Title: Born of Fire

Claimer/Author: This story is written by and belongs to Emmy Kay.

Pairing: Hinata/Naruto

Summary: As a firefighter, Naruto knows how to keep his cool in any situation. So how's the cute new cook making him hot under the collar? NaruHina. Rated for heavy innuendo and bad double-entendre. Goony, fluffy, AU wackiness. Submitted to Perpetual159's Dattebayo challenge.

Disclaimer: Naruto and all affiliated characters belong to Kishimoto Masashi. This story is written without permission and for personal/fan/nonprofit entertainment purposes only.

Personal note: I've always loved firefighters – and when I was a volunteer EMT, I've had opportunities to see them at work up close. It is truly inspiring, and they are real heroes. (Besides, who doesn't have a thing for the men with the big hoses? You heard (read) me. Yes, it's going to be that kind of story. You have been warned.)

Ch1 – Scars.

It was a beautiful early summer day; the sun shining from the heavens, fat fluffy clouds drifting by in a blue blue sky, the birds chirping in the trees. Just perfect.

It was quite possibly the worst day of her entire life. Make it the worst week. Ever. Hinata Hyuuga was single, unemployed and living with her father after having quit her latest in a string of dead-end jobs. And today....Today she was standing up as a bridesmaid in her perfect little sister's perfectly enormous garden-style wedding. And acting like it was the most fun thing to do. Ever.

Hanabi did look wonderful. But honestly, how Hanabi could pick a dress so wonderful for herself, and simultaneously pick such hideous dresses for her bridesmaids boggled the mind. All the bridesmaids had the same basic design, of course, but in a rainbow of primary colors, each of which caused the wearer to look either vomitous, bilious or saturnine. It was truly remarkable.

Unless, of course, you went with the theory that it was all previously planned. Hinata didn't want to. She wanted to be charitable. She really did. She loved her little sister. She really did. But sisterly affection had to draw a line somewhere – and apparently, sadly, for her, it was somewhere a little past this point. Because she knew she would go farther for Hanabi. But not much farther. She didn't think so, anyway.

And yet there was the dress. This could be the line. The idea that she would be staring at pictures of it for the next thousand years might actually be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Hinata's bridesmaid dress was truly breathtaking. Hers was a dress so orange that it could make the eyes of an orangutan bleed, with black trim that emulated the flaming swirl of the Hyuuga family crest, and a number of black bows marching down her back in ever-increasing size - with the largest sewn right over her normally rather large posterior - making it look like her rear was capable of being identified from space. It had actually stunned the rest of the bridal party into an awkward silence, broken only by Hanabi's happy bossing of every being in sight.

Then there was the hair. On her head crouched what was almost certainly the biggest, fakest hairpiece money could buy. (This particular touch Hinata could only blame on herself – in a fit of rebellion two weeks ago, she had cut her long blue-black hair into what she had thought was a cute chin-length bob, which Hanabi immediately deemed unsuitable.) And in that fake hair sat an enormous flower arrangement that jabbed at her scalp with every pulse. And she had to smile the entire time, as if she was having the time of her life. Somebody please kill her. Right now. She'd even settle for temporary coma. At the very least, instant and permanent amnesia. She wasn't picky.

Did Hanabi really have to bag the most eligible bachelor in the entirety of the city of Konoha? She and Konohamaru had a dreamy courtship while in college (an institution that Hinata had barely spent any time in before dropping out), a lovely engagement, and were finishing up with an absolutely gorgeous wedding. The next step – Hanabi and Konohamaru were going to get matching MBA's. It was enough to make a sister puke – any sister that wasn't Hinata.

It wasn't that Hinata was jealous of her sister – she didn't have a jealous bone in her body. It was more that Hinata was sort of wistful in wishing that some of that good luck or whatever that Hanabi had would rub off on her. Just a little. Hinata had attained the age of twenty-seven without any notable accomplishments (aside from a couple of courses in commercial cooking); she hadn't had a date in what seemed like forever, and Father was constantly disappointed in her. To top it all off, she had shown up to get ready for the wedding of the year with the news that she had just dropped her most recent job like a bad habit. And maybe there might be a lawsuit. Just a teeny one, though.

