Authors notes: Standard disclaimers apply. This is for Kii. Love and snowy antics, just for you.
The first frost came a week too early in Konoha, sending the last of the leaves from the trees falling with an undue timeliness—they usually lingered on well into winter. As was the order of unusual occurrences the snow came soon after, blanketing every rooftop of the village with an indiscriminate thickness and letting the citizens figure it out from there. It piled up in front of shops and the apartments and choked the streets with slush and it kept coming. One of the first places dug out was the Academy though, and so Umino Iruka was his normal position, and so his students, naturally, slouched in their seats with droplets of melted snowflakes in their hair and /complained/.
"But Iruka-sensei," the boy in the second row, third chair from the left argued. "It's snowing."
Iruka gave the matter a moment's thought, and heard the class hold a collective breath (quieter then they ever were during lectures, of course). He rubbed his chin, glanced at the door, and nodded. "Well," he said finally, clapping his hands together. "Be grateful to be in such a warm classroom!" The class groaned, and Iruka sympathized, really, but there was a lesson to be finished. Then the door swung open with a wall shaking crash that was enough to make half of the class start and the rest wake up certain they were under attack. Which they were--their assailant bounded down the stairs, trailing snow as he went.
"Oi," Uzumaki Naruto said, giving the old place a once over and grinning like the criminally insane. "There're still /people/ in here?"
The class was too stunned to launch into an uproar. Iruka stared. Naruto strutted down the rest of the way, a hand on his hip and his eyes alight.
"Smaller than I remember--Hey!" He perked. "Iruka-sensei!"
Iruka pinched the bridge of his nose. "Naruto," he said calmly. Because he remembered how this went. "What are you doing?"
Naruto tucked an arm behind his head and rolled a shoulder. "Busting your class out."
"I see." Iruka took a breath. "…How are you going to do this?"
Naruto's eyes narrowed and his face broke into a smirk. "Simple," he said. And chucked the snowball he'd been keeping in his hood. Iruka dodged it easily—he'd predicted this much from Naruto, but he hadn't expected the girl Memma from the first row to vanish in a puff of smoke, replaced by another cackling Naruto (feet up on the desk), and another snowball, this one bigger than his head, with a note attached to it that detonated exactly three seconds after it went airborne. It spattered spectacularly, and hit in the chuunin square in the face.
The rest went down in history.
"The hell are you guys waiting for?" One of the Narutos thought to holler. "Class dismissed!"
The place had never cleared out faster.
No one had shoveled the walkway that lead up to Lee's apartment, so the trip was a lot longer—and colder, than expected. Still, the fact that a path hadn't been blasted through by the passage of some fast-moving-probably-green-body was something of a comfort. Sakura let herself in like she always did, shaking out her coat.
"Lee!" she called as she toed off her boots. "It's still snowing out, I hope you're not planning to go-"
She stopped half in the process of squirming out of her sleeves.
Lee had pushed all of the furniture up against the wall, leaving a nice clear space where he was doing push ups, clearly oblivious of the fact that anyone had walked in at all. Sakura circled around quietly. He was sweating, and up to two hundred and six. His left arm was beginning to shake.
"—and seven." Lee looked up, and made it to two hundred and eight. "Ah, Sakura! I didn't hear you." Two hundred and nine.
Sakura covered a smile. "I didn't think so." She crouched down, and watched him for a moment. Two hundred and ten, two hundred and eleven. Then she shivered, the air was cooler on her shoulders than she'd expected, she drew her coat back up and frowned. "Um, Lee…"
Two hundred and twelve. "Mm?"
Sakura tipped her head suspiciously. "Did you turn off your heat?"
Thirteen. "…Yes." Lee said, a little meekly. Then straightened back up and brightened. "But only until five hundred!"
The ninja shouldered his pack at the gate. He'd been walking for the better part of the morning. Since before sunrise---or he gathered it was before sunrise. He'd lost track of time, and it wasn't as though he could watch the light appear over the horizon or feel it at his back on a day like this. It just got bright enough to see, and a little bit warmer. Not that warmth had ever been a problem for him. There was always something at least slightly flammable to be found out in the forest. Even in the snow—though that /had/ been an unforeseen obstacle.
He looked up at the village walls. It felt like forever since he'd last seen them.
Naruto came to a stop on a rooftop, and nearly fell to his death when his foot slipped. He peddled for balance, and dropped into a crouch, glancing left, glancing right, and glancing up, just in case. He was fairly sure he'd lost Iruka at least two blocks ago, but it was always safe to double check.
