A/N: Hello, everyone, and welcome to my first GaaHina fic! I'm not actually the hugest fan of the pairing (do they even interact in the series?) but I like each of their characters and think that they might understand one another.

This is VERY loosely based of the legend of Hua MuLan 花木兰 (the Chinese poem, NOT the Disney). And yes, it is an AU.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, and I am not making profit on this. It is purely for fan-use.

She could hear the campground before she saw it: raucous calls, ragtag singing, someone barking orders. Rounding the next hill Hinata caught her first sight of her new home.

Tents blanketed the valley, their dark forms scattered in every direction. People, still small from this far away, ran to and fro busily. A few meters further, and Hinata could smell the camp, too. There was the familiar odor of livestock, the tickling scent of smoke, the stench of thousands of people crowded into one space.

For the past hour of walking, Hinata had been able to ignore her fear and simply exist in the moment. But as her destination finally lay before her, the sickening tightness returned to her stomach. It was getting hard to swallow. No. Don't give up. This is better, right? Hinata encouraged herself silently as she tried to urn her stumbling gait into a proud stride.

No one paid her any mind as she headed to the large red tent where conscripts registered their presence. She'd done her best to make herself androgynous, pulling her dark hair back so that it was tied neatly like her cousin's, not hanging free. Hinata had always favored loose clothes, but for this she had been careful to select only garments that would give no hint as to her gender. Luckily for her, she was naturally small and not well-endowed in the more womanly areas. Though in the past few years her body had began to change, Hinata could still pass - albeit with effort - for a male.

There was a line to the entrance of the red tent, and Hinata settled into place behind the last person, a burly young man with tattooed cheeks. He seemed to already have made friends with the soldier standing before him, a tall youth whose collar was pulled up to hide his mouth; dark tinted glasses covered his eyes. From the few inches of skin exposed, Hinata judged him to be even paler than herself.

The tattooed boy introduced himself first. "Inuzuka Kiba, pleased to meet you. This is Aburame Shino. He's a weirdo, but don't worry."

Hinata smiled at the friendly boy. "I..I'm Hinata. Hyuuga Hinata."

"Whoaaaah! Hyuuga? You're a one of the Hyuugas?" As soon as she had introduced herself, Kiba's eyes had gone wide and round as saucers. "You hear that, Shino? He's a Hyuuga!"

"So?"

"You're a total ruiner, you know that, Shino?"

"So?"

Hinata sensed a fight building, and tried to rush in to stop it. "A-anyway! I'm really p-p-pleased to meet you two. Let's g-get along, ok-kay?"

"You're funny, Hinata-kun."

By then the line had moved forward to the point where Shino was next. He nodded to Kiba and Hinata as he entered the tent, and then Hinata was left listening to Kiba's speculations on what army life would be like.

Only a few minutes later, Kiba was called. Knowing her turn was next, Hinata shifted from foot to foot and nervously fiddled with her fingers. Her father called it a detestable habit, but so far she hadn't been able to shake it.

Then a gruff voice from inside the tent indicated that the next person should enter. Starting, Hinata stepped into the gloomy interior.

Aside from a lantern and a long low table, the tent was free of furniture. Behind the desk, opposite Hinata, sat three people. One was a woman, taller than Hinata and with a wildness about her. It was obvious from her clothing that she was a fighter. An oddly dressed man sat beside her, his hands manipulating some tool that Hinata couldn't see clearly. The last person seemed to be the youngest; he couldn't have been much older than Hinata herself. His hair was a bright, fierce red, and his eyes were heavy-lidded but still large and bright in color. Hinata might have found him the least intimidating of the trio, but there was something about his face that bespoke barely confined anger.

"Name?" asked the woman.

"Hyuuga Hinata, of K-Konoha."

"Ah. You're here to represent and serve as the Hyuuga clan's, right?"

"Yes."

"Why'd they send a stuttering fool like you?" The larger of the men asked. There wasn't hostility in the question, just boredom and curiosity.

"I v-v-v-volunteered." Hinata could barely force the words out of her mouth. She felt her face burning; she knew she looked a total fool.

"Calm down, Hyuuga." This time it was the red-head who spoke. "This is just the signing up. Nothing to be scared of yet." Perhaps his words were intended to be comforting, but instead Hinata heard them as a threat. Actually, looking at his cold eyes, she wondered if that hadn't been his intention from the outset.