Hiashi Hyuuga, lead councilman on the city board of Konoha, had looked at his daughter with the flat grey gaze that could make her feel like she was still a stuttering six-year-old in pigtails, twiddling her fingers. He had hated that habit, almost as much as he hated the negative attention he was going to have to pay to whatever thing she had done this time. Then he had lowered his eyes, picked up the phone, and started dialing.

"Neji?" he had said into the mouthpiece, invoking the right of the family to bring in the first assistant to the district attorney for any legal matter.

Hinata had been unable to control herself - she'd flinched at the name. Getting Neji involved meant getting into deep trouble. Because Neji never forgot any of the details and never forgave any trepass against the Hyuuga. Especially if it was another Hyuuga. Woe unto the fool who brought shame onto the family. Of course, that was all Hinata seemed to do.

Merely thinking about it, she winced again.

Of course that had to be right when the photographer took a snapshot of the entire wedding party. She sighed, straightened, and tried to smile. She was, after all, a Hyuuga. And nothing, absolutely nothing, not even Hinata herself, could prevent the Hyuugas from carrying on like they always did. Which is to say, as if nothing ever was wrong, or could ever change.

Neji was a prime example. There he sat right up close to the wedding party, with his estranged wife, Tenten, and their beautiful but sullen little boy, Hiro. Hinata loved Tenten, hadn't seen her in years, and might have said something to her, had there not been a strange warning light in both Neji's and Tenten's eyes as she approached.

So Hinata veered off, pretending she really did intend to chase down a conveniently passing tray of wine glasses. Better to appear a safely quiet lush than a loud scene-maker.

Naruto was having one of the worst days of his entire life. No – make it a month. One of the worst months ever. It all started with a girl. Things almost always started with a girl. After a couple of dates, he thought she might be interested in something more, and then suddenly, she turned around and completely rebuffed him.

He had no idea what happened, or what he had done. He only knew what she had said, and that very clearly. She had said that he, Naruto Uzumaki, specifically, was completely unsuitable dating material, and he should give up right now. No woman in her right mind would take on such a knuckleheaded dunderbrain of a guy with no concept of a family life who worked all the time, had no social graces, and little to no idea of how to create happiness. She continued; he should do all women a favor and drop dead. Then she had turned on her heel and flounced off.

This had set off a huge wave of bad feeling, surging up from a lifetime of bad feeling. He had thought something good might have finally come to him at the beginning of it all – but like every other romantic effort in his life, it had gone all to hell – not in a handbasket, but a wheelbarrow. He didn't need anybody telling him he wasn't a prime marriage candidate – he'd have told someone that on the first meeting. Raised by a single mother, orphaned by the age of 12, housed in an all-boys home but basically self-raised with assistance from the men of the Konoha Fire Department – he didn't need anyone to tell him that he was lacking. He knew that. He had only…hoped. Hoped this time might have been different.

In the past, even when his former fiancée had thrown him over, he had rebounded quickly, with a cocky grin and a devil-may-care attitude. But recently – recently – well, it seemed like just about everybody was pairing up, starting a family, and getting on with their lives. Meanwhile, he had remained on the same treadmill of work, home, sleep.

Naruto enjoyed life, usually, happy to cruise along with the current. But recently – he just couldn't shake the feeling that life without precious people wasn't that much of a life – and aside from work, he was seriously lacking in precious people. He didn't need anyone to tell him that. Maybe he had jumped the gun a little bit with this most recent girl – but he'd paid for his miscalculation. In spades.

While the solitary paths Jiraiya and Tsunade had taken were not great examples of happiness in later life, maybe it wasn't the worst way to live. It seemed smart even, to avoid romantic entanglements and all the hurt they caused for a while. Maybe a long, long while.

The bad month continued with the news of the retirement of the firehouse cook. And nobody, not a single person in the entire city, county, or even state seemed interested in the job of cook for the Konoha Fire Department. This was a huge problem. A firehouse ran on its stomach. And while the former cook seemed fine, he wasn't gourmet or Cordon Bleu or fancy schmancy whatever cooking – and finding another seemed easy enough. The task turned out to be pretty frickin' hard.

