Of Foxes and Fireworks

Summary: Lost in enemy territory and their chakra sealed by a mysterious jutsu, they have no one to rely on but each other. NxH.

A/N: New story. I've accepted the fact that I will be hated for this fic, but altering ages isn't my thing. Sorry guys. This fic is lovingly beta'd by Amrun, and she does an excellent job of keeping my wild writing habits in line. Please R&R (Even if they're hate-filled comments of love)!

Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto.

Chapter 1

Light footsteps padded down the hallway of Konoha General Hospital, easily hidden among the frantic pounding of feet from the nurses and doctors rushing around her. Hanabi watched them move with disdain.

Even if they rushed, most of the shinobi they were attempting to treat would die anyway. Call her cynical, but she'd seen the injuries they had come in with. They'd be lucky to save ten of the two hundred or so shinobi that had been on the front lines of the attack by Hebi and Akatsuki.

Having collected eight of the nine tailed beasts, the group had apparently decided that that was enough to overthrow the shinobi world. The remaining tailed beast -- also known as the Kyuubi -- had proven nearly impossible to track down thanks to the efforts of Tsunade and the long deceased Jiraiya. However, they'd vastly underestimated the power of the strongest biju in existence.

With the entirety of Konoha backing him, nineteen year old Uzumaki Naruto had run headfirst into battle, attacking the monstrosity that had been created as a result of fusing the eight beasts together. With one mighty swipe of its hand, the monster could level mountains and create tsunamis -- or so the few shinobi that had survived the attack had said.

She herself personally hadn't been there. Being only a fourteen year old chuunin, the Hokage had assigned her and most of her classmates to defending the village from Akatsuki's worker ants. She had, however, felt it when Uzumaki Naruto unleashed eight of his nine tails to fight the beast.

According to the ones that had been there, the blond had ended the battle in minutes. He had all but turned into the Kyuubi himself, and with the help of the summoned Gamabunta, the two of them had torn the monstrosity limb from limb, once again releasing the spirits of the eight biju out into the world and ripping the Akatsuki's plans to shreds.

That was almost forty-eight hours ago, and shaking her head, she edged around a particularly large group of panicking nurses and headed towards the double doors leading out of the hospital. She couldn't wait to get out of this place. The smell of blood was really starting to get to her.

The only reason she was here in the first place was to check up on her cousin Neji. On the orders of her father, she'd braved the decimated streets of Konoha to make sure that her cousin was alright. He had been on the elite squad that'd personally escorted Naruto to the beast, and as a result, had received horrible burns from the Kyuubi's chakra.

To be honest, she was surprised that he'd even lived. When it first was announced that he was to be one of the five ANBU officers to accompany the nine tails, she was certain he'd be among the first to die. Not many could get that close to the battle of the century and live.

Neji's injuries hadn't been as bad as they'd made them out to be. His entire body – even his eyes – were covered in bandages, and it was easy to see that every hair on his body had been burned off; even the long, silky hair most of the girls in the village often swooned over. According to the Hyuuga nurse watching over him, though, he was expected to make a full recovery – save his hair – within a year's time. Not bad, if you asked her.

As she neared the doors of the hospital, a ghost of a smile began to make its way onto the girl's pale lips. She hadn't slept in at least a couple of days, and she was vastly looking forward to snuggling underneath the covers of her huge, king-sized bed. First, though, she'd have to take a shower. Then, she'd need a calming cup of chamomile tea along with a small piece of shortcake on the side. One couldn't sleep on an empty stomach, right?

"Hyuuga Hanabi, correct?" a loud, commanding voice asked, stopping the chuunin in her tracks. Hanabi froze. Right now, she had two choices. One, she could do the responsible thing and turn around to see what the Hokage wanted, or two, she could pretend she hadn't heard anything and continue on her merry way home.

