he had her father.

Hinata giggled and dropped a curtsy. When she smiled again, endearing gaps showed where three of her front teeth had fallen out and had yet to grow back in. "I've never met someone from another village before," she replied. Her voice held a slight hissing lisp from her missing teeth, but the sound instantly brought a responding smile to Gaara's face.

Gaara sensed his father's disapproving stare drilling into the side of his head, but for once, the young redhead didn't care about the man's censure. He felt something strange stirring inside him, something he'd never felt before. It wasn't like the dark, twisting presence of the monster always whispering at the back of his mind, demanding blood. It was, in fact, quite the opposite - so light and peaceful he felt blindsided by its very presence.

After a few more moments of polite conversation, Gaara's and Hinata's fathers headed toward the spacious Hyuuga main house, where the Sabaku family would be staying for the duration of their visit to Konoha. Kankuro and Temari immediately followed, but Hinata caught Gaara's hand before he could.

"Do you want to stay out here with me and play?" she asked shyly. "The gardens are perfect for hide-and-seek."

He hesitated at the unfamiliar term. "How do you play?" he asked. Frustration welled up inside him, making the monster stir restlessly, but he shoved it back. I feel like she thinks I should already know what that is. Why don't I? Why does Father think I shouldn't be a normal child like Temari and Kankuro?

"You - you don't know what hide-and-seek is?" Hinata's eyes widened.

Retreating a step, Gaara felt his inner defenses immediately spring into place. "No." He bit out the word with all the bitterness and hatred he had built up inside him.

Hinata seemed to shrink for a moment, like a puddle of water in the sand, but then she brightened again. "It's easy," she said. Reaching out, she grasped his hand and gave it a little tug, grinning at him like he was the greatest thing in her world. "Come on! I'll teach you." Turning, she faced Neji, who stood with his arms crossed, watching them suspiciously. "Play with us, big brother Neji?"

Those disconcerting pale eyes flickered from Hinata, to Gaara, then back. "I don't think so, Hinata. Not this time." Dropping his arms, he turned toward the house.

"But you always play," Hinata whispered. Her hand, still holding Gaara's, began to tremble.

Neji paused and turned his head, a slight smile on his lips. "I'll play with you later, like always, Hinata. But I have some other things I need to do right now." Without waiting for a reply, he vanished into the house.

Even though Gaara couldn't be more relieved Neji had left, he still felt badly for Hinata's sake. "He doesn't like me. I'm sorry. He would have played with you if I wasn't here." It was the same way everywhere he went. If he got within a hundred steps of a group of children - younger, older, even his own age - they all scattered, screaming. Granted, Neji didn't scream, but the reason for his retreat couldn't be more obvious.

"It's not you," Hinata said immediately, dismissively. "Big brother Neji is very busy." She nodded firmly, then started pulling him toward a large, stone archway. Beyond that lay a riot of color, and Gaara realized they were entering a garden. He'd seen pictures of them in scrolls and books, but since he'd grown up in a desert, this was his first time seeing one in real life.

And the smells - they were nothing like Gaara had ever experienced before. Sweet and spicy, gentle and powerful, they all combined into a perfume that made him wrinkle his nose. It was amazing how so many scents could be crammed into one place, but at the same time not be overwhelming, just hovering on the very edge of being so.

"Okay," Hinata said, drawing his attention back to her. "Here's how you play." She paused next to a bench shaded by tall bushes full of pink and purple flowers. "The person who seeks closes their eyes and counts to a certain number. Then the others run and hide, and then the person who seeks starts searching for them after they reach the highest number they can count to." She spread her arms wide, as if illustrating her point. "The last person to be found wins, and becomes the next person to count while everyone else hides." She grinned at him, once more showing off the gaps in the otherwise straight rows of her teeth. "Get it?"

Gaara nodded. He'd done something similar while training with his father, though he instinctively understood Hinata's version of hide-and-seek was a lot less - well, violent. "All right," he said. "So am I supposed to hide, or...?"

Hinata plopped down on the bench and covered her eyes with her tiny, pale hands. "Yes," she said. "I'll count to twenty, and then come find you. Okay?" Immediately she began to count, leaving Gaara to find his way through the labyrinth of trails leading through the garden.

He kept his finely tuned hearing on Hinata's voice, floating along with the myriad scents of flowers on the warm breeze. The garden was much bigger than he'd thought it would be, but for something so large, it sure didn't offer him many places to hide. The few places he did find were either too small, or left his red hair shining like a beacon through the leafy branches.

How hard can it be? Gaara scowled at his own misguided assumption. Why is it this is much harder than Father's version, when it's supposed to be a simple child's game?

As the next-to-last number floated toward his ears, Gaara gave up and scrambled under another convenient bench. Knowing he needed to hurry, he quickly burrowed himself back into the flowers behind it.

Ouch! Scowling, Gaara twisted a little, trying to figure out what the little pinpricks of pain all over his body were being caused by. But every time he tried to move, more appeared in a different place from the last, and finally he gave up. Ignoring the pain, he stayed completely still, barely breathing, listening hard for Hinata's approach.

High, girlish giggles occasionally reached Gaara's ears as he waited. He closed his eyes, relishing the unfamiliar sound and the feelings they stirred up inside him. The strange feeling from before returned, and he wondered if this was what it felt like to be normal. He hadn't thought he'd ever have a chance to be, and though he knew there was no way this could last, he determined he'd relish the feeling while it did.

It was amazing how quickly the constant anger and hatred from endless hours of training with his father was forgotten in favor of this new, better feeling...

The soft crunch of Hinata's dainty slippers against the gravel pathway yanked his attention back to the game. Allowing his breathing to turn shallow, Gaara peered out from beneath the bench, watching as the skirt of her light purple kimono came into view. She moved slowly, methodically, half-crouched as she looked from side to side.

