This story takes somewhere in the Naruto timeline between the Hunt for the Eight-Tails Arc and the Five Kage Summit Arc. Past that everything is rather non-canon so prepare yourselves.
A sleeping village partly hidden by the morning fog lay nestled in the leafy green forest of the Fire Country. Hundreds of miles away from Konohagakure, one man plotted its demise. How best to make sure the ninjas of Konoha would never rise again. Uchiha Sasuke knew he was outnumbered. No matter how much he wanted to travel the distance and destroy the village, he knew that it was likely he would not succeed. Oh, he could perhaps take out most of the population, maybe even raze all the buildings to the ground. But that wasn't enough. For his revenge to be complete he had to make sure, make completely sure that Konoha would be wiped off the map forever. After all, there was Naruto to think about. Sasuke knew he could probably kill his former comrade in battle. But it would not just be Naruto on the battlefield against him. And after all, Sasuke had barely managed to defeat the Eight Tails, and from what he gathered from Madara, Naruto had more potential than Killer Bee. Sasuke knew that Naruto was driven by his feelings of comradeship. He had previously thought these to be weak, but how different were they really, from his feelings of vengeance? His drive for revenge was what made Sasuke strong; he knew that. Even with Itachi's eyes, Sasuke didn't want to take any chances. No, Naruto was definitely a force to be reckoned with.
To bring Konoha down, he would have to break down more than just the thick wall that surrounded it. He'd have to burn it from the inside out until there was nothing left.
"Are you awake, Sasuke? I told you I would take the last watch shift." For a man so large, Jūgo moved with surprising silence. Sasuke turned his head slightly to the left, and saw the light red, almost magenta eyes staring calmly down at him from the shadows. It was very early in the morning, the sun barely beginning its way over the horizon. The forest clearing they had decided to camp in was strewn with huge broken boulders. Once they might have been part of the nearby looming mountain, but they had long since been blasted apart by some jutsu and now they lay on the ground, covered in moss. In the faint sunlight, they cast shadows over everything, and Sasuke could not make out where Suigetsu and Karin lay. The moon had set long ago while he had been sitting up.
"I am. I was just thinking." Sasuke said, throwing off his blankets and rising from his bedroll. Even standing he was a head shorter than the orange-haired man in front of him. Quelling the sudden childish surge of envy, Sasuke bent down to pick up his katana and the rest of his gear. They would be leaving in a few minutes. After all, it wasn't safe to stay in one place for so long, not with Konoha ninjas tracing their every move.
"About a plan?" Jūgo inquired silently. "Despite what the others think, I'm sure you are planning something."
Sasuke almost winced. He kept forgetting how smart Jūgo was. How easy it was for him to see the truth behind lies. For the past few weeks it had seemed as if Sasuke had been leading his team aimlessly through the thick forests on the edges of Fire Country. He knew Suigetsu and Karin had been arguing when they thought he wasn't listening. They thought Sasuke was wasting time and had no idea what to do. He had assumed Jūgo thought the same way. It was that stereotype. Everyone who saw Jūgo thought he was a big dumb brute. They underestimated him.
"Wake up Suigetsu and Karin, Jūgo. We have to keep moving." Sasuke said in reply, ignoring the question. His plan would be made known soon enough…
I'm not going with Naruto? Hinata felt a slash of disappointment run through her. She lowered her gaze from Tsunade's sharp eyes, and stared at her feet so that the others would not notice. She thought Neji might have seen her reaction though because in the next pause in Tsunade's mission-briefing, he voiced her exact thoughts.
"And Hinata and I are not to go with Naruto and the rest?" Neji asked. He had been just as surprised as his cousin when Tsunade had told them that they would not be included in the party to track down Uchiha Sasuke once and for all. Why had the Hokage called the two of them here if not to send them on this mission? "Do you have a different assignment for us then?"
