Disclaimer:

I don't own Naruto, they belong to Kishimoto. I wish I owned Naruto though, or at least had permission to write for the filler arcs. Then I could get this story animated. Credit is due to Bardsocko for inspiring some elements of the story.

Summary:

Someone has stolen invaluable artifacts from the Hyuuga compound. A team is quickly dispatched to overtake them, but can three Genin overcome a dangerous shinobi criminal before they reach Hidden Cloud? Worse, can Neji survive the temptation to destroy everything dear to him? Takes place sometime after the recent Konoha Eleven Filler Arc (and thus, anytime during the Filler Arcs) and before the Timeskip. Rated PG-13 for action violence and some light cursing.

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Winter had come early to the village of Konoha, and it had hit hard and fast as any taijutsu move. Though snow had, thankfully, avoided the small ninja settlement (an uncommon occurrence this early in the year, and this far south) the early evening air was frigid cold and the ground was slick with moisture. Not quite freezing, but dangerously close. Shinobi going or returning on early evening missions had to be extra careful where they landed in order to avoid mishap. Most non-shinobi were more content to stay bundled up inside, and even more than a few without missions disregarded training in favor of the blessed warmth of an open fire in their nice, warm apartments and homes.

Not-so-lucky were the students of Maito Gai.

A man gifted (though few others saw it as this) as seeing an obstacle as an opportunity, Maito Gai had requested his students be found for early evening conditioning exercises. They would battle and train in the freezing cold night, endure the icy winds and frigid temperatures, and emerge the stronger and tougher from it. The Springtime of Youth would allow them to overcome it. It had taken Tsunade herself to convince him (thanks to the pleas of Neji and Tenten) to at least hold their training sessions indoors, lest she wind up with three or four more patients suffering from pneumonia in her hospital.

So it was that Maito Gai found himself in the dojo of his beloved and most dear student, Rock Lee. Typical of their zeal, the two had come even earlier than their teammates to begin the afternoon with some light sparring. Now, the sun was just starting to set on the horizon, and Lee departed to find his teammates and bring them back.

"Ahhh," said Gai with a tear in his eye, watching his favorite student bound off into the foggy evening. "The Springtime of Youth is such a beautiful time..." he stated, then began to weep openly.

Any passerbys politely averted their gaze and kept on walking... perhaps a bit faster than before.

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Unable to find his teammate Tenten at her own dwelling, Lee turned his steps towards the grand Hyuuga complex to find his longtime rival Neji. Located on the far Eastern side of Konoha, the Hyuuga Clan owned it's own district, a small testimony to their wealth and influence in the Hidden Leaf Village. Not terribly surprising given their status as one of the first Clans to settle in Konoha. It was a walled off complex easily as big as some housing districts, all of them linked together.

"I do hope Neji is up and ready to begin training," stated Lee as he walked along. "Perhaps he is training with Hiashi-sama. Oooh, Neji, you are indeed a worthy opponent... so dedicated!"

Lee felt himself on the verge of crying as well at the thought.

He might've been much more disappointed to know that, Neji had finished an early dinner and left earlier to go out and collect his own teammates. At the moment, he and Tenten were making their way to Lee's dojo to meet up with their over-enthusiastic taijutsu sensei.

Unaware of this, Lee made his way into the compound, pushing open one of the nearby doors.

The courtyard of the Main House was, as usual, immaculate. Perfectly clean, not a dead leaf or plant in sight, everything was lovingly maintained by the Hyuuga caretakers (mostly Branch family, he recalled). The pond was frozen over, and the grass was damp with dew, but otherwise it was in perfectly pristine condition. A reflection, unfortunately, of the Hyuuga's themselves, though Lee would never say so aloud. They demanded nothing less than total perfection, everything was ordered and maintained, and anything they had no use of, like a bad weed, was removed.

Something was odd, Lee realized as he strolled inside.

It was deathly quiet. Normally, there should've been a little activity within the Hyuuga complex. A few of the Branch family up and about preparing for the evening meal. Or guards set up along the perimeter to protect the Main family and thus, the precious secret of the Clan, the Byakugan. But there was nothing. Not even a whisper in the wind.

Lee became alert instantly. He'd learned long ago never to ignore his instincts when they told him danger was near.

And he became doubly so when he found one of the Hyuuga's. One of their night-time guards, slumped over, unconscious. Lee leapt over, quick and silent as a shadow, pressing his fingers to the man's neck to find a pulse. Finding it strong, Lee concluded he was asleep. He found two more in similar condition. Unable to believe all of them fell asleep on duty simultaneously from exhaustion alone, the conclusion was obvious.

A sleeping jutsu.

Then he finally heard a noise. It was faint, like the sound of cloth rubbing against tile. A footstep on the roof. Very faint, almost unnoticeable, but Lee heard it. So he leapt upwards, grabbing the roof's edge with his hand and deftly flipped up atop of it.

There!

There was the intruder. No mistaking it.

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That very same evening, for entirely different reasons, Uzumaki Naruto, member of team seven, student of Jiraiya, and self-proclaimed future Hokage of Konoha, found himself making his way to the Hyuuga complex as well. It wasn't all that cold out for Naruto, though he couldn't quite say why.

Why was he visiting? Therein lies a tale.

Naruto's training had been becoming more and more intense lately as he prepared for his eventual conflict with the Sound to retrieve Sasuke. But with Jiraiya away to track the Akatsuki and Kakashi busy with A and S-rank missions, Naruto was finding it increasingly difficult to train under supervision. Thus, on occasion he wasn't careful about what he did to train, testing out a new technique on the spot, and often got injured as a result. So he'd become something of an in-and-out patient at the hospital, even though his wounds tended to heal quickly.