"No fair," she huffed. "I've been searching for forever, and I can't find you! Where are you, Gaara?"

He bit back the sudden, powerful urge to laugh. Where had that come from? Gaara quickly moved his hand to clamp it over his mouth, afraid of what these unfamiliar emotions he was feeling would make him do.

Ironically, his own movement gave him away. "Mph-ouch!" The indignant squawk which flew out of his mouth was definitely undignified. He scowled straight ahead, afraid to turn his head to glare at those infernal sharp things which poked him every single time he moved.

Heedless of the rocks, Hinata immediately dropped to her knees. "There you are!" she cried gleefully. Then her cheer faded, and her eyes widened again. "Oh, Gaara, why'd you hide in the roses?"

So that was the name of nature's torture chamber. "It keeps scratching me," he growled.

Hinata scooted back a bit. "Come out," she said. All traces of her earlier smile were gone, replaced with scrunched brows, a wrinkled nose, and frowning mouth. "But it's gonna hurt."

It already hurts. Can't get much worse than this.

Of course he was wrong. By the time Gaara had squirmed his way out from under the bench, he realized the damage was worse than he'd thought. His clothes, mostly clean when the Sabaku clan first reached Konoha, were now dirty and covered with little tears, and dozens of pricks on his skin oozed blood.

Hinata's moon-pale eyes filled with tears. "I'm sorry," she said, twisting her fingers together in front of her. "You're hurt, and it's my fault!" Little droplets trickled down her cheeks and dripped off her chin, turning patches of her kimono a darker purple.

Another unfamiliar feeling swelled into Gaara's throat - panic. "It's okay!" he said. He realized he was flapping his hands - which was not only useless, but undignified as well - and quickly returned them to his sides. What do I do to make her stop crying? He couldn't stand to see her looking so sad. It made his heart twist in a really weird way in his chest - a painful way. "Please don't cry. It - it makes me sad." He was surprised at his own admission - even more so when he realized it was true.

He'd read about all these things in the books he'd sneaked out of his father's massive library. But reading about them and actually experiencing them were two entirely different things. He wasn't so sure he liked feeling all these things...

"Here." Suddenly Hinata was right in front of him, so close he could smell her hair. How had she gotten that close without him noticing? He wrinkled his nose at yet another flowery smell, but held still as she studied the scratches on his face and neck, then reached for his hand. "This is bad," she moaned. "Does it hurt?"

Awful. Gaara swallowed back the word. "No." If he told the truth, he'd just make her cry harder. And, since his current goal was to make her stop crying, in this case he decided lying was healthy - for her and for him.

Hinata's lower lip jutted out for a moment, and he realized she was thinking. Finally she smiled and stood on her tiptoes, pressing her lips against his cheek for the span of his sharply inhaled breath. "All better," she said decidedly. "Mama kisses my hurts, and it feels better." She grinned at him, her eyes once more alight with playfulness. "All better, right?"

Oddly, the skin she'd kissed did feel better. Wet, and kind of warm, but better. "Yeah," he agreed, surprised. "It is."

Reaching out, Hinata once more took his hand. He marveled at how natural the movement felt, as if her touching him was normal - for both of them. Ordinarily, he hated people touching him - his father, his uncle, his sister... But Hinata? Having her small, soft hand in his was as natural as breathing.

It took several turns and even more steps for him to realize something. "Where are we going?"

"Home," Hinata replied simply.

To Gaara's surprise, it was not Suna which sprang immediately to mind when he heard that word. It was, instead, an image of the little girl easily leading him alongside her by the hand.

Suddenly, home had a whole new meaning for Gaara.


"What were you two doing?"

Gaara winced, even though the words held no censure. He forced himself to sit still as Hinata's mother smeared some strange, smelly, cold stuff on his cuts. Afraid he would yell if he opened his mouth, he let Hinata answer the question.

"Playing hide and seek in the garden," his new friend replied. "Gaara decided to hide in the roses."

Lady Hoshi smiled, her own pale eyes sparkling as she wiped her hands on a cloth and then briefly tousled Gaara's hair. "Well, at least your hair blended in well," she remarked. She tapped his nose with her index finger, then favored him with a smile quite similar to her daughter's. "Next time you play hide-and-seek, though, please avoid any flowers with thorns. They tend to bite back."

Clenching his hands into fists to keep himself from rubbing the greasy stuff on his hands onto his pants, he nodded dutifully. "Yes, milady," he mumbled.

Hinata pressed close against her mother's side, staring up at Gaara where he sat perched on the counter in one of the Hyuuga manor's guest washrooms. "Feel better?" she chirped inquisitively.

"Hn." Now instead of feeling prickly and bloody, he felt greasy and sticky. "How long do I have to keep this on?"

After rinsing her hands in the sink, Lady Hoshi once again wiped her hands on the towel. "I know it feels greasy right now, but that will stop in a while," she said reassuringly. "Just sit still for a few minutes while it dries, and then you can go back to playing with Hinata." She smiled again, throwing in a quick wink as she glided gracefully toward the door, as if she were floating. "And remember: next time, avoid the roses."

For a few moments, Hinata stared quietly after her departing mother. Then she turned to smile up at Gaara again, leaning against the counter since she wasn't tall enough to climb up next to him. "Mama's had to put that on me lots of times before," she said. "There was this one time when Neji and I were climbing a tree-"

Gaara nearly choked. "Climbing a tree?" He tried to wrap his mind around the very strange image of this dainty little doll scaling one of the huge, leafy behemoths with which Konoha seemed infested.