It was a mission well done. Tsunade would kill him. If Iruka didn't get to him first.
--And if /she/ could catch him in the snow. Naruto swung his legs over the ledge and sat back. It didn't seem likely. Naruto was sure he had at least five hours left to live, before either or caught up to him, and he wasn't about to let a minute go to waste. Blizzards didn't come often to Konoha. He'd been behaving himself too well the last few months anyway. Someone had to keep the right people on their toes, and his snowball skills were getting damn good.
Speaking of which…
"Hey, Akamaru. Whatcha got!"
Naruto leaned forward, eagerly. Inuzuka Kiba rounded the corner, Akamaru loping just a few paces ahead, both of their attention drawn low towards the ground, where Akamaru stopped at the curb and pawed frantically. Yipping like he was saying something—not that Naruto spoke dog. What mattered was Kiba, who did, bent over to get a better look…
"All right, you found it. Great job--"
Another person Naruto's age might have recognized the opportunity and, being a mature seventeen-year-old individual, might have classified it as 'too easy.' Naruto was, distantly, aware of this way of thinking, but there was 'too easy' and then there was 'too easy to pass up'—and like he'd ever fully understood the concept of maturity when he'd just liberated the whole of the Academy's graduating class.
He packed up the snowball and let her rip.
"You shouldn't be up, you know."
Hinata lifted her mug, and smiled. "I feel much better, sensei," she murmured. The red in her cheeks looked more like it came from a lingering fever than cold, but Kurenai took her former student's word for it. She nodded.
"That's good then. How's your sister?"
"Still in bed." The girl took a sip, and her eyes widened a moment at the heat. She pulled it back, fanning the top rapidly, wincing. "The worst is over though… May I bring some of this back with me? I think she would like it…" Kurenai supposed her expression must have shown a little too much incredulity, because Hinata shrank back, fingers tightening. "Um, nevermind--"
The woman raised a hand quickly. "No," she assured, covering her mouth, though the gesture was useless. Hinata of all people would realize she was trying not to laugh. "It's fine. It's just…It's only hot chocolate, Hinata. There's nothing special about it."
"I know. But we don't have it…" Her eyes trailed to the window, uncertainly. "Back…Home."
She'd been hesitating over that word for awhile now. Kurenai pursed her lips, and leaned back, tapping her nails against the table, thoughtfully. "Hinata," she began, seriously. "Are you still considering--"
The sound of the mug coming down was louder than either of them had expected. "Yes," Hinata said, and then looked down. Some of the chocolate had spilled over. "Oh, I…Sorry--!"
Kurenai stood. "I'll get it," she said, and went to the cupboard for a thermos while she was at it. "So you've made up your mind?"
"I think so. When spring comes." Hinata leaned back against her chair, pressing her heels together. "I mean…I…I just wanted to ask, though…."
The girl took another sip, another breath, and closed her eyes, the fingers of one hand curling around the wrist of the other as she made a desperate, obvious effort to collect herself. "Do you think it's cowardly of me?"
Kurenai came back with the thermos and the towel, and leaned over the table to mop up the mess.
"I think." She laid hand on Hinata's shoulder. The girl jumped, and looked up, eyes wide.. The woman stared back, and didn't see for a moment a slight, awkward thing with scraggly dark hair and large confused blood colored eyes, her chin tucked uncomfortably in an ugly grey-blue scarf. The eyes were white, and the scarf was missing—Kurenai had noticed /that/ with some worry when she'd met her at the door. The girl should have been shivering. "You couldn't do anything braver," she told her.
Kurenai gave her shoulder a
squeeze. "Don't worry so much, Hinata. Whatever your choice is, you're welcome
here." I'm already proud of you.
Hinata breathed out, finally. "Thank you, sensei." She looked like she wanted to say more, but the sound of a shout and a crash and a clatter from outside. She almost spilled the chocolate again. "Ah, what was--"
The jounin was already at the window to investigate. She gave it a good solid rap, and the snow fell away. She could just make out the distant shapes, out in the street.
She could recognize that indignant roar anywhere.
"It looks like Kiba's amusing himself."
A few choice swearwords filtered through.
"With Naruto," Kurenai reported dutifully, and smiled a little at the way Hinata straightened, suddenly on full alert.
"Kiba-kun and Naruto-kun?" Hinata said, looking concerned. "They're probably …"
"Freezing. Someone should do something about that."