People were hired, and often, fired within a day. They were either not used to cooking several meals a day for the large number of hungry firefighters, or flat out bad at cooking. One seemed okay, until it was noticed how he had tried to make off with several of the more expensive pieces of fire fighting equipment.

The entire fire department was now in a state of perpetual food emergency – with the local pizza joint on speed dial, and the delivery men of various restaurants or delis in near constant rotation through the firehouse doors.

Naruto had no idea how he got stuck with the responsibility of hiring the new cook. Only Kiba, that sly dog, had somehow managed to make Fire Chief Tsunade think Naruto knew something about food. The only two things Naruto knew about food was that he liked to eat it, and eat quite a lot of it. It was better if the food was good, but he'd certainly downed mediocre food without hesitation. But in these two qualifications he was not alone – he could have been anybody else on the force.

Over the last month, Naruto had strong-armed many of the firemen into cooking – with disastrous results. He was afraid he'd soon have to make calls to the various girlfriends and wives of the firefighters in hopes they could come up with a couple of dishes to tide the department over. He wasn't looking forward to it. He knew that his ability to take the exasperation about the situation was thinning. There was a clear sense that it was his ineptitude that led to this turn of events – as opposed to a total lack of interest on the part of the good people of Konoha.

Today was Sasuke's fiancee's turn. While Sakura had many gifts, cooking was not among them. Naruto could hear her screeching through the several walls and the single floor that separated them. "I told you I'm a medic! Not a cook!"

The phone rang in the auxiliary office and he ran to pick it up. "Konoha Fire Department."

On the other side was a soft female voice, barely audible over Sakura's tantrum. "H-hello?"

"Yes?" Naruto stuck a finger in the ear opposite the one on the phone, trying to hear.

"I'm calling about a position at the firehouse –"

"Could you speak up?" he yelled over some heavy clanging and banging.

"There was an ad from last month – "

"What?" he hollered into a sudden eerie silence. Uh-oh, he thought.

"Job? Cook? Still available?"

Then the very air split in a bone-chilling, ear-piercing scream of fury, followed by a loud metallic crash.

"Get here in ten minutes," Naruto ordered, panicked, and then hung up. The only question now, he thought, was whether to go find out what was wrong, or wait for somebody else to do it and clean that guy's splattered remains off the floor. Now, Naruto Uzumaki might be among the elite forces of Konoha's bravest, he might have a fistful of badges from all his specialized emergency training, he might have any number of citations indicating his past heroics, he even might be Fire Chief someday. But even he wasn't that brave. He could wait.

Ch2. Sparks

A rusty, beat-up yellow subcompact rolled into the parking lot behind the firehouse. Naruto had taken to hiding right by the back door (the better to warn off any incoming troops), and could clearly see the dark-haired woman look at the firehouse through the car's window. After a moment, she stepped out, and after picking up the skirts of her full length orange gown to reveal a pair of worn running sneakers, headed directly towards him.

Is this some kind of joke? Naruto wondered, as he took in her full splendor. She looked like something out of one of those fashion magazines he always saw while waiting in line at the grocery store – but on LSD. What would a woman in that kind of getup be doing at the firehouse?

She squared her shoulders and lifted her head like a queen about to face her subjects, that unbelievable floral headpiece turning into some kind of crowning glory. Then he was caught in her amazing grey eyes. Eyes like the morning mist over a spring garden filled with blooming iris. Incomparable eyes, set in the face of an angel.

She uttered, in the same soft voice he remembered over the phone, "Hello – I'm looking for the person in charge of the hiring? For the cook? I w-was told to come right down."

He took a breath, unaware until then he hadn't except for the discomfort in his chest. "Oh, oh, that was me," Naruto wheezed. He scratched the side of his face nervously. What was he supposed to do now?

Her expression brightened. "H-hello. I'm Hinata – "

Naruto had the whole question of what to say or do next cut short by the whooshing open of a door, which then slammed against a wall. Sakura, green eyes ablaze, grabbed the front of Naruto's shirt and hauled him roughly against the door. "This is the worst idea you've ever had, and I will destroy you now to prevent further stupidity." She raised a cocked fist.

Naruto choked. Weakly, he raised a hand and pointed to Hinata. "I just hired her."