Hinata's brows scrunched down in a scowl. "I can climb a tree!" she said defensively. "Big brother Neji taught me how." Her expression quickly turned sheepish, and she glanced over her shoulder before leaning a little closer to Gaara. "But don't tell. I'm not supposed to do it anymore since I fell out." She tugged at the neckline of her kimono, wrangling it aside enough to show him a whitish line of puckered skin about the length of Gaara's finger stretching from the curve of her neck to the edge of her shoulder. "Father yelled at me, but Mama put on the medicine and kissed it, and it's all better now."

He found himself repeating her. "Did it hurt?"

"A lot," Hinata replied solemnly. "And there was blood everywhere." She shuddered. "Neji wouldn't play with me for a while after that. And he's never climbed trees with me again." Her lower lip pushed out in an obvious pout.

Gaara started to offer to climb trees with her, but he just couldn't do it in the end. Though he'd kind of like to see her actually do it, just to prove she could, he didn't want her to get hurt by falling out again. "It's probably a good thing," he said instead. "If you fell out and hurt yourself again, they might not let you out into the gardens by yourself again."

Features once again twisting into a frown, Hinata nodded glumly. "Sad," she agreed. Her melancholy only lasted for a moment before she smiled again. "Do you want to go outside?" she asked. "We could play hide-and-seek again, if you stay away from the roses."

"Sure." Gaara slid off the counter and followed her back through the twisting halls of the house to the door through which they'd come in earlier, but stopped when Hinata did so. "What's wrong?"

Crossing her arms, Hinata stuck out her lower lip in another pout. "It's raining." She pointed through the door, where sheets of water poured from the sky so hard it obscured everything past a few steps away from the shaded porch. "We can't go outside when it's raining. Mama said once me and Neji might get sick if we do."

Despite himself, Gaara took another shuffling step toward the door. "Does it rain here a lot?" he asked.

"I dunno." Hinata shrugged. "I guess. Doesn't it rain where you're from?"

Creeping up to the edge of the porch, Gaara stretched out his hand into the rain. He shivered at the feel of the cool drops pounding against his hand, but didn't retreat or advance. "Not really. I live in the desert, and it's really hot and dry there. We get rain maybe a couple weeks out of the year. Not a whole lot."

Moving to stand next to him, Hinata stayed under the cover of the porch roof so she didn't get wet. "Most times when it rains, it doesn't last long. We should be able to go back out to the garden after we eat."

At the mention of food, Gaara's stomach growled impatiently. Snatching his hand back out of the rain, he wiped it off on his shirt as he glanced sheepishly over at Hinata. She was staring at him, her endearing gap-toothed grin firmly in place. "Hungry?" she asked knowingly.

"Breakfast was early," he explained. "We left camp at sunrise, so we had to get up even earlier to eat."

Snatching up his damp hand again, Hinata turned and tugged him after her toward the door. "Sometimes I can talk Cook into giving me something early," she said. "Let's see if there are any cinnamon rolls left from breakfast."

Gaara wrinkled his nose. "What are cinnamon rolls?" he asked. He was used to his structured life in Suna, where he did things the same way every day, so he knew everything. Here, he'd encountered so many new things, he felt like his brain was going to explode. He had a feeling it wasn't just because he was in a different village, either...

Stopping abruptly, Hinata stared at him with her mouth open in shock. "You don't know what a cinnamon roll is?" she squeaked. Tightening her hand, she picked up her pace - not quite a run, but pretty close to it - as she continued to drag him along behind her. "They're only the most yummy food ever. You gotta try one!"

They made their way back through the house, presumably toward the kitchens, if the smells drifting toward his nose were anything by which to judge. Gaara decided he'd gladly go anywhere with Hinata, just so long as she didn't let go of his hand.


The second day of Gaara's stay in Konoha he spent mostly by himself. Hinata's tutor came to the estate and closeted himself with her for the majority of the day. By the time they were finished, it was time to eat the evening meal and go to bed.

On the third day, however, Hinata assured him at breakfast they'd have the whole day to themselves again. When she asked him what he wanted to do, he immediately replied he'd like her to show him around her home. Yesterday he kept getting in trouble for getting lost in the confusing, twisting halls of the manor, so he figured if Hinata showed him around, it wouldn't happen again.

Hinata politely asked if Gaara's brother and sister would like to join them, but both declined. Kankuro went back to the room he and Gaara were sharing, undoubtedly to play around with his many puppets, and Temari proudly announced she was going to explore the village. As far as Gaara was concerned, he had Hinata all to himself, so his siblings' distraction was the best thing he could ask for.

Even if he was a little jealous he didn't get to go out into Konoha and explore, too.

Since the sunny day outside promised to remain so, Hinata decided they'd start inside the house. As she led Gaara around, he recognized some areas of the house: There was the hall leading to his and Kankuro's room; there was the kitchen, out of which wonderful smells still drifted (they stopped in long enough to sneak a couple extra cinnamon rolls, laughing as the cook chased them out with several quick snaps of her apron); and there were the doors they usually went through to get to the garden.

As they passed by what Hinata identified as the ballroom, she glanced over at him curiously. "Is your house this big?" she asked.

"Kind of," he replied. "Yours is all on one level, right?" At her nod, he spread his arms so his hands stretched vertically to each other. "Mine is big, too, but it's tall, not so wide. Where we live and Father's office are all in the same building, so it has to be big. But the two places are separate." He didn't mention his room and those of his siblings were separate, too. Hinata had pointed out her own room and then Neji's, only a few doors away from each other, and he realized this was yet something else different in his world. Having two levels and several halls separating him from Kankuro and Temari was another invention of his father's, and Gaara was beginning to realize he didn't like a lot of what the leader of Suna called "the usual" for his youngest child.

Hinata turned down another hall, then stopped in front of a door Gaara recognized. "This is your room, right?"