With a reluctant groan, the Hyuuga slowly turned around to face the older blond. To her shock, the woman looked like she'd just walked out of hell. Her hair was greasy and frayed from days without washing, and her clothes looked limp and wrinkled on her thin frame. It was painfully obvious that she'd missed out on days of sleep. She herself probably didn't look too much better, but she had the advantage of natural youth on her side.

"Hai, Hokage-sama," she said, a slightly resigned frown on her face. Before she could blink, a small white package was roughly pushed into her hands.

"This is an S-ranked mission. Take this to the person waiting at the front gate." When Hanabi stared blankly back at her, Tsunade pointed forcefully at the exit and scowled. "Go!" Jumping a bit at the sudden order, Hanabi nearly ran out of the door in an attempt to get to the front gates as fast as she could. She wasn't used to being yelled at and ordered around in such a way, and she'd be lying if she said the buxom blonde hadn't intimidated her a little.

Just a little, though.

The smell of gunpowder and blood reached her nostrils as soon as she stepped outside, forcing her to take a hesitant step back. Although she'd never admit it under even the most gruesome and sadistic forms of torture, blood made her squeamish. She couldn't stand it – the smell, feel, taste, and even the sight of blood was enough to make her cringe in disgust.

She was fully aware that this was a bad quality for a shinobi to have, but as a Hyuuga, she didn't have to see a whole lot of blood. One chakra-enchanced strike to the chest was usually enough to take down even a jounin-level shinobi in seconds, and she was fine with the few nicks and cuts that the people on her squad usually received after a mission. Granted, she hadn't gotten anything past a C-Rank, but that was beside the point.

Using the rooftops as a quicker means of travel, she reached the front gate in a matter of minutes. She was surprised to find an ANBU officer already standing importantly in front of it, and other than a few smudges on his pristine white weasel mask, he looked no worse for the wear. Obviously, he hadn't been anywhere near the battle; more than likely, he'd been out on some other mission when Hebi and the Akatsuki had attacked.

Slowly approaching the man from behind, she held the white package out towards the black clothed man. "Hokage-sama ordered me to give this to you," she said, feeling more than a little uncertain of herself. First of all, she didn't know who the person in the mask was. The Hokage hadn't given her any indication as to whom she was supposed to be delivering the package to, and it was quite possible that the guy had been killed and replaced by an enemy. It was a longshot, but so was a man getting decapitated and still being able to talk trash.

"Let's go," he suddenly barked, taking the package and turning towards the gates at an easy stride.

Hanabi blinked once, twice, and then three times before his words finally registered in her mind. "What?"

"The Hokage sent you, didn't she? Let's go."

His voice held a very no nonsense tone, but she was tired – dead tired. Her eyes were already burning with fatigue (Or smoke), and she wanted nothing more than to pass out right then and there. There was no way in hell she'd be able to go on another mission right now! She angrily clenched her fists at her sides and raised her chin defiantly in his direction.

"Hold on! I was only told to deliver this package to you. She didn't say anything about accompanying you on a mission."

As if he hadn't even heard her complaint, the man fully turned around to face her. "You are crucial to this mission, and this mission is crucial to village security. You can refuse, but since you already accepted it, there's a strong possibility that you'll be imprisoned for treason – in the worst case, you'll be put to death. Your choice."

A small smile appeared on her face. Surely he was joking. She was a prominent member of the noble Hyuuga clan, the most powerful and prestigious clan in the village. Saying that she could be put to death for something she hadn't even agreed to was ludicrous. Unfortunately, something about his posture and general attitude told her that he was completely serious.

"Have you decided?" he asked, his voice annoyingly serious and cocky. It was as if he knew what her answer would be.

She stared up at his face in quiet anger, eyes narrowing in a futile attempt to intimidate him into being honest. "...Who are you?"

"Your squad leader. We're running out of time. Let's go. Now." Without even giving her the chance to respond, he once again turned around and easily hopped over the closed steel gate of the village. Not seeing any other option, she groaned and applied some chakra to her feet before running up and jumping over the wall right after him.

