Of Foxes and Fireworks
Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto.
"I ... I think you've got the gist of it," Naruto gasped, chest heaving as he struggled to catch his breath from the ground. His sweat-soaked bangs stuck to his forehead, and dirt marred every surface of his body.
"Really?" Hanabi asked. "I don't know, I think I need more practice. Here, let me try it again." She couldn't help the small, mischievous grin that spread across her face as she spoke. After being thrown around the clearing for two days straight, it was finally her turn to demonstrate what she'd learned on him.
Needless to say, she was having fun.
"C'mon, Sparky, give me a break. We've been practicing the same throw for over an hour now!" he groaned.
Frowning down at his exhausted form, the Hyuuga reluctantly dropped her shoulders. "Fine, if you're going to whine about it." She suddenly straightened her shoulders and put on another wide smile. "On to the next throw, then!"
Naruto groaned again, picking himself up off the ground for the hundredth time that day. While he was tired, dirty, and throbbing all over, he couldn't help but feel a bit of pride at how quickly she was picking up the concepts and techniques. At this rate, she'd be a proficient fighter within a couple of months.
That didn't mean he was willing to risk breaking his neck by allowing her to toss him around the clearing, though.
"Actually, we should probably stop here. It's already late in the afternoon, and I don't know if I can take another hard landing."
Hanabi's frown deepened. "But we're almost done! I only have to do two more throws, right?"
"What's the problem? It shouldn't take too long."
Naruto stared at her wide, excited eyes with dread. Somehow, he knew this would happen. When he'd taught the basics of jujutsu to Hinata, she had practically run him into the ground, and that was with his healing factor, chakra, and body not feeling like complete shit.
A dull ache resounded in his chest as he thought of Hinata. He couldn't go a day without thinking of her smiling face and bright, pale eyes, and even worse, he couldn't go an hour without seeing her features in Hanabi. It was almost like Hinata's ghost was haunting him through her younger sister, constantly blaming him for allowing her to die. Luckily, the sharp snap of a twig breaking in the distance was enough to break him out of his dark musings.
"You two're hard at work, I see," Sasame grinned, walking into the clearing. Her long red hair was covered by a beige bandana, and a large brown sack was slung over one shoulder.
"Sasame-chan! You're back!" The blond rushed over to the woman with a far too wide smile, putting as much distance between himself and Hanabi as humanly possible. "Were you able to get everything? Want me to take that for you? It looks heavy, and you're probably tired after all that traveling."
Sasame lifted her eyebrows and glanced between Hanabi and Naruto, a mildly confused frown marring her face. "I...guess?" she murmured, handing him the bag. Before Hanabi could stop him, he nearly ran up the steps of the shrine to deposit the items inside.
Frowning, the redhead turned to look over at Hanabi. "What did you do to make him run off like that?"
Feeling slightly put off of by the sudden accusation, Hanabi matched Sasame's frown with one of her own. "I didn't do anything. We were just finishing up our training when you arrived."
"Right," Sasame huffed, crossing her arms underneath her chest. "Just don't forget that he's your sister's boyfriend."
The Hyuuga recoiled as if she'd been shocked. She had an inkling of what the woman was trying to imply, but no matter how she thought about it, she couldn't see how the implication applied to she and Naruto at all. If anything, their relationship was that of a senpai and kouhai. The thought of them being anything more literally made her sick.
"Excuse me? Why would I forget that?" she asked, feeling anger begin to boil in the bottom of her stomach.
Rather than answer, the woman sniffed and turned to walk up the stairs to the shrine, leaving a confused and angry Hanabi in her wake.
The Hyuuga tightly clenched her fists. Logically, she shouldn't be so upset. Logically, she should've just brushed the comment off as the ramblings of a decrepit, lonely old woman. However, logic hardly applied to this situation.
Not only was Sasame insulting her, but she was also insulting her sister, clan, and her entire upbringing. Common sense taught her that there was nothing lower than stealing the lover of another person, especially the lover of a friend or family member. Besides, she had way too much respect for her Onee-sama to even consider entering a relationship with Naruto.