He nodded. "Yeah. I never realized our rooms were so close together." He hadn't recognized the way Hinata brought him, since it passed by her own room. The way a servant had shown him his first day in Konoha, they'd gone past the library and dining hall, but not any other personal quarters. Gaara quietly filed Hinata's directions away for later.

The door opened, and Kankuro stuck his head out the door. "Done already?" he asked. "I thought this place was bigger than that."

"It is," Gaara retorted. "We just finished inside. Now we're going outside, right?" He looked toward Hinata for confirmation. She nodded.

Kankuro shrugged, then ducked back into the room. "Whatever."

This time Gaara confidently walked alongside Hinata through the house toward the back doors, instead of letting her guide him. All he needed was for her to show him around the house once, and now he knew how to get around. He wouldn't be getting in trouble for getting lost again, thankfully.

Once outside, Hinata bypassed the garden and headed in a direction Gaara hadn't been before. He followed her closely, smiling when he realized they were going to the stables.

Hinata went straight to a stall towards the back, where a black-and-white pony stood with its head stretched out over the low stall door. "I'm learning to ride," Hinata said proudly. "Neji already knows how, but he still practices with me. I don't think Mama much likes that I'm riding, but that's okay." She stroked her pony's forelock, smiling into the gentle creature's big brown eyes. "I really like it."

Gaara stepped up next to her and let the pony whuffle his hand before he joined Hinata in stroking its head. "What about your father?" he asked. "Does he mind you riding?"

His friend's cheerful expression faltered slightly. "I don't see him much," she said glumly. "He's busy, you know, with work. Mama says he's really important, and that his job takes up a lot of his time."

If only Gaara's father's business took up so much time... Shoving the selfish thought away, he kept his focus on Hinata's pony as he spoke again. "Your father and mine both keep talking about the meetings they go to even after they get home. I wonder what they're discussing?"

"Before you got here, I heard Father tell Mama your village and mine are trying to make an 'agreement,' whatever that means." Giving her pony one last pat, she reached into the pocket of her purple dress and pulled out a sugar cube, which she gave to the creature with a fond smile. "I s'pose it's a good thing."

Gaara's father had said something similar. On the second night out from Suna, when he'd had trouble falling asleep, Gaara had overheard a conversation between his father and uncle Yashamaru, Temari and Kankuro's caretaker. The words "trade," "battle," and "marriage" had been mentioned, but none of them made sense without the rest of the conversation, and Gaara hadn't dared leave his bedroll in the tent to try to sneak closer to hear more. He'd planned to try to eavesdrop some more while actually in Konoha, but he'd been too busy spending time with Hinata.

She was more interesting than politics, anyway.

Squinting in the bright sunlight after the dimness of the stable interior, Gaara glanced at Hinata. "Where to now?" he asked. The Hyuuga compound was huge, and he figured there was still a lot more to see.

"This way." Hinata led him down a well-maintained - and traveled - gravel path which twisted through the trees. A few minutes later, the house appeared, and Gaara realized they were almost back where they'd started. Instead of turning toward the sprawling mansion, however, they stuck to the path and were soon in the courtyard at the front of the house, where the two had first been introduced.

Off to their right, a stone fountain gurgled cheerfully in the middle of its nest of colorful flowers. Sunshine from above peeked among the carefully arranged trees, which offered shade for the benches placed on either side of the fountain. To their left, koi playfully splashed around in a pond dotted with green lily-pads, their orange scales flashing in the sunlight. Even though they were close to both the house and the front gates leading out to the streets of Konoha, the courtyard was quiet, calm - peaceful.

Hinata paused next to a small wooden box nailed to a tree, which Gaara hadn't noticed before. Reaching inside, she pulled out two small bags, then handed one to him as they made their way toward the pond. Heedless of the dirt, Hinata plonked down on the bank and reached into the bag. "To feed the koi," she said upon seeing his puzzled look. "Mama had the box put there so we didn't have to keep bringing food from the house."

Lowering himself down at Hinata's side, he watched her for a few moments before reaching into his own bag and tossing a handful of what felt like dried bread crumbs into the water. Immediately, the formerly calm, still waters turned into a churning mass of fish as dozens of koi slapped each other silly with their tails in an effort to be the first to snatch up the food.

The two children sat in quiet companionship for a few minutes, enjoying each other's company as they took turns tossing handfuls of food into the water. After the bags were emptied, the koi lost interest and scattered, but Gaara and Hinata remained, thoughtfully staring down into the water.

Finally turning away from the water, Gaara watched Hinata out of the corner of his eye as he ran his hand through the sun-warmed grass they sat on. "Hinata?" he asked hesitantly.

She turned toward him, the wings of her blue-black hair framing her face blowing slightly in the breeze. Pushing strands away from her mouth, she fixed him with her pale eyes and tilted her head inquisitively. "Yes?"

Biting his lower lip, Gaara avoided her steady gaze, instead choosing to look out over the water again. "Can I stay in Konoha with you when the rest of my family leaves?"

Hinata gasped slightly, obviously startled. Shifting so she faced him rather than the water, she leaned forward in an effort to get him to look at her and said, "Of course! But why?"

Relieved by her instant acceptance of him, Gaara plucked up enough courage to follow her lead. Moving so they sat facing each other, he pulled his knees to his chest and rested his chin on his arms, crossed over them. "I like it here," he said honestly. "It's so much nicer than home." Digging the toes of one sandal into the dirt, he felt a flush creep up his neck. "And you're here," he added quietly.

Immediately, Hinata's cheeks turned bright red. "Oh," she said, obviously embarrassed. Turning away, she plucked at the hem of her dress for a minute, looking like she wasn't sure what to say. Gaara waited patiently until, at last, she said, "But what about your brother and sister and father and uncle? Won't they miss you?"