Tsunade nodded in a weary way. Her ninjas were stretched thin these days. She would have liked nothing more to send Hinata and Neji along with Naruto, Sakura, Sai, and Kakashi, but she knew it was impractical. "I have a more specific assignment for you two, one especially for Hyūgas. If the rest of you would please leave…?"
After many groans and complaints (mostly on the part of Naruto), the group filed out of the office. Hinata gulped as she and her cousin were left with the Hokage.
"Hinata, Neji". The two Hyūgas snapped to attention. "You were listening when I told you that Kakashi's team is being sent to deal with the army Sasuke is leading alongside Madara and Kabuto, yes?"
Hinata and Neji nodded. Tsunade wanted to stop the army while it was still weak and growing. Currently it was made up mostly of chunin and the occasional jounin, taken from the Village Hidden in the Rain. The village was being very reluctant in giving away its more skilled ninjas, which exposed an important opportunity for them to strike. If they could take out Madara now while he was still amassing forces, they could stop this war before it got too out of hand.
"I lied." Tsunade said bluntly, leaning back in her chair, looking old past her years (which she was, if the rumors Naruto had been spreading were true). Hinata gaped openly at the revelation. Neji's face was as blank as ever.
"Oh, there is an army, true. Led by Madara and Kabuto, to an extent. But Sasuke is not with them, and neither are his three comrades. We've received intelligence that leads us to believe that Sasuke has left Madara. Currently we have no idea where he is.
"Th-then why are you sending Naruto …?" Hinata trailed off in confusion. She knew Naruto wanted nothing more than to bring Sasuke home; that was the entire reason he was so motivated for this particular mission. But if what the Hokage was saying was true, that meant Naruto was being sent away from Sasuke!
"Without Naruto, we can't beat Madara. We can't afford to have him chasing after Sasuke when he's needed elsewhere. The council wants to keep Naruto locked up so he won't be captured, but if we don't have him on the battlefield, I know the enemy will beat us. Which brings me to your mission." Hinata noticed that the Hokage said the last part directly to Neji, and she felt an instant surge of resentment. She berated herself. It's only because he's a jounin, and the elder. Nothing more. Hinata could almost believe it.
"I want you two to track down Sasuke's team instead. I know a two-man team is…unconventional, but these are unconventional times." Tsunade said. "I need Byakugan users because you are the only shinobi in the entire village who can track from a distance. Neji, I hear your range has gotten pretty good." Tsunade appraised him.
"Hinata is very competent as well." Neji remarked quietly. Hinata felt a burst of affection for her cousin.
"Right." Tsunade smiled and nodded confidently. "We know that Sasuke plans on attacking our village, but he seems to be biding his time, and concealing himself well in the meantime. I need you two because you're the only trackers who will escape the detection of Sasuke's chakra sensor ninja. We're not quite sure, but I believe that's how he was able to see us coming before. And with two Byakugan users, we should be able to find him easily, without wasting too much energy."
Neji took it all in stride. "And once we've located him? Are we to bring Uchiha Sasuke back to Konoha with only two ninjas?" To the average onlooker Neji's expression was blank and emotionless, but Hinata could see the way his mouth quirked ironically.
Tsunade chuckled grimly. "No, but I do want you to tell us what he's planning. He must know as well as I that his little team of four doesn't stand a chance by themselves. I can't imagine why he left Madara…" Tsunade trailed off uncertainly, eyebrows cinched together in though. Shizune behind her cleared her throat.
"Oh, yes. Shizune, if you will." Tsunade motioned for her assistant to step forward. Shizune walked up to Neji and handed over the bright pink pig that she was perpetually holding in her arms. Neji looked more than slightly baffled with the squirming animal tucked under his chin.
Shizune hid a smile. "If anything comes up, you can send Tonton with a message back to us. Her sharp sense of smell might be useful as well, as we can't spare any ninja dogs." The assistant retreated behind Tsunade's desk once more.