Fully intending to give the older kunoichi a piece of her mind, Hanabi stomped up the stairs and into the living area of the shrine––only to see Naruto and Sasame laughing about an old story as they set out the equipment needed to dye his hair. His smile stretched from ear to ear, and he looked far too happy around that two-faced snake of a woman. Even though she hadn't forgotten about her Onee-sama, it seemed that Naruto had.
Surprisingly enough, Naruto actually turned to look at her, giving her the same wide smile that had been directed towards Sasame.
"Hey, Sparky, you go ahead and take a bath first. I ran some water earlier, and I just got the fire going about five minutes ago. It should be warm enough in a little while."
As soon as he'd turned his narrow, bright eyes on her, Hanabi felt all of the anger she had carefully amassed leave her system. She stood awkwardly in front of them for a few seconds, debating whether or not to call Sasame out. She'd hate to bring down his good mood, and that bath did sound awfully inviting...
Finally deciding to let it slide this one time, she nodded her head and sent him a tiny smile of thanks before turning around and walking towards the bathroom.
"I really worry about her sometimes," Naruto sighed, watching the thin girl disappear around the corner. He was so caught up in watching Hanabi leave that he completely missed Sasame's sudden frown.
"Why? She seems perfectly fine to me." Sasame grabbed his shoulders and forced him to sit down in one of the kitchen chairs. She then wrapped a dark towel around his neck to begin the dying process.
"That's exactly it. Something...happened about a week ago. I was expecting her to be a lot more upset about it than she was," Naruto mumbled, wincing slightly at the coolness of the black dye against his scalp. He felt the familiar tingle of chakra seep into his body, and glancing up at the mirror hanging on the wall in front of him, he watched amazed as the ink slowly began to turn his hair a midnight black.
Sasame ran her fingers through his black streaked blond hair, working to spread the dye all throughout his hair. "If you mean crying, she did plenty of that."
The room was quiet for a few seconds as Naruto struggled to comprehend her words. "What?! When?!" he suddenly exclaimed, almost standing up out of his seat.
She placed her hands on his shoulders and pushed him back down into the chair. "When you two first got here. She bawled her eyes out for two days straight."
The silence that followed her words was deafening. Naruto seemed to literally freeze beneath her hands, and the vicious scowl that spread across his face was almost enough to scare her.
"Shit," Naruto hissed, eyes narrowing into slits.
"Why are you angry? Most guys would be pleased to have a girl crying over them."
"She wasn't––" he started, but quickly shut his mouth.
"––Crying over you. I kind of figured that." She leaned his head back over the sink and began to wash his hair, massaging his scalp with her long, thin fingers. "Does it have something to do with your girlfriend?"
Although it was barely noticeable, Naruto suddenly tensed up, instantly affirming Sasame's suspicions.
"So it does," she murmured, a small frown appearing on her face.
"It does. Don't be so distant, Naruto-san. If you'd like, you can tell me all about it."
"I'm fine. More importantly, will your clan put us up for a week or two?" he asked, obviously attempting to change the subject.
Sasame frowned again but answered, smearing a little of the leftover dye onto his eyebrows. "Banchou says he owes the late Jiraiya-sama a few favors, so he'd be glad to have you for as long as you like."
As if their previous conversation had never happened, Naruto grinned widely and craned his neck to look at her. "That's great! Are you fine setting off tomorrow morning?"
"If you'd hold still and let me finish your hair, sure." She roughly tousled his hair with the towel for another few seconds before standing back and admiring her handiwork. "Done! What do you think?" she asked, placing her hand on his right shoulder.
"It looks amazing. You really are good with hair, Sasame-chan," Naruto said, angling his head to get a better look. If he didn't know any better, he'd say that he was born with black hair.
"We look pretty good together, don't we?" Sasame smirked, leaning over his shoulder and placing her head next to his. Her long red bangs brushed against his whiskered cheek, tickling the sensitive flesh and causing him to also put on a small smile.
"The bath is free," Hanabi said flatly, glaring at them from her place in the hallway entrance. The loose, beige shorts she wore hung halfway down her calves, and her dark green clad arms were crossed tightly over her chest. She was interested to see how he'd try to reason his way out of this one. To her surprise, he didn't even try to explain himself.