"Who?" Like a creaky automaton, Sakura's head turned slowly to take in the petite brunette. Her hand opened and dropped Naruto like a sack of potatoes. She gasped in undisguised happiness. "Hinata! What're you doing back in town?"

Hinata's face creased in pleasure. "Hello, Sakura."

"Weren't you supposed to be – ?"

"I just came from Hanabi's wedding." The two women looked down at Hinata's dress, Sakura with open curiosity, Hinata with a great deal of self-consciousness.

"You know each other?" Naruto broke in.

"Of course I know her," Sakura glared at him dangerously, past transgressions unforgiven. "We went to Konoha Girls' Academy together – and then we were penpals for years after she moved with her mom."

"That's great – " Naruto said, clearly thrilled Sakura had let him go. "She's supposed to help you."

"Oh, that's great!" Sakura exclaimed, greatly relieved. "Let's get started right away."

"Um," began Hinata timidly. "I don't think I'm really dressed for it." They all paused to take in the dress once again. "Maybe I can start tomor-"

"NO!" Naruto vehemently yelled, panicked. "You start today or you don't start at all."

"Naruto! You can't say that to a friend of mine – "

"Sakura! Shut up if you want any help!" Naruto hastily elbowed Sakura to one side. "Besides, I don't see anything wrong with what she's wearing," he said stoutly, "AND orange is my favorite color." He turned to Hinata. "You look great."

"I really do need the help," confided Sakura.

Hinata looked at the two of them. "Well…."

Wincing, Hinata ripped off the fake hair and headpiece that looked like something from the winner's circle – and maybe losing some of her own hair but she was beyond caring at that point. She hated what had happened to her hair – or what happened to her head – or in her head – because of this wedding. Was she crazy coming here?

At the wedding, she had overheard some of the waitstaff gossiping about the position offered at the firehouse. Their basic consensus was that while the hours were good, the money was not enough, and wasn't it a shame? Hinata did not think it was a shame at all. An unfilled job was a job she could potentially take. Whatever it paid, it had to be enough. She needed to get out of her father's house, ASAP!

Sakura had brought some clothing for Hinata to change into - a t-shirt and a pair of little boy's athletic shorts. Hinata eyed them distrustfully. The top looked too big and the shorts looked far, far too small.

"Just try them on," Sakura urged. "Naruto found them. I think the shorts belong to one of Kiba's kids."

At first, Hinata was taken aback that Naruto had insinuated, albeit indirectly, that she should be able to fit into the clothing of an 8 year-old boy.

When she was about to object, Hinata caught sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. Then she shut her mouth. Better these things than the unbelievable orange getup she currently had on. Kentucky Derby above, psychedelic Halloween decor below. What was Hanabi thinking?

She washed her face clean of the heavy makeup that the wedding photographer insisted would show up well – this was so not who she was. What must Sakura and Naruto have thought of her, showing up in that ghastly dress? What did she care, right? Oh, she cared. Not only was he ultimately the guy who was going to hire her, he was, in a word, hunky. An Italian cooking friend would have called him "carne fresca." Fresh meat. Of course, Hinata was not the carnivore that friend was.

Sakura continued, "That's an old t-shirt of Naruto's."

The very thought brought a fiery heat to Hinata's face. She couldn't help it – he was so good-looking, with that tousled blond hair and blue eyes, and so so so fit. The form-fitting navy station shirt didn't hide very much. And he seemed so nice – well except for the whole 'be here in ten minutes' thing. But thinking back to when she and Sakura were in school together – Sakura always did have a crazy bad temper – and Hinata would also be afraid of her and might very well act crazy to get out of the line of fire.

Maybe all firemen were like this; cute and muscular and nice. Hinata could not think that – otherwise, she would not be able to work here – not after what happened at her last job. She pulled on the shirt – the back of which read in enormous flaming letters 'Bringing the Heat' and had an icon of two crossed fire axes. Hinata tried not to think too hard about putting the shirt on – it smelled clean, and startlingly masculine.

"You good?" Sakura's voice echoed slightly through the bare surfaces of the bathroom.

"I think so," Hinata replied, hesitantly.