The Hokage fixed Hinata and Neji with a quelling look. "Don't pull a Naruto, you two. Once you find out what Sasuke is up to, you come straight back, you here? No fighting. You'll leave as soon as you are ready. And if either of you tell Naruto that Sasuke isn't where he thinks he is, it'll be D-rank missions for the rest of your lives. Dismissed!"
Hinata and Neji backed out the door and were attacked the moment they set foot outside Tsunade's office. Naruto had been lying in ambush for them. He had been waiting just outside the door, probably trying to eavesdrop, and Hinata walked straight into him. She shrieked and turned bright red, and Naruto did nothing to help when he grabbed her shoulders to steady her. Neji was there in a second, prying the blonde ninja away from his cousin and fixing him with an icy glare.
"What do you want, Naruto?" Neji asked coldly.
Naruto only grinned. "What was Tsunade talking to you about? Are you guys in trouble? Why aren't you going with us?" He elbowed Neji in the ribs. Neji ignored him.
"Tsunade wants us to go to the Sand village to gather forces from our allies there and train up a resistance. She knows that since we're Hyūgas we have experience in speaking in front of people." Neji said, lying smoothly. Hinata tried not to show her dismay. If there was one thing she was not, it was a public speaker! Naruto would never believe—
"Oh! You're getting Gaara and everyone, eh? Well, tell them I said hi. Good luck!" Naruto bounced away and Hinata released the breath she didn't know she was holding. But she wasn't relieved that Naruto had bought the lie so easily; if anything it proved how little he really knew her.
"Come on Hinata, before we're attacked by the rest of them." Neji sounded annoyed, but Hinata knew he was only amused. Spending all those years with Gai-sensei would probably have that affect on anyone. You got used to being bothered.
As they walked home together from the office, Hinata could not help feeling badly about the mission they had been assigned. She felt like she was betraying Naruto by lying to him like this. Naruto's drive was to find Sasuke, just as Hinata's drive was to prove herself to her family. She was worried that when Naruto came to that battle and found out Sasuke was not there, he would lose the will to fight.
"Hinata, you're going the wrong way." Neji's quiet voice came behind her. Hinata blinked and lifted her head. He was right. With a mumbled apology, she turned around and began to follow him again, head turned away in embarrassment.
"Naruto will be all right." Neji said suddenly, and Hinata looked up at him in shock. She had never heard him speak well of Naruto. Neji seemed aware of this because he wouldn't meet Hinata's eyes and, it may have been her imagination, but he also looked slightly flushed. "He never gives up." He finished awkwardly.
Hinata smiled and against her better judgment, gave Neji a quick one-armed hug. The pig in his arms squealed in indignation, and Hinata had to apologize to Tonton, then Neji declared that he didn't think the pig could really understand her anyway, and they debated this matter back and forth all the way to the front door of the Hyuuga estate until said pig dug her foot into Neji's gut.
Back in Tsunade's office, the Hokage settled back in her chair for a well-earned glass of sake. She was just beginning to pour a cup of it, when she suddenly became aware of a malicious presence nearby. Calmly putting the bottle down, she pulled away from her desk and walked slowly to the window, as if admiring the view. She came just in time to see a black snake disappear in a cloud of white smoke. Shaking in rage, Tsunade noticed that the window was slightly ajar. Snake summons. Who the snake belonged to she could not say for certain, but currently the list was narrowed down to a couple very unsavory ninjas who could use the information they had just heard in very unseemly ways.
"Shizune!" Tsunade bellowed, and the assistant burst through the door in a panic. Tsunade was white and shaking with some unknown emotion. Fear, perhaps rage? "We have to cancel the two missions I just sent out. Bring all the ninjas back here. Hurry! Before they leave!" Shizune nodded in confusion and began rounding up any and all shinobi she could find, to send on this impromptu search party.
In the end, they managed to bring back Kakashi's team only. As usual, Kakashi was the last one at the meeting place. Fortunately it meant that Shizune was able to find the team before they set off. But by the time word reached the Hyūga estate, it was too late. The birds had flown.
Please review. I'll try to do longer chapters next, I just thought this ending was rather nice.