Naruto stood up and stretched, ruffling his newly dyed hair. "Thanks. What do you think of my hair?"
The chuunin blinked and averted her gaze, a little caught off guard by the question. Was he fishing for a compliment or did he really want her opinion? Then again, it didn't really matter either way since it wasn't like he'd re-dye his hair just because she didn't like it. "I...I think it suits you," she murmured, figuring that answer to be satisfactory.
The raven-haired man's grin widened. As he passed her on his way to the bathroom, he placed his hand on her head and turned it towards the redhead. "You should let Sasame-chan fix you up, too. She's really good with this kind of stuff."
Frowning at the young Hyuuga, Sasame motioned for her to take a seat in the hard, wooden chair that Naruto had been sitting in previously. "Take a seat."
"Why?" Hanabi glowered, eyes glaring hard into Sasame's own.
"You heard Naruto––your hair is atrocious. You look like a drowned sewer rat," Sasame said, pointing towards the mirror she and Naruto had been gazing into prior.
Hanabi glanced at the mirror on the wall and blanched. Now that she thought about it, she hadn't combed her hair since she'd left Konoha, and she hadn't had a haircut in almost a month. Coming to terms with these facts, she reluctantly walked over to the chair and sat down. "Don't mess anything up."
The redhead sniffed and reached for a pair of scissors, beginning to clip the edges of the brunette's hair. "I cut the hair of the girls in my clan all the time. I think I can handle a simple trim."
Sasame cut Hanabi's hair in awkward silence, every now and then using a comb to work out any knots or tangles.
Even though she was loathe to admit it, the Hyuuga had to admit that Sasame seemed to know what she was doing. The expert way in which Sasame handled her hair reminded Hanabi of her own personal hairdresser back in Konoha; well, before the old woman was crushed by a building during the Akatsuki's attack, anyway. Just when Hanabi was starting to relax, the woman coughed and began to speak.
"So, do you have a boyfriend back home?" she asked, trying to sound as casual as possible.
Hanabi groaned inwardly. Of course. Lull her into a false sense of security and camaraderie before ambushing her with seemingly harmless questions. It was basic shinobi tactics. "I don't see how that's any of your business."
"Just trying to make conversation, no need to be so uptight." She was quiet for a few seconds before speaking again. "What's your sister like?"
"Better than you'll ever be," the chuunin mumbled, crossing her arms over her chest.
Sasame narrowed her eyes. "Really now?"
"And just what makes her so great?"
Hanabi's posture noticeably straightened, and she lifted her chin to respond. She didn't mind answering this question if it'd show Sasame just how little chance she had with Naruto. "If you must know, she's kind, beautiful, and good at everything. She had a lot of friends, was an excellent shinobi, and she used to help me comb my hair every night so that it'd stay long and straight, and––"
An especially loud snip from the scissors killed Hanabi's words in her throat.
The Hyuuga froze. "Oops? You...my..." she stammered, reaching up to touch the back of her head. The long, dark tresses that used to flow down her back now stopped at the area just above her shoulders. "You cut my hair!"
Sasame stepped back and held up her hands, a bit surprised at the amount of rage emanating from the thin girl. Hanabi's face looked like something out of a horror movie, and the way her body trembled made it seem as though she was about to explode any second. "It was an accident!" Sasame said, eyes sliding around the room in search of an escape route.
Unfortunately, the woman's words fell on deaf ears. "You bitch! You did it on purpose!" Before Sasame could react, Hanabi was on her. Using one of the throws she'd been practicing fervently with Naruto for the past few days, she flipped the larger woman onto her back. Without even giving her a chance to get up, Hanabi wrapped her tiny hands around Sasame's neck.
"Get off of me!" the woman screamed out between breaths, eyes wide and hands clawing at the smaller girl's face in an attempt to free herself. Her efforts were in vain, though, as the Hyuuga's grip was iron clad around her neck. Despite her size, she was ten times stronger than she looked.