Gaara frowned. "No." And he wouldn't miss them, either. Though, honestly, he wasn't sure why he was even bothering to talk to Hinata about all this anyway. It wasn't like his father would ever agree to let his son - his "special project" - stay in Konoha when there was so much to be done in Suna. Gaara wasn't even close to the end of his training, and even when he was, he knew there was no way he'd ever be allowed to leave. His father had plans for him, ones which stretched as far into the future as he could imagine.

A life in Konoha was not included among them.

Drawing in a deep breath, he spoke again before Hinata could. "Never mind. Forget I asked."

The shine in Hinata's eyes dimmed slightly. "So you don't want to stay?" she asked, obviously disappointed.

"No, I want to stay," Gaara hurried to reassure her. "I just know I can't."

Hinata let out her breath on a long sigh as she reached up and behind her head. She fiddled around for a moment, then produced a long light purple ribbon that matched her dress. "Here," she said, holding it out toward him.

Staring at the piece of girlish frippery, Gaara made no move to reach for it. "What's that?" he asked suspiciously.

"A ribbon," Hinata replied, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "It's not a lot, but I want you to have it. This way you'll remember me when you go back home."

Hesitantly, Gaara reached out and took the ribbon. It hung limply from his hand, looking like nothing particularly special, but he knew every time he looked at it, he'd remember Hinata. Looking up at her, he smiled as he curled his fingers around her gift. "Thanks, Hinata."

She smiled back and started to speak, but a commotion in the direction of the gates distracted them.

The children turned toward the sound just in time to see a teenager walk into the courtyard, carrying a wet, protesting Temari in his arms. His own clothes and dark hair were also dripping, and when he spotted Gaara and Hinata, he turned his steps toward them.

"Gaara!" Temari, face set in a ferocious scowl, shoved at the chest of the boy carrying her. "Make him put me down!" She kicked out one foot to punctuate her point.

Scrambling to his feet, Gaara shifted his gaze from his wet sister to her equally soaked savior. "What happened?" he asked, ignoring his sister's protests.

"The lady here decided to take a swim," the stranger replied, shifting his grip on the squirming Temari. "After pulling her out of the water, I finally managed to get out of her where she was staying so I could bring her back here and make sure she's all right."

"I was perfectly fine!" Temari half-screeched.

"You obviously can't swim," the dark stranger remarked.

"That's not my fault! I'm from the desert - lakes aren't exactly around every corner where I live!"

Firmly resisting the urge to slap his hands over his ears, Gaara glanced back toward the house. "Thank you for the help," he said, returning his gaze to his sister and the boy holding her. "If you could just bring her into the house...?"

"I am perfectly capable of walking on my own two feet," Temari said icily.

Without warning, the boy dropped the arm holding her legs, allowing her to stand upright. Her feet landed on the grass with a squishy thud, but before she could make a smug remark, her knees buckled. Fortunately, the dark-haired boy still had his arm around her, and was able to pick her up again with little fuss. "You were saying?" he asked blithely.

Temari scowled but said nothing, finally subdued.

As vocal as his sister was being, Gaara knew she was all right. Turning, he silently led the way toward the mansion, Hinata next to him, the stranger and Temari behind and to his left. "Thank you for saving my sister,...?" He tilted his head toward the man questioningly.

"Itachi. Uchiha Itachi." He nodded once, briefly, then slipped off his wet shoes when they reached the front porch of the house. "And I didn't really mind. I'm always willing to help a damsel in distress."

At this, Temari let out a low growling sound. Gaara was sure he heard a few choice, unkind words in there, too, but chose not to remark on them. "I'm Sabaku Gaara. That's my sister, Temari. And this is Hyuuga Hinata, my friend." He blinked, both surprised and pleased not only that the word slipped out so easily, but that it was true. Hinata is my friend. His insides warmed in response to the words, the sleeping monster at the back of his mind silent and distant for once.

Just as Hinata advanced further into the entry hall, her mouth open to call for help, Lady Hoshi appeared in the doorway leading to the rest of the house. For a moment, Hinata's mother stood looking shocked at the group at her door, but then she hurried forward to invite them in.

"Are you all right, dear?" she asked Temari, placing one hand against the blonde's forehead to feel for fever.

Temari scowled but didn't jerk away. "I'm fine," she stressed. "This guy-" she slapped her hand against Itachi's shoulder "-overreacted."

Itachi looked unfazed. "She fell into the creek," he said. "I - ah - fished her out." The corner of his mouth tugged upwards in an only partially repressed smile.

Lady Hoshi turned, simultaneously motioning for Itachi to follow her. "Thank goodness it's warm," she said. "Please follow me. Don't worry, Temari, we'll have you dried out in no time."

Gaara and Hinata, left alone in the entry hall, turned to each other in puzzlement. "I hope your sister will be all right," Hinata finally said.

"She will be." Gaara pushed the door shut behind them, deciding the outdoors had lost a lot of its appeal. "I don't know her very well, but I do know she's tough." He immediately shut his mouth, wishing he hadn't just admitted that particular truth.

Sure enough, Hinata gave him a strange look. "You don't know your sister well?"

Shifting uncomfortably, Gaara rubbed the bottom of his bare foot against the floor beneath them. "She's a lot older than I am," he said lamely. It was a terrible excuse, but he couldn't tell her the truth. Here in Konoha, they didn't know his reputation, and as a result, Hinata was treating him as if he was as normal as she. Her cousin was suspicious of him, but even with the slip-ups he kept making, Hinata took them in stride and drew him even deeper into their friendship. He had to stop risking losing their closeness.

Hinata nodded her acceptance of his explanation and reached for his hand. He looked down, surprised to see he was still clutching the hair ribbon she'd given him. "Let me do this," she said. Taking it from him, she quickly wrapped it around his wrist and then tied it into a bow. "There." She looked up at him again, smiling proudly at her accomplishment.