Kurenai held out the thermos. "Here," she said. "Use it well." And don't stay out too long; she added silently, it wouldn't do for you to be getting sick again. Please, take care of yourself. I will be here later. There will be time.
"…I understand sensei."
With Hinata, Kurenai could always be assured the message had gotten to her.
Sakura didn't cook, but her mother did. When the first clouds had massed and the first flakes had fallen, her mother had taken that as incentive to "stock up!" and the result had been enough soup to fill several buckets. Sakura was thoroughly sick of it, but that didn't stop her from bringing some to Lee because while he /could/ cook, and very well, he just had a bad habit of forgetting some things. Meals were one of them. Restocking his fridge was another. Sakura wasn't surprised to find him down to one carton of milk, three old dumplings, and some sorry looking vegetables that were limper than Lee's dripping, drying hair.
"I'll get you groceries, tomorrow," she promised, draping the towel over Lee's head and giving a good thorough scrub. "There, that's better."
"Thank you, Sakura," Lee said, once it was safe to talk and she wrapped the towel—and a blanket, for good measure, the heat was only just coming back and he was only just out of the shower—around his shoulders, along with her arms, which she kept there for a moment. "I could do it myself, though. You shouldn't have to ah..." He trailed off into a coughing fit as she leaned her cheek against the top of his head. Well.
"I want to. Besides, it's not like I haven't already made the trip, mm? I had to get here, didn't I?"
"And if I hadn't," Sakura continued sweetly. "You'd have probably frozen to death—what the hell were you thinking, Lee?"
"I was training!"
There was no use arguing that point. It was simply a fact of life. "Training," she sighed, giving the towel another light ruffle. "You're doing better." He'd gotten to three hundred and seventy five.
"You think so, Sakura?"
"Yeah," she said, and tried not to think about how his arm had been shaking. "You looked better, I thought. C'mon." She pulled away. "Let's have lunch."
The soup, once heated up, wasn't too bad. At least not with company, Lee seemed to like it, but he always had something nice to say about her mother's cooking. Sakura sometimes wondered what her mother would say about him, but it hadn't, thankfully, come up yet. The day she'd gotten a hold of Sasuke and Naruto had been bad enough. 'I wanted to meet my daughter's teammates,' her mother had said, joyfully—Sakura tried to explain to her that no, mother, it didn't really work like that with ninja, but somehow she could just never find the words.
The Boyfriend Issue was out of the question.
Lee looked up, puzzled and spoon still in his mouth. "Ah?" he said. "That sounded like…"
Sakura waved him off. "Leave it, Lee."
"He's probably doing something stupid."
Naruto leapt down onto the nearest fence and just /ran/ along it, swallowing as he felt the shake of Kiba's added weight behind him. Well /hell/, he wasn't supposed to catch up that fast.
"It. Was. A Fucking. Joke!" Naruto sprung off of the end of the fence, and hit the opposite building. He caught the wall with his feet and a burst of chakra, ready to do some more patented running like hell no jutsu except a hand caught him by the back of his jacket from below. The nails dug into the fabric with a definite tearing sound.
"Ha. Ha." Kiba said, and pulled.
Naruto came down on top of him.
Kiba bit him.
The scuffle that ensued took out two trash cans and a ten foot swathe of snow in less than a minute.
"Oh, that was a pain cry, coming from Naruto," Sakura explained to Lee, who'd started to look mildly disapproving of ease with which she shrugged off her teammate's howl.
"Agh, get off!"
"But," Sakura continued. "It wasn't a mortal peril cry."
"…shit, watch it you bastard!"
"So," Sakura reasoned. "Given this is Naruto, and given the weather, and given I saw Iruka-sensei on my way here and he didn't look very happy—Naruto's probably just pissed off the wrong people again." She rested her chin on her folded fingers, and shrugged. "He has a habit of doing that."
Naruto spat out a mouthful of dirt and snow. "….Yanno," he said, panting and rolling over onto his back, propped up on his elbows and glaring at the other boy, who was picking himself up at the other end of the alley, Akamaru nudging him helpfully. "It's your own damn fault."
Kiba swiped at his bloodied lip, and glared, "How the hell do you figure that?"
"Well," Naruto slid up along the wall, smirking. "You make a good target."
The first answer was a snarl, low in Kiba's throat. "Eh?"
Naruto sucked in another ragged breath, and laughed. "You. Bent over like that. You were asking to get nailed."
"Huh," Kiba said. Even dumb dogs, it seemed, understood a bit of sense.
"You'd have done the same."