Hanabi was so caught up in trying to strangle Sasame that she didn't see Naruto rush up behind her, naked except for a white towel tied loosely around his waist.
He looped his arms underneath hers and pulled her away from the gasping redhead, surprised by the amount of strength the petite girl had. He was actually having a bit of trouble holding her back. "Hanabi! What the hell are you doing?!" he shouted, struggling to get some distance between the two females.
"Look what she did to my hair! The hair that Onee-sama..." Before she could even finish her sentence, Hanabi broke down into tears. It didn't take long for her face to become messy with tears and snot, and the edges of her eyes were tinted a bright red.
Naruto's frown deepened. His eyes traced the jagged, uneven spot where Sasame had cut Hanabi's hair before turning to glare at the woman still struggling for air on the ground. "Sasame."
"I told her it was an accident, but then she suddenly attacked me!"
Naruto sighed loudly, glancing between the two kunoichi with something akin to exhaustion. While Sasame was a very good actor, there was no possible way that it could've been an accident. An accident is cutting off one or two inches; Sasame had cut off at least eight. He smiled tightly and threw a cautious arm around Hanabi's shoulders. "Stop crying, it's not so bad. It'll grow back before you know it."
Despite his words, the girl's sobs only increased. Her body began to shake and tremble against him, and her arms slowly slid around his waist for support.
Sighing again, he wrapped his other arm around her, pressing the side of her head against his bare chest. "Tears don't suit you. Besides, I think you look cuter with short hair."
"I don't see what the big deal is," Sasame mumbled, scoffing at the exchange.
"Then, would you be alright with Hanabi cutting your hair?" he asked, voice light but with an obviously dangerous edge.
Sasame's face noticeably paled. If the Hyuuga were given half a chance, she'd shave her head bald. Looking between Naruto's frown and Hanabi's tear-streaked face, she felt guilt began to well up in her chest. "Come over here and I'll clean it up for you," the redhead mumbled, avoiding the man's scowl.
Hanabi's head snapped up to look at Naruto. She was confused. She'd never had anyone stick up for her so fiercely. Even though he'd known Sasame for apparently much longer than he'd known herself, he instantly believed her over the older woman.
With a little push from Naruto, she slowly let go of his waist and walked over to sit back down in the chair. She didn't trust Sasame, but if Naruto thought it was okay, then it probably was.
The girl stared down at the clenched fists resting in her lap, doing her best to make sense of his actions. Most people would side with their friends even if they were wrong. Was he really just that honest of a guy?
She glanced up to see Naruto watching them intently, and when he noticed her looking at him, he grinned and shot her a wink. Despite her best efforts, she couldn't help the pink blush that spread across her cheeks.
She could understand a little more of what her sister saw in Naruto.
Surrounded by nearly a quarter of the Fuuma clan, Naruto, Sasame, and Hanabi stood before the clan leader.
It had been a surprisingly short trip from the shrine to the town––mostly because they'd managed to hitch a ride on the back of a passing sales cart. While they'd initially been worried by the large number of Akatsuki grunts walking the streets, it soon became apparent that their plan was actually going to work. Hanabi had been right when she'd said that no one actually knew what he looked like without his blond hair, blue eyes, and whisker marks.
Hanabi looked around at the clan members with a small bit of apprehension. She wasn't scared of the men by any means; the tattoos, muscles, and glares were nothing she hadn't seen before. However, since she'd be in their care, she was wary of whether or not they could actually be trusted.
"Welcome, Takeshi-san! It's been a few years, huh?" the clan leader grinned, large, calloused hand resting on his waist.
"Fuuma-sama, it's nice to see you again," Naruto said, bowing lowly at the waist.
The man frowned and placed his hand on Naruto's shoulder to lift him back into a standing position. "Fuuma-sama? No need to be so formal. Hanzaki is fine."
Naruto grinned and bowed again. "Then, Hanzaki-sama. Thank you for your hospitality."
"Not at all. It's the least we can do to repay you for your help in the past." He turned to look at Hanabi with a curious expression, eyes running over her soft, pale features. Her black hair and brown eyes made her look identical to Naruto, and though he had a good idea of what her cover was supposed to be, he figured it'd be prudent to ask anyway. "Who's your companion?"