This would be her first time outside of the village since the attack, so it was to be expected that she'd be shocked by the carnage that lay before her. Never in her life had she seen such a horrible scene, and on reflex, she slammed her hand over her mouth in an effort to stem the flow of vomit coming up from her stomach. There was blood everywhere – on the ground, in the trees, splattered haphazardly on wall behind her, and on the dozens of dead bodies splayed about around her.

Even worse, she actually knew a lot of the dead Konoha shinobi. People that had been happy and smiling only a day before were now cold, decomposing and drowning in their own blood. She placed her other hand on her forehead, feeling the beginnings of a headache coming on. She couldn't take this much blood.

Unfortunately, her squad leader didn't seem to have a problem with it. "Hurry up," the man growled, body almost vibrating with impatience, "This mission is time sensitive." He instantly took to the trees, sprinting in the direction of Iwagakure.

After taking another couple of seconds to get a hold on her gag reflex, Hanabi followed behind him. "What is this mission about, anyway? Why do you need me? Where are we going?" He was going at a much faster pace than she could normally keep up with, but she was eager to get as far away from the dead bodies as possible.

"To an enemy encampment near the Rice Country border. We're rushing to retrieve a comrade that has been captured by the remaining Akatsuki forces. I need your eyes so that we can get in, find the target, and get out."

Hanabi frowned. She should've known. Whenever someone requested her for a mission, it was always because of her eyes. They never respected her other abilities, and honestly, it bothered her a little. On the other hand, this also meant that she never had a shortage of income. She could get a mission practically anytime she wanted – something not many people could attest to. She didn't need the money living in the Hyuuga household, but it was nice to have some spending cash whenever a pretty dress or pair of shoes caught her eye.

She watched his back in thoughtful silence, finding herself more than a little curious about who the man in front of her was. He had a very stern, commanding personality, a feature that she usually only associated with her father. She couldn't say much for his skill level, but somehow, she wasn't too worried about that. He seemed to exude confidence in himself and his abilities from every pore of his body, and being a Hyuuga, it was especially easy to pick up on this fact. Her eyes dropped to the man's weapons pouch, and suddenly remembering the item she'd given him earlier, she curiously raised her voice in his direction. "What's in the package?"

Without turning around, he answered. "Poison antidote."

"For the target?"

"We should keep all conversation to a minimum for the duration of this mission."

Hanabi's eye twitched in anger. First of all, she was doing him a favor by accompanying him on this mission. She was tired, hungry, and frustrated, but because of her duty to her clan and her village, she'd set that aside to help him. So what gave him the audacity and the right to tell her, in not so many words, to shut up.

To make matters worse, they were days away from the border. However, her squad leader showed no signs of slowing down anytime soon. It sort of made sense, but at the same time, it didn't. She could understand that the sooner they rescued their target and administered the antidote the better, but if they were too tired to fight – or even get to the target – what was the point? They'd be captured just like the person they were trying to save. Although she couldn't quite follow his train thought, she continued to keep up with his space. He seemed to know what he was doing.

They travelled at nearly full speed for six hours straight, jumping over bodies upon bodies of fallen shinobi. Funnily enough, the further they got away from Konoha, the fewer dead Leaf shinobi she saw. In fact, she was starting to see a dramatic increase in the amount of Iwa and Kumo ninja the closer they got to the border. She still felt sick to her stomach when she saw their decapitated, bloody bodies, but much less so than usual.

Unable to take it any longer, Hanabi stopped on the sturdiest tree branch she could find. She leaned forward on her knees and took long, heaving breaths, using her hands to keep her legs from shaking. "Let's stop here!" she shouted, hoping to get his attention, "It'll be nightfall soon, and I'm tired!" For a moment, she thought he hadn't heard him. Thankfully, he turned around and jumped back in her direction, stopping directly in front of her.