"Probably," Kiba admitted, advancing with his nails spread. Naruto buried his foot into the mess of slush left along the wall. Just a little bit more…
"And," Naruto said amiably. "You know what helped the most?"
Kiba grinned like a wolf. "What."
"Your. Big. Fat. A—Ah, oh. Hey Hinata!"
"So he'll be all right," Sakura finished with a smile. "It is Naruto, after all."
The registry was closed. He stood outside the door, breathing in the icy air and breathing out a sigh. Heh. Of course. He'd waited ten minutes, and already his tracks were beginning to fill behind him. He swore, turned, and retraced them back down to the street, one hand shoved into the folds of his cloak and the other tight and turning steadily bluer around the strap of his load.
"What the hell is this," he hissed. Bad enough, the power had been cut off in his apartment. Not a surprise but an annoyance. They hadn't honestly thought he'd return? Someone would die for that, he decided darkly, and reassessed the situation as it was. It seemed he would have to take a different approach—and camping out on the snowed swamped training grounds wasn't one of them, he decided.
When he heard the shout in the distance, from other side the village, he raised his head and stopped, just stopped ankle deep in mud and slush he was too tired exert the chakra to simply walk over.
"Hmm," he said. The twitch in his lips was automatic by now. As if it all wasn't enough....
It did give him an idea, though.
He bent himself against the wind, shook his hair out of his eyes, and moved on.
"Y-you might like something warm--"
"You sure you should be--"
"Aaaah, this stuff's good!" Naruto cut them both off, as he took a swig, and sat back. "Hinata, did you make this?"
The girl in question fiddled with her gloves. "Um, no," she said. "Kurenai-sensei, actually."
"Oh, huh. Well." Naruto grinned, wide and happy enough to make sure Hinata's blush was not entirely from the cold anymore. "Thanks for bringing it, Hinata."
"Yeah," Kiba said, looking off to a snowman across the street morosely. "Thanks." He snatched the thermos away.
"Dumbass. You'll drink all of it."
"Like you wouldn't--"
Kiba handed it back to Hinata. "Here," he told her, and shook his head when she raised her chin to object. "You're the one who's been sick."
The three of them had cleared off the first bench they'd found as best they could, and sat down. Naruto had immediately set out to take up as much space as possible, hooking his arms along the back of it and stretching his feet out as far as they could go. Kiba occupied the corner, one elbow slung up casually while he rubbed at his sore lip. Hinata sat between them, not so much for conversational reasons as it was to make sure they didn't go tearing for each other's throats again like she'd found them, though neither seemed up for another round, or really like they held it against one another at all. It was almost, she noticed, like they'd been having fun. Akamaru sat in her lap, happily pressed against her coat, his tail wagging as she stroked his head.
Naruto scowled. "Really?" He leaned over to peer at her, as though would be written on her face. "Really, Hinata?"
Hinata nearly spilled Akamaru. The dog gave a startled yelp. "It was just a little cold," she said too quickly and not thinking about how near his face suddenly was to hers no not at all. "Nothing, really, to worry about. I'm better now."
"Pah," Kiba said. "You were in bed for three days. And now you're not even wearing a…Oh yeah. Hey, Akamaru, where'd you put--"
"I got really sick once," Naruto mused. "When I was nine. It was a fever, or some crap like that. I was in bed for a week after Iruka-sensei yelled at me." His eyes had a faraway gleam. "It sucked," he concluded.
"A week?" Hinata asked.
"Yup! Missed a ton of classes, too. Ended up really behind. So don't get too sick, all right, Hinata? So you don't miss a mission or anything."
Hinata met his eyes, and nodded. "I won't." She said softly.
"Hey Naruto that reminds me," Kiba glanced up from rummaging through his coat front, pulling the dog treats out of the way. "About that. You flunked that year, right?"
Naruto gave him a /look/. "Well, yeah."
"You were nine."
"/Yeah/. I was kind of in your
"That's my point." Kiba yanked out a squeaky toy and handed it off to Akamaru. "Why the hell did they start a guy like you so early in Academy? I mean it's not like you were some kind of prodigy. You really, really sucked."
"Oh." Naruto scratched his whiskers idly, edging forward on his seat. "Fuck you. It was the old man's idea, I think." He gave a nod in the vague direction of the memorial—impossible to see, in that weather, but he knew its location by heart. "He had to do something with me. Guess he thought it'd straighten me out."
"By making you Iruka-sensei's problem."
Naruto's finger stopped along the top scar of his cheek.
"…Yeah," he said after a moment, eyes bright. "By making me Iruka-sensei's--"
The hand clamped down on his shoulder, from behind.