Naruto grinned and placed his hand on top of Hanabi's head, and much to her annoyance, he playfully tousled her bobbed hair. "Ah, this is Aiko-chan! She's my cute little sister."
Hanabi stepped forward and bowed her head, short black hair covering her scowl at being called "cute." "Thank you for your hospitality, Hanzaki-sama."
"Nice to meet you, Aiko-chan. Please, make yourself at home." He turned to the redhead standing on Naruto's other side. "Sasame-chan, show them to their rooms. Also, I'll entrust the care of our guests to you."
"Hai, Banchou." She motioned for them to follow her out of the room, shooting a frown towards the still-glaring men in the room.
"You guys have really fixed the place up," Naruto said, brown eyes taking in the remodeled white walls of the mansion. The furniture looked brand new, and there were beautiful women lounging everywhere––to the extent where even his eyes were beginning to wander. A sharp jab in his side from Hanabi quickly made him snap his eyes forward again with a small, embarrassed cough.
"Like Banchou said, it's thanks to you that we were able to become actual shinobi again. With Orochimaru dead, it wasn't too hard to regain control of the Rice Field Country." She paused momentarily to frown. "Although recently, Sasuke rebuilt Orochimaru's old hideout and decided to settle down. Luckily for us, he isn't really interested in taking over these lands."
Naruto face dropped a bit at the mention of Sasuke. "I see."
Noticing his sudden frown, she lightly nudged his shoulder. "Oh, it's not as bad as you think. The guys that actually patrol this area aren't particularly skilled, and we do still run things around here for the most part. Ah, Takeshi-san, here's your room." She stopped in front of a wide, wooden brown door, pushing a small key into the doorknob to open it.
Both Naruto and Hanabi gasped at the size of the bedroom. There wasn't much inside of it besides a dresser, desk, lamp, chair, and futon, but it was still an amazing room regardless.
"It's huge! We can't accept this much generosity," Naruto nearly gasped, backing away from the door.
"Would you stop being so modest? If Banchou said it was fine, then it's fine. Besides, my room is right next door, so if you need anything you never have to walk far." She led them down the hall and threw open another door. "Here's your room," she said, glancing over at Hanabi.
The room wasn't quite as big as Naruto's, but it was close. The only difference between them was that hers had flowers and a larger window. However, this didn't make either of them happy.
"Why's it so far away from Na––Takeshi's room?" Hanabi frowned.
Sasame's face also fell into disappointment, a bit insulted by the question. "It's the only other open room in this wing."
"That's too far. I'd prefer it if Aiko-chan stayed in my room," Naruto insisted, placing his hand protectively on Hanabi's shoulder.
"Are you serious?! You can't do that! You two are––"
Before she could finish her sentence, the man quickly cut her off. "Brother and sister. This room is big enough for the both of us, so there shouldn't be a problem."
Sasame's mouth tightened into a thin line. "Fine, do what you want. Dinner's at six." She walked out of the room with barely a second glance, annoyance clearly visible in the way she moved.
Hanabi couldn't help it; she smirked. The look of frustration on Sasame's face was positively priceless. She was a little apprehensive about sharing a room with a male, but she trusted Naruto. She honestly couldn't believe she was thinking it, but she trusted him.
"What're you smiling about, Imouto-chan?" Naruto asked, setting down what little luggage he had on the floor.
Quickly dropping her smile, she also set down her second hand clothing. "I'm just happy to be staying in an actual house again. It reminds me of home."
"Oh. Well, after we get settled, how about we find the dojo and get some training in? We can probably finish up throwing today if you do well."
"Really?" Hanabi asked, looking up at him with shining, doe-like brown eyes.
Naruto smiled and placed his hand on her head. It was almost endearing how excited she got about training. "Yup, but only if you do well. The sooner you can fight without me, the better." He dropped his hand to her shoulder and walked her towards the door, the corners of his mouth twitching towards the ground.
AN: Thanks to Amrun for betaing!