"Fine," he mumbled, sounding eerily exhausted himself. "We'll stop here. We covered a lot of ground today, so we should be fine on time."

Hanabi literally sighed in relief. He was human after all. For a minute there, she was starting to wonder what exactly was behind that white weasel mask of his. She hopped to the ground with a grunt, wincing at the weakness in her knees from all the running and jumping she'd done. She heard him land behind her with an equally loud grunt, and without even slowing down, he placed a hand on her shoulder to get her attention.

"Go collect wood. I'll build a fire," he said, leaving no room for argument.

The Hyuuga frowned. Call it a pride thing, but she really didn't like the way this guy was ordering her around. As far as she was concerned, the only two people who had the right to tell her what to do was her father and the Hokage. Not only that, but he was touching her. She didn't remember giving him permission to put his hands on her. So, mustering up as much courage as she could in her comparatively smaller body, she shrugged his hand off of her shoulder and turned to glare up at him.

"Excuse me? Since when is it my job to collect the firewood? Why don't I build the fire?" A tense silence developed in the clearing. She could literally feel his ire from his position in front of her, but it wasn't nearly enough to scare her. She'd dealt with this level of anger and annoyance from the branch members everyday of her life.

The man seemed to realize this since he nodded once and began to walk off into the forest. "I'll collect firewood, so you build the fire. Keep it small; there may still be enemy forces around."

Hanabi watched him go with a barely contained smirk. She'd admit it – she was satisfied with herself. She'd shown him that she couldn't be pushed around so easily, even if he was nearly twice her size. Shaking her head, she allowed herself to come down from her temporary high to get started on the fire.

She managed to get a decent fire going with the materials she'd found around the clearing, and leaning back on her hands, relaxed for the first time in what felt like years. Her body was tired from nearly three days of constant abuse, and sleep was the only thing she had on her mind right now. Despite her best efforts, a wide yawn escaped from her mouth. God, she was sleepy.

She looked up at the orange evening sky and sighed, forcefully blowing the bangs of her long dark hair out of her eyes. Sometime during their mad dash towards the Akatsuki camp, she'd managed to use the hair tie that normally kept her wild hair under control. She ran her fingers through her black locks a few times in a futile attempt to make herself presentable.

If she'd have known that she would be dragged along on a two-man search and rescue mission, she certainly would've packed some supplies: A couple of sheets, ration bars, a change of clothing – you know, the usual. As it was, all she had to her name were two or three kunai, a spool of wire, five shuriken, some explosive tags, and a couple of scrolls hidden in the pockets of her chuunin vest.

She was only vaguely aware of the light footsteps approaching her from behind, but she easily recognized them as those of her mysterious team leader. It was an odd sounding gait; almost like that of a really, really large child. He dropped an armload of firewood next to her meager flame before plopping down on the other side of the fire, staring at her from behind his cold porcelain mask.

"Are you hungry?" he asked, raising a dead rabbit for her to see. As if on cue, her stomach let out a loud, obnoxious growl, forcing her to blush slightly and look away. Without waiting for her answer, he set about the task of cleaning and dressing the poor forest critter, showing a surprising amount of cooking skill and finesse.

Of course, being a Hyuuga, she'd never really had to cook for herself. If their chefs didn't serve them supper, her older sister Hinata would insist on cooking her a traditional Eastern meal. Although she was a bit loath to admit it, it was one of the many qualities she admired about her Onee-san.

Speaking of which, she had yet to hear from her older sister. As a matter of fact, she had yet to see or hear from any of the original Rookie Nine. Granted, she wasn't out looking for them, but it was a bit strange that they hadn't shown their faces at all in the twilight of the battle. Perhaps they were sleeping; just like she should be doing right now.

"Here," the man said, holding out a stick with a large piece of rabbit meat on it.