Lifting his wrist to his face, Gaara stared at Hinata's gift. It was so girly, that bow, but he didn't have the heart to untie it and tuck the ribbon into his pocket.

It was comforting to know when he had to leave Konoha, he'd be able to take something of Hinata's with him.

He just had to make sure his father didn't see it.


Kankuro started snoring only a few minutes after the two boys went to bed, so Gaara didn't feel uncomfortable reaching into his pocket and pulling out the ribbon Hinata had given him. He held it up to the silver moonlight coming through the shouji doors behind him, marveling at how one side felt soft, and the other slick.

Carefully folding it, he clutched it in his hand and rolled onto his side, back to his brother. Closing his eyes, he pressed his fist against his chest and sighed. The Sabaku clan's time in Konoha was going by far too quickly, and he didn't want it to end. His friendship with Hinata had brought sunshine to his life, which up until now had been as dark and bleak as a cloudy, moonless night. She was so cheerful, and so quickly and easily accepted him...

Her happiness was catching, too. He could feel the shifting inside him as the light from Hinata's happiness broke through the darkness in his very core. There was a different way of living, one his father had tried to make clear wasn't for Gaara. But now he'd met Hinata, and he knew things could change. If he just dared step forward and grasp the hope his new friend was offering, he could live normally.

He could grow closer to his siblings, and he could be accepted by his fellow villagers. He could find his way onto one of Suna's elite ninja teams and serve his father by regular means, instead of becoming some sort of super weapon.

Gaara curled into a tiny ball under the blankets. He wanted his dreams to become reality, so badly he ached for it. Also - did he dare think it? - he wanted Hinata to come with him. He wanted to have her next to him for the rest of his life, pouring her beautiful sunshine into his ugly darkness.

For a long time he drifted along the edges of sleep, dazzled by the tempting images of his own imagined new life.

What was that?

Gaara opened his eyes, wondering if he'd imagined the sound foreign to the night - and his own dream - outside his door. Quietly sitting up, he looked over at his brother, who was still fast asleep, mouth open as he snored loudly. If there had been a noise, Kankuro obviously hadn't heard it.

Remaining absolutely still, Gaara closed his eyes again so he could concentrate on listening. He let his breathing turn shallow so he could better hear the sounds outside his room, not hard since the thin walls and doors let in even the softest of sounds.

There! Gaara's eyes sprang open at the soft scuff of a shoe against the floor. Something's wrong.

After tucking Hinata's ribbon back into his pocket, Gaara threw off his blanket, got to his feet, and swiftly moved to the door on bare, silent feet. He remained inside for only a moment, just long enough to listen for the sound to repeat itself again. When it did, farther down the hall, Gaara slid open the door as quietly as he could and slipped out into the hall.

He was just in time to see the fluttering blackness of cloth vanish around the corner. His curiosity stirred, Gaara followed, the prickling hairs on the back of his neck a warning of something amiss.

Pausing at the corner, Gaara peered around the wall to find the figure in black paused at the next corner, looking both ways as if unsure where to go next. When he shifted to look to the right, Gaara saw something in the figure's arms. It dangled limply, mostly white except for its shiny blue-black hair...

Hinata!

The monster inside Gaara roared to life, and a bright red haze washed across his vision. Opening his mouth, he let out an inhuman howl and charged, intent on obliterating the threat to his only friend in the world.

At the sound of Gaara's approach, the figure in black spun around. He was just in time to receive a crippling blow to his knee, which knocked him off-balance. Taking advantage of the masked figure's shaky equilibrium, Gaara lashed out with one clawed hand, raking his fingers across the man's face.

He dimly registered a dull thud, but he wasn't through. Allowing the rage inside him full control, he savagely attacked, raining blow after blow on the weakly struggling figure. Gaara's hands rapidly became slick with blood, and he felt it splash across his face, his arms, his chest...

The figure gave voice to a weak, gasping protest, one Gaara was too far gone to heed. Reaching out, he took the figure's head between his bloodsoaked hands-

"G-Gaara!"

Hinata. He snapped back to awareness so hard he fell backwards, landing on his backside with a sticky squelch.

His father's face suddenly appeared before him. "Gaara! What happened?"

Gaara blinked, trying to get his mind to catch up with what his body had just been doing. "Hinata," he croaked hoarsely. "Someone was trying to take her..." He trailed off, gaze returning to the unmoving figure beside which he sat.

Suna's leader turned away from his younger son and reached for the torn, bloody mask still mostly obscuring the kidnapper's face. Grasping the top of it, he tugged until it came loose, revealing the man's identity.

Uncle Yashamaru. Gaara suddenly felt cold and dizzy as he stared at his uncle's face, bloody and beaten but still recognizable. Uncle Yashamaru.

Unlike his siblings, Gaara didn't know his uncle very well. His mother's brother had visited only occasionally, usually when his nephew needed patching up after a training session gone wrong or the like. He'd always been kind to Gaara, ignoring his brother-in-law's orders to the contrary, and he felt so confused seeing Yashamaru lying there.

Why had his uncle tried to take Hinata?

"He's dead." Gaara's father looked up, his face set in a grim expression. He very carefully did not look at his son.

I killed uncle. His gaze dropped to his hands, dripping with sticky ropes of blood. Bright splashes of it decorated what part of his clothing and skin he could see, too.

"Is the girl all right?" His father's voice, softer with understanding, drew Gaara's attention to where Lord Hiashi knelt next to his daughter.

"She's been drugged," the Hyuuga clan head reported. "But I think she'll be all right." Standing, he called for a servant, who immediately came and picked up Hinata's pliant body. Her eyes were open, but they gleamed dully, rolling unsteadily in her pale face. They passed briefly over Gaara, but did not focus on him. Her white gown and pale skin were painted with bright red splotches of fresh blood.