"—Problem. Uh. Hi, Iruka-sensei."
"Hello, Naruto," Iruka greeted with a charming sort of menace. "I've been looking for you. I seem to have found you."
Naruto laughed, nervously. "Guess so! But, uh, Iruka-sensei?"
Naruto's voice suddenly came from off to the right and from the top of a streetlamp, where he was crouched, with a hand over his eyes. He looked puzzled. "…What are you doing to that snowman?"
Kiba blinked. Hinata squeaked. Akamaru whined. Iruka, with a deep world weary sigh, resigned himself to the inevitable and looked down. His hand had suddenly gotten very, very cold.
"Oi, Hinata! See ya around, allright? And Kiba? Your fat ass made you the /perfect/ target! See you around, too." And with that, Uzumaki Naruto did a back flip off of the streetlamp and was gone.
The snowman's head rolled off.
Two bowls of soup, and four hundred sit ups—each---later, Sakura gave the door a good kick, it creaked, and shook, but it didn't budge. They were, quite thoroughly, snowed in.
Lee observed the situation with his arms folded and a calculating expression.
"You know," he began. "I could…" He made a vague gesture.
Sakura stepped back, and dropped her arms. "No," she sighed, running a hand back through her hair. "Don't break your door for me, Lee." She turned, facing him. Outside she could hear the wind howling, it had picked up the last few hours.
"Ah, I don't know if the window…"
"Not trying the window."
Sakura stretched, and took off her coat. "I think I'll be staying the night," she said, sensibly and sheepishly. Lee's eyes went big, and she supposed it was the sort of opportunity one was supposed to take advantage of, so she took a step forward, popped up onto her toes, and closed a certain distance she was beginning to memorize. "Is that allright?" She murmured, against his cheek.
And somewhere in the stammering that followed, she was certain she heard a breathless 'Yes'.
It wasn't that the silence was awkward. It wasn't that he wasn't used to it. It was just that Kiba wanted to say something, and somehow it just wasn't coming out. It had something to do with Naruto, maybe, about what a dumbass that guy was, but Hinata was still looking off the way he had vanished, and Kiba just didn't have the heart to even curse after him when he'd made his escape, and Iruka had made chase. He'd just have to jump him the next chance he got.
He still had his hand down his jacket. His fingers brushed something soft.
"….I found your scarf."
Hinata's eyes trailed back to him—something he'd learned was actually more for his benefit than hers. She might have been watching him the entire time in profile and he never would have realized. Kiba knew better though. He stood, and pulled the thing out. "I mean, Akamaru found it. I just kinda…Uh. Here." He leaned over, and looped it around her neck, keeping his attention on his hands instead of her face. Since he already knew her eyes were as white as the goddamn snow and kind of pretty, too. At least on her. "If you wear it like this, it won't blow away so easily."
She didn't say anything, but he knew she was staring as he tucked the ends of the scarf into the collar of her coat and stepped back, shoved his hands into his pockets. He never wore gloves, after all. They always got caught in his nails and who needed them, anyway?
"…Thank you." she said. She sounded like she was smiling. .
"Eh, no problem." Kiba ground his boot into the snow. Good packing snow, perfect for snowballs, he could see where Naruto was coming from. "Want me to walk you home or something? Just so you don't get lost."
"Home…" When Kiba finally looked, he could have sworn her eyes had flickered briefly, darkly. It only lasted a moment, though. Then she was simply smiling again. "Home. Yes, Kiba-kun. I would like that very much."
Naruto crawled back to his building late. His head hurt (Iruka had caught him) his stomach hurt (Iruka had also bought him dinner), and generally he felt the day had gone out pretty damn well. He hauled himself, shivering joints, wet hair and all up the stairs and down the row of apartments, counting them off as he dug his keys out of his pocket, paused to rest his shoulder against the door and laugh a bit. He almost fell over when it opened.
He hadn't even gotten the key in yet.
He grabbed the frame to catch his balance, and looked up. What the hell—
Uchiha Sasuke was standing on the other side.
There was a certain quality to snow that made everything quiet, and Konoha was no exception, though Naruto's voice could also carry remarkably well, there was no sound except his breath, and Sasuke's breath, and the low hiss of heat escaping--like a thermal had been cranked up right there in the doorway.
The moment passed.
"You're early," said Naruto.
The Uchiha's hand seared as he caught him by the wrist.
"So what." said Sasuke, before he pulled him in. "Welcome home to you, too."