She thought about thanking him for the food, but as far as she was concerned, he owed her this for dragging her along on this stupid mission in the first place. She positioned her meal over the fire and watched it cook, already drooling from the smell the tender meat was giving off. She normally wasn't a fan of outdoor cooking, but in this case, she could make an exception. It wasn't like they had anything else to it.

they sat together in a comfortable silence, neither of them particularly interested in talking to the other. Needless to say, that suited her just fine. She was used to ignoring her teammates on missions. Unless she was teamed up with Hinata, Neji, Kiba, Konohamaru, or Moegi, they all ignored her as well. It worked out perfectly.

"It's done," he said, snapping her out of her reverie.

She watched him remove his meat from the fire and hold it up to his face, curious as to how he was going to eat through the mask. She didn't have to wonder for long as he lifted his mask from over his face, revealing icy blue eyes and three prominent whisker marks. Her jaw dropped in shock.

"Uzumaki?!" she shrieked, face breaking its cool facade for the first time since they'd met. Out of all the shinobi she'd considered, Uzumaki Naruto – the container of the nine-tailed fox and the boyfriend of her older sister – was the last person she expected to see.

Without even looking in her direction, he took a large bite out of his meat and swallowed. "Keep your voice down. We haven't taken out all of the Akatsuki forces yet."

Unfortunately, his words did very little to calm her. "What are you doing here? You just took on eight of the nine bijuu! are you really fine enough to go through with this?"

"Finish your meal and go to sleep; we're leaving in five hours," he said, once again ignoring her questions.

Hanabi stared at him in barely constrained anger. "Five hours?! I've been up for days. I'm going to need at least nine or ten to be in any kind of shape to fight."

"You're a trained shinobi of Konoha. You should be used to working on minimal sleep."

It wasn't so much his words as it was his attitude that was bothering her. What gave him the right to order her around like that? How dare he act like he was better than she was? She'd heard all about him from her sister.

For one, he was an orphan. Sure, his father had been the Fourth Hokage, but it wasn't like he'd been raised by him. In fact, he hadn't been raised by anyone at all. Even after his parentage had been revealed, not much had changed. He received a bit more respect from everyone, but that was about it.

She could acknowledge that he was strong, but that was about the only thing he had going for him. Based on the few times she'd met him before, she had easily determined that he wasn't the sharpest kunai in the pouch. She'd even go as far as to say that he was an idiot. This was her first time accompanying him on an actual mission, but she doubted that he was any different out in the field.

So it came as no surprise that she felt righteous anger building up within her chest. She was a Hyuuga. While she didn't have the obnoxious Hyuuga pride some of the older clan members did, she still didn't take too kindly to being talked down upon by some orphaned civilian who was barely five years older than she was.

"What does my sister see in an asshole like you?" she spat, uncharacteristically allowing a swear word to slip out. She knew she'd instantly made a mistake when his eyes shot up to meet hers, a ferocious glint flashing around within his pupils.

"What did you say?" he asked, forcing the words out through grit teeth.

Feeling a bit put off by his attitude, she raised her chin and stared him straight in the eyes. "I said what does my sister see in an asshole like you?" The look on his face was almost enough to intimidate her – almost. However, she'd received much scarier looks from her father, and she'd be damned if she allowed herself to be frightened by some arrogant brat.

Just when she thought he was going to take her head off, he hung his head, took a deep breath, and stood up before hopping up into the nearest tree, leaving the remains of his dinner to decompose in the fire.

Hanabi couldn't help it – she smirked. Finally, he seemed to understand that she wasn't intimidated by a few harsh words and looks. She wouldn't allow herself to be pushed around just because he was a little bigger than she was. Feeling oddly satisfied in both mind and body, she curled up into a ball next to the fire and drifted off to sleep, glad to be getting some sleep after days of hard work.

Being the middle of fall, the weather only got colder and colder as the night wore on, and before long, she was literally shivering from the freezing wind around her. Since she hadn't been given a chance to prepare beforehand, the only protection she had against the vicious wind were the clothes on her back: A black wool long-sleeved shirt, a pair of long black pants, and her dark green chuunin vest: In other words, practically nothing.