Lady Hoshi followed the servant, tears quietly trickling down her cheeks as she stared at her unresponsive daughter.

Gaara flexed his hands, wanting to reach out and snatch Hinata back. Why? Her glazed eyes hung like twin moons in his mind's vision, staring straight through him unseeingly. Why did Uncle try to take Hinata? Why did he hurt her? His eyes stung, and he quickly swiped his sleeve over them, ignoring the blood streaking across his face with the motion. I killed Uncle Yashsamaru.

But Hinata is safe, the monster whispered deep inside him. It sounded sleepy, sated now that it had spilled blood - lots of blood. Yashamaru was taking her away, undoubtedly to hurt her. She's all right now, because of you.

Hands grasped Gaara's arms and lifted him to his feet. He tensed but didn't fight back, calmly allowing them to lead him away from his uncle's dead body, and his father's and Lord Hiashi's arguing voices. He moved robotically, letting himself be led along until he was shoved into a room he didn't remember ever seeing before.

A few moments after the door closed behind his unfamiliar escorts, it opened again. Temari slipped inside, dry and looking no worse for the wear after her soggy misadventure earlier in the day. Or would that have been yesterday? Gaara wondered, feeling oddly detached from the world.

"What happened?" she demanded. "I heard a huge ruckus, and then two guards walked past half-carrying you between them." Her hard teal eyes briefly swept over his bloodsoaked body, but her expression didn't change. Was she really so unsurprised, seeing him covered in blood? Did she not wonder how he'd gotten this way, or care if he was even injured?

"I killed him," Gaara whispered listlessly.

Temari's eyebrows arched. "Who?"

"Uncle Yashamaru." Every time he closed his eyes, he saw either Hinata's blank white eyes or his uncle's bloody face, so he stared unblinkingly at the closed door over Temari's shoulder.

His sister's expression darkened visibly. "What happened?" she demanded again.

Pulling his knees up to his chest, Gaara hunched his shoulders in an effort to shield himself from his sister's impending wrath. "He was trying to take Hinata." His eyes stung once again, but this time he didn't bother to try to wipe away his tears. "I didn't know it was uncle. I just wanted to protect her. She's my only friend..."

"Oh." Temari's expression softened slightly. Staying where she was, she knelt so she was on Gaara's level, her eyes looking even darker against her pale skin and loose gold hair as she stared at him. "Is she okay?"

Gaara pressed his forehead against his knees, trying not to blink, to see the searing images waiting behind his close eyelids. "I don't know." He could feel the ribbon in his pocket, practically burning through his pants and into his skin, but he didn't dare reach for it while he was still covered in blood.

He just couldn't destroy the last piece of her he had left still pure and untouched by his bloody, monstrous nature.

How had he ever thought he could be normal? If nothing else, tonight's events proved just the opposite. When push came to shove, he'd given in to the monster and killed. He could still see Hinata dangling from that servant's arms, her eyes unblinking and lifeless, her skin painted with blood. He had not physically hurt her this time, but next time...

Temari leaned forward slightly, drawing his attention back to her. "Do you want me to go see if I can find out?" she asked softly.

Gaara hesitated, wondering what was making his sister act so nice to him all of a sudden. She'd never seemed interested in talking to him, or taking care of him, or interacting with him before. Why now?

She must have seen the mistrust and confusion on his face, because she smiled slightly. "I know she means a lot to you," Temari said. "She's a good kid, and I care about what happens to her because she's your friend. So do you want me to check on her, or not?"

He didn't have to think about it any more. He nodded eagerly.

Though Temari was only gone a few minutes, it felt like much longer. When she returned, still barefoot and dressed in her pajamas, she closed the door and knelt where she had before. "She's still fuzzy from the drug Uncle used to keep her from struggling or making noise, but she's going to be okay."

Letting out his breath on a long, relieved sigh, Gaara dropped his forehead onto his knees again. Uncle didn't hurt her. Guilt streaked through him, but he shoved it away. And I didn't hurt her. He'd realized after Temari left that he must have made Yashamaru drop Hinata when he attacked. He was glad no damage had been done to his fragile friend.

"Gaara?"

He looked up. Temari sat staring at her hands, folded together in her lap. "I heard something else, too, while I was checking up on Hinata."

Gaara felt his heart and stomach sink as one entity. Lowering his head again, he waited, even though he had a feeling he already knew what his sister was going to say.

"We're leaving Konoha at first light. After what Uncle did, we are no longer welcome in Konoha." She didn't say more, but her unspoken words hung heavily in the air between them. We are especially unwelcome in the Hyuuga estate.

He closed his eyes, but it did nothing to stop the hot, bitter tears from trickling down his face. I'll never see Hinata again.

*~Eight Years Later~*

"Come on, Gaara, you've got to sleep sometime."

Irritated, Gaara waved off his sister's wheedling - and her presence. "Later," he said. "I need to finish looking through Father's papers. I'm sure he left a lot of things undone when he-" Died.

Temari hesitated, watching him from across the room. Though she didn't voice her thoughts, he could still hear what she wanted to say to him. All that will still be there later. It's not like Father's going to come in and steal them away.

Gaara flashed her a quick look. Your opinion is noted. "Good night, Temari."

His sister sighed gustily but took the hint. "Good night, Gaara." She closed the door behind her with a distinct slam.

Ignoring his sister's snit, Gaara sat down at the chair behind his father's desk and swept his gaze over the mountain of papers littering the surface of the table. The guards who had cleaned up the office had just stacked the papers helter-skelter, not bothering to look through them and organize them into any semblance of order.