So that's how Hinata found herself in the kitchen of the firehouse, frantically trying to gather together ingredients for something edible. She had been given three hours to put together enough food for 26 very hungry people. This would seem very doable in a lot of situations – but not this one.

The place was a mess – completely disorganized, and she had no idea where anything was or what food was even stored here. But she could not mess this up – she needed this job desperately. It was, she thought a little hysterically, like being a contestant on one of those reality shows – except that this was her life. The only thing she'd be famous for if she got booted was her father chalking up yet another point of failure in what he saw as a very long line of failures.

After seeing Sakura's genuine ineptitude at guessing people's eating preferences, handling the stove or finding any of the cooking implements – Hinata had set her to opening up industrial size cans of fruit and vegetables. Other than a freezer jam-packed with meat wrapped in white, unlabeled butcher paper, several institution-sized boxes of frozen vegetables, and a bag of flour that was bigger than her, she couldn't find a lot of other supplies. She set to work, silently hoping that whatever angels she had looking over her shoulder would keep working their magic.

Naruto stood outside the kitchen, thinking he should at least make some kind of attempt to interview the new cook. Tsunade – no – Shizune would want some kind of paper trail. Tsunade probably wouldn't care unless the city council decided to do some kind of audit – but the likelihood of that was small.

He pushed through the door, "Hin-" his voice choked to a stop at the feast of the eyes presented to him; that of the rear view of Hinata bending over an open oven, wearing a pair of very, very small shorts. She raised her head slightly to look at him over her shoulder, and smiled. Her short dark hair was adorably mussed. Her face was a little flushed from the heat. Her knees were slightly bent. He would have continued mentally cataloguing her multitudinous favors had she not spoken.

"Did you want something?" she asked him, shyly.

Naruto broke out into a sweat. "I-I forgot something. Be right back!" And he hastily exited.

Once outside the kitchen, he leaned against a wall while clutching his racing heart – feeling lightheaded – almost as if he had burst some capillaries in his brain. Geez, he thought, if those shorts had been any tighter – he'd have been able to take her blood pressure! Who's idea was it to give those to her anyway?! Naruto was indignant, conveniently forgetting that it was indeed himself who had, in haste, dug through the first couple of open lockers he came to in order to scrounge up Hinata's current look.

The pervy part of his brain demanded he go back in there to get another look – just for scientific purposes, of course – to confirm the image in his head of the unreal lusciousness of the backside of the woman he had just hired. For a guy who had given up on dating – this was seriously more than he thought he could handle. The noble part of his brain felt temporarily paralyzed after the emergency scramble to get out of the kitchen. He took a couple of steadying breaths.

After a minute, his pulse settled and blood flow normalized. He smacked his own forehead. This was somebody he had just hired. How was he going to conduct this interview?

Jiraiya, the semi-retired training officer, wandered by. "Hey, I heard you hired a cook. It's about time, kid."

"Oh – oh yeah," Naruto replied, a little absently. As Jiraiya made a change in his direction toward the kitchen, panic jolted Naruto into action. No way was that mega-perv going to be ogling Hinata! "Look – I need to finish the interview – so if you could just wait a little bit. You know. Confidential stuff."

"Right, right," said Jiraiya, nodding his mane of white hair respectfully. "Gotcha." Then he opened the kitchen door and walked through.

Naruto was rushing to follow when he heard Jiraiya's almost reverently muttered, "Dattebayo." He shoved in next to the older man to find Hinata was standing mostly hidden behind one of the kitchen counters, very presentable in a full white apron, up to her elbows in white flour. "Is - is that - is that truly a hand-made pie crust?" Jiraiya stuttered.

Hinata seemed surprised at the intrusion, but modestly answered, "It's really a short-cut cobbler dough. For the dessert."

"Wonderful." There was a pause where Naruto could almost hear Jiraiya mentally licking his lips. "So – you're the new cook?" Jiraiya grinned, fully recovered from the fit of religiousity to which he had briefly succumbed.

"I hope so," she answered with a smile. "Nice to meet you."

Naruto wanted to warn her about the alarming depths of pervitude not immediately discernable in the initial assessment of the older man, but was upstaged.

"Jiraiya, Training Officer First Class, Konoha Fire Department, decorated for meritorious service, at your command, little lady," he pronounced, grandly waving his arms, ending in a deep bow - hipchecking Naruto in the process.