The woman spoke up again, leafing through a sheaf of papers and handing Hinata a seal. "You will serve on Gaara's regiment. Due to your status, your rank will of course be in the low-officer standing, but don't expect things to be easy for you. This is war. Thank you, soldier. Now please go find your team."

Hinata took the proffered seal in her hand, willing her fingers not to tremble. There was no backing out now. Forcing her spine to straighten and pushing her shoulder blades closer together, Hinata exited the tent.

Standing there, in the middle of the camp, Hinata looked up at the still-bright sky. Only a few wispy clouds drifted over the blue expanse, allowing the sunlight to stream down unfettered and warm Hinata's fair skin. Hinata stood still for a moment as the camp bustled on around her, trying to regain herself. Then, shaking her head, she headed off towards the armory.

Later, Hinata was pleasantly surprised to find that both Inuzuka Kiba and Aburame Shino would serve in the same regiment as herself. Hinata would be the first to admit that striking up friendships wasn't her forte, so she was glad that at least she wouldn't have to introduce herself again to these two.

While Shino was every bit as reserved as Hinata (although markedly less shy), Kiba had enough zeal for all three of them. Apparently he'd volunteered, despite that in being his family's only male heir he could have stayed comfortable at home.

When the sky darkened on Hinata's first day as soldier, the Hyuuga ex-heiress had a blade, a rank, and armor. She was glad to discover that she wouldn't be the only female at the campsite: many if not most of the medics were women.

As a petty officer, Hinata didn't have to share her small canvas tent. Laying her bedroll on the packed-down earth, she barely had the energy to remove her blade from her hip and her armor from her form. Finally, she lay down to sleep, aware that before the sun rose she'd be up and busy with training.

It was twilight in the Hyuuga compound. The sun had just sank beneath a slope, and servants were emerging to light lamps along the main pathways. Hyuuga Hiashi, father of Hinata, stood at the gate. His pale eyes were fixed on nothing, his hard face angled east. Footsteps signaled the approach of his nephew.

"I take it there has been no sign of my daughter?"

"Forgive me, uncle. I have been unable to figure out where she might have gone." Neji bowed his head in deference.

"For a Hyuuga, she is weak. But for a girl, she is strong. If she wishes to return, she will. Perhaps this is for the better. She has never been a suitable candidate to lead the Hyuugas."

"As you say, Uncle." Neji was glad that Hiashi was looking away. If his eyes had been on the youth's face. Perhaps he would have made out the simmering rage. For all that he pitied his weak cousin, Neji did not hate her. It was not her fault that her skills could not even equal those of her younger sister. That was just her fate.

"Neji, I must ask something of you now," Hiashi said, still not looking at his nephew. "War is coming. The Hyuuga house has no one to represent our name. Go and fill this spot, secure our position."

Neji's expression betrayed no emotion. He had expected nothing less. As the only male of age to join the army, it wa merely surprising that he had not been asked earlier.

"I will depart at first light, uncle." Neji turned, making to return to his room and gather his belongings.

"Neji…," Hiashi's voice stopped the boy in his tracks. "I would ask of you a favor. Do not let it distract you from your duties, but… please keep an eye out for my daughter. You are known to have good vision."

At this, Neji's eyes widened. Hiashi was a stern man. Never since the death of his wife had Neji heard him speak of personal matters.

"Of course, uncle."

Gaara had to wander nearly a mile from the camp before the noise had faded enough for him to find peace. Perched on top of a sandy hill, he stared at the half-full moon. The luminous moon, at such a stage, could have been waxing or waning; it's future was uncertain. Written already, but Gaara had not the tools to read it.

In the deep silence of the night, Gaara had time to think for the first time since the rising of the sun. He didn't know why his father had sent him here, on this journey. Perhaps it was another attempt to kill Gaara without directly commiting infanticide. Or was the situation really so desperate that even Gaara was needed, despite his flaws?

Tomorrow, Gaara would have to meet the soldiers under his command. He would have to learn their names and their abilities, and plan with them for battle. He would have to be the sort of leader that they would fight for- a leader that they would even die for.

No one had ever died for Gaara. Oh, they'd died because of him, all right. Often at his own hands. But the redhead had no idea of how to inspire loyalty. He knew that he should write to his one friend, the blond boy called Naruto. That one always managed to surround himself with friends; if he wasn't too busy in battle he might give Gaara some advice.

Subaku no Gaara sat on the hill, palms spread slightly behind him to brace himself. It was late and he was weary, but he knew that sleep would not come to him that night.

A/N: Hope you enjoyed! Next chapter should be up by Nov 5.