Later. Reaching into his pocket, Gaara fished out the key to his father's desk and unlocked the first drawer. Despite what he'd told his sister, he had ulterior motives for searching his father's desk, and so quickly at that. He had some suspicions, and he'd lived for years with them. He couldn't wait any longer to see them either confirmed or denied.

The first drawer contained three bottles and twice as many glasses. Scowling, Gaara shut it quickly and locked it again, making a mental note to get rid of those things later. The second drawer was unlocked and empty, but the third held what he was looking for - a very thick folder labeled simply: Konoha.

Shoving away two or three shorter stacks of papers, Gaara cleared a space on the surface of the desk so he could set down the folder. Flipping the cover open, he allowed his gaze to skim over the first page, finding only general information on the village: its population, an import/export overview, and a list of its most prominent clans.

After flipping through the next few papers, Gaara began to skip ahead a bit. Several letters were included among the pages, correspondence between Gaara's father and Lord Sarutobi, the leader of Konoha, arranging for a visit. The last of the letters from Konoha included a notice that the Sabaku clan would be staying with the Hyuuga, the largest and most powerful family in the village.

The following pages were filled with rough notes on the meetings Gaara's father had attended while in Konoha. Several things had been discussed, including a trade agreement. Suna depended on other villages to supply fresh fruit, vegetables, and other plants for making things such as medicine. In return, Suna exported medicines made from the imported plants, and glassware, the one thing they were able to make in abundance with no outside help. In the past, they had also supplied other, smaller, villages with weapons, but Gaara's grandfather had put a stop to that when he took over leadership of Suna.

Gaara set aside the next page, then froze at what he saw on the paper beneath. At the top of the thick, expensive parchment perched the distinctive symbol of Konoha, and beneath it sat the letterhead of Sarutobi Hiruzen, the village's leader.

A lot of political jargon littered the body of the missive, but one particular line stood out, black and bold against the white background:

...confirm the agreement to join in matrimony Sabaku Gaara and Hyuuga Hinata, to further the good relations between Konoha and Suna...

He blinked. Went back. Read it again.

And again.

And again.

The words remained unchanging.

Hinata. Gaara let out a shaky breath, the paper fluttering from his hand to the stack as he sagged against the back of his chair. Hinata.

It had been eight long years since he'd seen her last, but she had never been far from his thoughts. Her influence in his life had reached far into the future, even though he'd only been in her presence for a few too-short days. He'd been thinking of her when he finally confronted his father, saying he would not be a weapon any longer.

And now Gaara was free. Granted, he still had a very long way to go before his village would accept him, would stop looking at him like they expected him to go berserker at any moment. But the time he planned to devote working on earning their trust would be worth it.

While earning their trust, Gaara thought of earning Hinata's as well. If he could become Suna's new leader, he would finally be worthy of seeing her again. He couldn't change his past, but he could change his future. He could become someone worthy of being in her life again, hopefully as a more permanent fixture this time.

A new thought slammed into his mind, so hard and fast he had to grip the edge of the desk to keep from screaming. Frantically, he started shuffling through the remaining papers in the Konoha file, eyes rapidly scanning their contents. His father had been as unpredictable as a sandstorm, and just because a marriage agreement had been brokered between the two villages in the past, it didn't mean his father hadn't written again to null it.

It can't happen. I won't let it. But he kept flipping through the pages, faster and faster, just in case. He flipped through more paperwork on trading agreements, a couple letters from Lady Tsunade, Konoha's new leader, and past something which looked eerily like a battle plan. (He would look at that in more detail later.)

At last he reached the last page, and he hesitated, almost afraid to look at it. What if it was a contract making the other one void? What if it ripped the last of his hope, his happiness - Hinata - away from him? Again?

Letting out a long, shaky breath, Gaara closed his eyes and forced himself to relax. Releasing his painful grip on the edge of the desk, he slowly opened his eyes and looked.

...verifying the shipment of thirty-nine crates of misc. fruits and vegetables, to be delivered to Suna's marketplace...

Once again, Gaara sagged against the back of his chair in relief. He would go through the Konoha file again later, of course, but at least for now, the agreement his father had somehow managed to make with Konoha still stood. He knew he should be furious at his father for doing something as extreme as arranging a marriage for him, but he just couldn't bring himself to be angry.

For once in his life overflowing with mistakes, the Sabaku clan head had done something right.

Reaching into his pocket, Gaara withdrew the ribbon he always carried there. It was beginning to fray slightly on the ends, and its color wasn't nearly as bright as it had been the day Hinata tied it around his wrist, but it was still the one and only gift she'd ever given him. It was still something of hers, and he continued to cherish it as deeply as he had the day he received it.

Closing his eyes again, Gaara leaned his head back and pressed his fist against his lips thoughtfully. I'm going to see Hinata again. I'm actually going to see Hinata again!

The next few years would be long and diffucult, but now he had a new goal to reach for at the end of it.

Hinata, I am going to be a man you'll be proud to call your friend once again. I promise.

*~The End~*

Author's Ending Notes: Apologies if anyone (especially Hinata) seemed out of character. But one of my reasons for writing Sunshine was to show how different she was as a child, and how deeply changed she was by the events centered around Gaara's visit. Between witnessing what she did and her father's rather violent reaction to it (most particularly his ordering her to forget what had happened), in addition to the rest of her upbringing, she became the shy, introverted Hinata we saw at the beginning of Shadows. Please remember the hair ribbon she gave Gaara, because it will play an important part in later chapters of Shadows (another of the many reasons I posted this now was to introduce the ribbon, since as I said, it will become important later). Also, more about what happened with Temari and Itachi and their meeting will be explained in the other prequel to Shadows I have planned, though it is thus far missing a title. Thanks for reading this fic, and this huge author's note. I hope you enjoyed it, and I hope to see you again for the next update of Shadows!