Naruto rolled his eyes – knowing Jiraiya at this moment was envisioning falling tickertape, swooning women, and trumpets blaring in his honor.

"Oh," she flushed a little. "Th-thank you. I'm Hinata." She caught sight of Naruto. "Did you want me?"

"Yeah – just to talk about an interview," Naruto's voice faltered, hearing Jiraiya's snicker.

"I'll just let you get back to work – ah, Hinata, is it?" Jiraiya smiled slyly. He turned and dug an elbow into Naruto's side, smirking. "Interview? Is that what you youngsters are calling it these days?"

"Shut up, you old perv," hissed Naruto out of the corner of his mouth.

"Moi?" Jiraiya pretended to be hurt. "Hey kid, I ain't the dog in the manger." His eyes rolled back to Hinata's visage. "Good choice, though. Cute. Way cuter than that last girl you were seeing. Probably has a nice – " and whatever he was saying was abruptly cut off. Naruto had suddenly reached out in a stretch, and brought his hand across to the older man's chest in swift chop with an audible thump.

"HA HA HA," grinned the blond man, in a way that seemed less humorous than a thinly veiled warning. "Very funny, Jiraiya. I always know where to go to for a laugh.""

"-way with casseroles," coughed out Jiraiya. "Maybe even stews. I like sweets, myself."

Then Naruto pushed his senior out of the kitchen. He lowered his voice menacingly, "Stay out until dinnertime." Affixing a smile on his face, Naruto turned toward the other denizen of the kitchen.

"Is he going to be all right?" asked Hinata, with a touch of worry.

"Jiraiya? He'll be fine," Naruto dismissed the Training Officer without a second thought. The old lech. "So, you got a minute? To talk?"

"If you don't mind me working at the same time…" she trailed off.

"Oh no – you go ahead." He glanced around. "Do you need any help?"

"Um, sure. Sakura's taken off somewhere. Cooking didn't seem to be her thing," Hinata sighed. "Can you stir the pot on the stove?"

"Sure." Naruto looked down at the big pot full of something savory.

She had grabbed a spoon and reached into the pot, pulling back a spoonful of sauce. Naruto tried not to look too avidly at her mouth as Hinata puckered her full lips to blow across the bowl and then tasted. "Hmmm." She looked thoughtful, then dumped the piece of flatware in the sink. She grabbed another spoon, dipped it into the pot, and offered it to Naruto. "Try this. Please."

Obediently, Naruto opened his mouth. After a bemused moment of looking between the spoon and then Naruto, Hinata shrugged. She popped the spoon into his mouth. Then he started sucking in air – "Hot! Hot!" he panted.

"Yes, but what do you think?" she was looking at him intently.

He swallowed. "Hey, that's pretty good." It was better than good. This might be the answer to his current problem. Naruto cleared his throat. He needed to get down to business. "So, uh, what sort of experience do you have? I mean, cooking."

"I've bounced around a lot – done waitressing, catering, worked for a couple of restaurants. But mostly, I worked in the kitchen of a nursing home."

"Really? A nursing home?"

She looked a little defensive. "It was a great place to learn. And the clients were really sweet."

He waved his arms, trying to clear the air. "No, that's great. Your experience is exactly what we're looking for." This was exactly the kind of experience most of the other applicants hadn't had.

"If you want any recommendations, I could get you some names and numbers – um, tomorrow? If that's not too late?" Hinata said, a little worry line etching across her forehead.

"Well, Sakura knows you. That's good enough for me. Besides what you're making now I'm sure is going to turn out great," Naruto encouraged.

The timer dinged. Hinata merely smiled nervously as she turned toward the oven. Show time, she thought.

With a great exhalation, Hinata set the food out on the side table. "It's shepherd's pie, and cauliflower with a cheese sauce. I'm sorry," she said anxiously, "I don't know what people like or are allergic to or if there are any vegetarians or anything. There weren't a lot of supplies, you see, and I didn't have a lot of time. I usually like to make my own sauce – but I had to sort of -" and here she looked pained, "wing it."