During his last trip, during his discharge, he'd remarked to Sakura that he'd received a few extra coupons for special, triple-flavor ramen at Ichiraku's, and wondered if she'd liked to join him for dinner. Unfortunately, she'd had to decline, she was tending to Ino at the time, who'd received a nasty cut across her nose from her last mission. However, both girls had then suggested an alternative to Naruto.

Ask Hinata to join him.

They'd both been surprisingly insistent (downright demanding), which continued to puzzle him even as he made his way to the main gates to the Hyuuga compound.

"Why Hinata?" he wondered aloud, holding up his coupons as if they held the answer. "Does she not get good food with Hyuuga dinners? Yeah, that must be it. Well, she'll really like these... no food in the world beat Ichiraku's Ram-... " he came to abrupt stop as Lee came crashing down onto the ground, narrowly missing Naruto as he slammed into the courtyard before him.

"What the...?!"

"Intruder," grunted Lee, rolling over and pushing himself to his feet, hardly even fazed by his impromptu flight. Naruto, his dinner forgotten as he tossed aside his coupons, readied himself as well as he glanced up and got a good look at the intruder in the rising moonlight.

It was a tallish fellow, his height further emphasized by the long, silver spikes of his hair, in a stylish reminiscent of Kakashi. Beneath them, two pale green eyes peered out at the two of them from a swath of blue war-paint. He was dressed in a black shirt and blue leggings trimmed in dark fur, and two swords (one long, one short) were strapped to his back, within easy reach. Normal ninja sandals had been replaced by heavy boots, also trimmed in fur. A long, waving headband was wrapped around his head, the metal plate on his forehead bearing three small dots that Naruto recognized as the crest of the Village Hidden in the Snow.

What the hell was Hidden Snow doing this far south? wondered Naruto. For that matter, what the hell was Hidden Snow doing anywhere? They should've all been disbanded after that incident up north with Princess Koyuki and their leader.

As he watched, the intruder slipped something into a satchel hanging at his side, though Naruto couldn't get a good look at it. It was too big to be a weapon. An item? Something stolen? Was this a thief?

"What happened to the guards?" shouted Naruto, as Lee and he leapt up to the rooftop to attack.

"Some sort of sleeping jutsu!" replied Lee, launching himself forward, feet first. "Konoha Seppuu!"

Lee's sweeping kick, however, was blocked by the intruder, who threw up an arm to counter it, then retaliated with a powerful blow to the slender boy's midsection, knocking him backwards onto the rooftop. Naruto, moving in quickly, eager to keep their foe off-balance, instead found himself off-balance and stepped on a particularly icy patch of roof tiles, slipping backwards and tumbling to the ground, very narrowly avoiding landing on his head.

"Owww..."

The intruder grinned, hands moving rapidly to form seals, as Lee leapt backwards to land on the roof's edge, bracing himself for whatever attack came. Whatever it was, he was sure he was ready for it. To block or dodge aside as was necessary.

He was wrong.

"Hyourou no jutsu!" called out the intruder, slamming his hand down on the rooftop. A blast of ice emerged from his fingertips and slid with astonishing speed along the tiles to catch Rock Lee, and then engulf him completely in it's icy grip. He barely had time to scream before his voice was frozen clean in his throat.

The intruder chuckled. "Love to stay and chat but I've merchandise to be sellin'... ta-ta for now," he said with a wave, holding his satchel close with his other hand. With great dexterity, he executed a graceful backflip off of the rooftop and out of the Hyuuga's complex. Within moments he was running full-tilt towards the East gate.

Naruto, seeing him escaping, loudly cursed and ran out of the courtyard to the main gate, bumping into Gai, Neji and Tenten as they came running in. Neji and Naruto, having both been in a hurry, slammed into one another and went crashing down into a small pile, before Neji irritably pulled himself to his feet, offering Naruto a hand.

"What's happening?!" asked Neji irritably, having heard the fight moments before they'd arrived.

Naruto climbed to his feet, accepting Neji's hand. "Someone broke into the Hyuuga place, I think they stole something," said Naruto. "They ran that way! And Lee's hurt, they used some kinda freaky jutsu on him!"

"Go after them," Gai instructed his students, turning back to the courtyard. "I will see to the Hyuuga's and Lee. Don't let that dishonorable thief escape..! Pound on him with the fists of justice!" he cried, even as he charged into the courtyard to save his charge.

"Understood," replied Neji. As one, he, Tenten, and Naruto took off and raced towards the gates. By the time they arrived they found Kotetsu, the gateguard for tonight... also flash-frozen in a solid block of ice. Whoever the intruder was, they were good. Especially if they could take on a highly skilled, chuunin-ranked individual in seemingly no time at all.

Then again, maybe they were just lucky. They'd taken Kotetsu by surprise and were running away, after all. Maybe it was just a lucky thief with some good tricks up his sleeve and little in the way of real power.

Or maybe not.

None-the-less, they had a duty to give immediate pursuit and hope that back up was on it's way. With little prompting the mix-matched team raced out of Konoha and after their thief.

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Author's Notes:

Snow Country and it's Snow Ninja were introduced in the first Naruto movie (and were enjoyable, for filler characters). I'll cover the relationship with the individual here shortly. And also, Merry Christmas to everyone. Enjoy this, my gift, to all of you.