After only four hours of sleep, her body decided to forcefully wake her up. She groaned in mental agony, feeling ten times worse than she had before she'd fallen asleep. She was cold, tired, and hungry – but worst of all, her team leader was nowhere to be found. She wouldn't be surprised if he was holed up in warm cave somewhere, bundled up with the thick blankets he'd undoubtedly brought with him.

She pulled the black sheet tighter around her thin shoulders, huddling as close to the small fire as she could. She had no idea what the bastard was planning, and –

Wait, sheet?

Hanabi stiffened in surprise as she ran her fingers over the thin cloth of Naruto's ANBU cloak. When had he given her this? She must have been more tired than she thought, since it was usually impossible for anyone – especially someone as loud as Naruto – to sneak up on her. The cloth hadn't done that much as far as keeping her warm, but she did appreciate the thought.

A light rustling from her left immediately set her on guard, and she carefully gripped one of her few kunai in her right hand. Her body relaxed when she saw the familiar tuft of blond hair in the firelight, and she nodded in his direction to show that she acknowledged his presence. Without even giving her a second glance, though, Naruto grabbed his cloak from around her shoulders and fastened it around himself, instantly leaving her bare and exposed to the icy wind around her.

"Good. You're up. Let's move. If we go full speed from here, we should be reach their base in a max of eight hours," he said, pulling his mask back down over his face. She stared at his back with a mixture of anger and awe. At this moment, she was more convinced that his cloak had accidentally slipped from his shoulders and blown over to her than that he'd given it to her.

"I cannot run full speed for eight straight hours. Six hours is my limit, and to be perfectly honest, I doubt I can even make three after so little rest." She could tell that he was annoyed by her complaints, but it served him right for being such a jerk. Just because she had to help him with this mission didn't mean she had to be completely cooperative.

"Then I'll carry you the last five. Now let's move." He took off into the trees, leaving her dumbfounded by his answer.

It was impossible. No one, no matter who they were, could run full speed for five hours with an extra ninety pounds on his back. Hell, even if they could, they'd be in no shape to do any fighting whatsoever.

She hopped after him at a much slower pace, intent on conserving enough energy to make it there without passing out. Predictably, Naruto complained the entire time. The bastard had even tried to forcefully pick her up a couple of times, something she was appalled that he had the audacity to do. She didn't particularly mind being touched, but she absolutely hated being forced to do something she didn't want to.

They neared the border in a record eleven hours, both of them close to coughing up a lung from fatigue. Still, she was glad to see that he was just as tired as she was. Just like she'd thought, he was bluffing when he said that he could run five hours with her on his back. She knew he was supposed to have limitless stamina – according to older sister, anyway, and she really didn't want to know exactly what she meant by that – but even Naruto has his limit. The guy had just taken on eight demons for Kami's sake!

"We'll take twenty minutes to rest before we start the infiltration. From the moment we enter the camp, I want your byakugan active at all times. If everything goes as planned, it shouldn't take any more than ten minutes. How are you on chakra?"

Hanabi scoffed. Ten minutes? Was he insulting her? If that was all he wanted her to do, she'd be pissed. After the hell she'd been through thanks to Akatsuki and Naruto, she was out for revenge. The only way she could get closure was to stop the hearts of two or twenty grubs. Before she could do anything, though, she needed to find out who she was looking for.

"Who is our target?" she asked, hands resting tiredly on her thin hips.

She couldn't see his face behind his white impersonal mask, but she could tell that something was wrong. He'd been exuding confidence and determination since they'd met at the front gates, but now, his posture took on an oddly defeated attitude. Huffing under her breath, she crossed her arms over her chest and frowned.

"Well?" She furrowed her brows when the man let out a noticeably forced breath and lifted his mask to look her straight in the eyes.