At her doubtful expression, Naruto would have happily eaten expired peanut butter on blackened toast, just to allay her fears. He looked around the tables, warningly. He wanted for everybody to give her a fair shake. More than that, though, he wanted the food to be good.

He cautiously took a small bite. It was a revelation. It was good – the first taste had only been really, a prelude to the symphony of tastes a shepherd's pie could be. If you considered the time she had, and the disgusting results the previous contenders had come up with, it was amazing. He took another, bigger bite. Then the company as a whole mowed down the pile of food.

Hinata cleared her throat. "I hope that was okay?"

The table was silent. Too silent. Naruto looked around the table. It was completely quiet except for the sounds of eating and the little noises of utensils against china.

"I've also made dessert. I hope everybody likes fruit cobbler."

Then Hinata brought out three trays worth. The cobbler was attacked and vanished in a twinkling.

Nobody said anything as bite after bite disappeared; Ino was resentful, Hayate coughed nervously, Aoba looked thoughtful, Sakura seemed a little surprised, Genma pulled out a toothpick, Shikamaru looked half-asleep, Sasuke's normally flat aspect was completely unreadable. Hinata's face started to crumple, her eyes looked suspiciously bright.

Naruto tried to will Hinata into looking at him, to give her a thumbs-up, but she was too busy staring at the table's surface.

Finally, she asked outright, as if she were ready to burst with the tension, "Um, do I have a job tomorrow?"

"This is so good, Hinata," Naruto exclaimed. "You are some kind of food cooking ninja!"

As a team, all the firemen all stood up and cheered. Her worried expression really did dissolve into tears – of joy. "Thank you so much," she choked, hand over her heart.

Hinata walked to her car, still glowing with happiness. The meal had gone well, there was no clean-up, as Naruto said, "Cooks don't clean." Some of the other people there would take care of that. She had a job to go to tomorrow. That counted for a lot. She got in, and turned the key. Nothing. She turned the key again. Nothing. Like the proverbial crazy person expecting something different at the same action, she tried again. It was dead.

She blew out a breath, wondering what to do. Well, at least it died after she got here, and she was right in front of a firehouse. There had to be something these guys could do. She got out of the car, in search of rescue.

Naruto followed Hinata over to her car, and she went through the starting motions again. "What do you think it is?" she asked.

"Hn," he muttered, "maybe a dead battery." He looked directly at her, blue eyes intensely concentrating. "I could give you a jump."

"A jump?" Hinata stared at Naruto blankly. He couldn't mean…. Could he?

"You know," he continued, "get out some cables and jump you. Right now. Easy." He went into the firehouse and brought out a small box with cables sticking out of it. "Pop the hood, will ya?"

After she complied, he opened the hood. After a couple of minutes of tinkering, he shouted, "Start the car!"

She turned the key, and the motor started right up. "Thanks."

"So if you need any more help, let me know," he offered, easing down the hood of the car before slamming it shut.

She drove off, waving, eyes twinkling. "Yes – if I need a jump in the future, you'll be the first one I call," she replied, leaving a particular fire-fighter to pick his jaw up off the ground.


Wondering what would have happened had Hinata and Naruto met later in life – and had a clue. Partly based upon the idea that Naruto would be less clueless if he were older. Sorry for any OOC moments.

Most firefighters can cook (and many locations actually require it), and many do so very well. They also cook and clean communally as part of their rapport. But these particular firefighters, in this particular AU, don't cook very well. That's the only way to make this story work in the way I wanted…. (As for setting, well, we're most definitely not in Japan anymore, Totoro.)

I apologize in advance if this piece offends anyone – but I know I'm not the only who wouldn't turn away a man in turnout gear.

I know this is goony, silly, poorly researched, dopey, sketchily written and full of bad jokes. Blame Perpetual159 - who's Dattebayo challenge made me finish it. (It's my break from "Torch Song" - which I promise I am still working on.) Forgive me. (Unless you liked it. Either way, please let me know what you think.)

Initially inspired by a series of reviews/discussion between Shawny Wong, TENDERVanilla, and Wandering Wonderer about AU's. (Part of a very loose, otherwise unrelated group of stories/ideas I call "Men in Uniform", of which "Special Delivery" and "Torch Song" is a part).