Theme: Preventing Hypothermia
Warning: OC present
Boots crunched tightly compacted snow. They had run out of trees sturdy and close enough to leap from limb to limb, twenty miles back. Sasuke tried to get circulation back in his fingers by clenching and uncurling his hands into fists. It didn't seem to be working though, since his finger joints were starting to lock up
'Fuck the Hokage'
He missed Hinata shouting above the blizzard winds, telling him and Shikamaru to watch out for unstable patches. Thus, the Uchiha fell into a snowdrift up to his waist. When his teammates turned around Sasuke struggled before finally pulling himself up to solid ground.
'Fuck them too' Sasuke thought with a snarl, but no sooner was he up on his feet... he fell into another pitfall of snow, only now it was up to his neck. Sasuke's distinctive raven 'feathered' hairstyle was dusted with powdery-white.
Hotaka kept his solitary post with great vigilance. He was dressed in a long sleeved black shirt, a green flack jacket over it, coupled with dark pants and enclosed 'ninja sandals' that actually resembled something like modified snowshoes. The belt buckle of his pants had the leaf engraved into the metal, a Konohagakure shinobi, but he was stationed in the Land of Iron.
This frozen tundra was the last place anyone would volunteer to scout, let alone live there for months on end. He didn't mind it so much though. It was just the cold...isolation...boredom...and loneliness that got to him sometimes.
So, when he got word from the Hokage herself that his outpost would be visited by three Konohagakure ninja; Hotaka tried to make his humble home look more presentable. He started weeks in advance by patching various holes in the roof on the non-blizzard days, and ones in the walls during snow storms. Purchasing extra futon mattresses, stocking up on food and other supplies was rather tricky too, since he had to disguise himself and put on clothes that did not scream 'NINJA'. The Land of Iron was very mistrustful of shinobi to the point they were aggressively biased against ninjas traveling through or building outposts on their land.
So, he pretty much observed the samurais' activities from a distant, kept track of civilians and travelers, wrote up reports for the Hokage to read, and sent them out weekly. Since he lived most of his life in this much seclusion, Hotaka was excited when the Hokage saw it fit to send people through to do a check, see if he needed supplies or reinforcement.
When the day finally came he was to expect the team, Hotaka was on high alert, listening for the slightest sound or some kind of signal that they were on the way. As the hours ticked by, he started to wonder and worry if they had gotten lost. Just as he heard the winds die down to a dull roar, Hotaka cracked open the door to his home...only to blink as three people were already standing on his doorstep.
He didn't recognize the first two, but the third man in the back instantly turned on the light bulb switch.
“U...Uchiha Sasuke? I can't believe Hokage-sama sent you all the way out here.”
“Me either” Sasuke grumbled, obviously still sore about falling into snow.
“You...are a bit shorter than I expected.” Hotaka commented, his gaze going to the tallest- Shikamaru- then the Hyuuga, and lastly to Sasuke, who was only two inches taller than Hinata, but it still looked odd. Sasuke twitched at that comment.
“I'm glad you came though. You are my idol!” Hotaka said all but shoving Hinata and Shikamaru over to get to the third member of the team. Sasuke's dark eyes widened a little as his space was rudely invaded by this strange man with dark brown hair.
“You don't know me...”
“Then why are you talking to me?” Sasuke asked, not even bothering to soften the blunt blow.
Hotaka gave him a sheepish grin in response, “Well...I graduated a year after you at the ninja academy. I even watched your fight against Gaara...well until everyone was knocked out. You were amazing though!”
“...that's nice.” Sasuke said tensely, obviously not enjoying his first ever encounter with a 'fan boy'. 'Is it just me or is this guy's eyes sparkling or something? Must be snow. ...damn snow' Sasuke thought.
Noticing that his teammates were already inside the structure to warm up, Sasuke shoved past their host and dusted snow off his shoulders and hair as he walked inside.
“Wait...let me get you a towel to dry off with.” Hotaka blinked as the door to his own house was slammed in his face. Green eyes blinked again, ear against the door as he heard a female voice quietly scolding the Uchiha. The Hyuuga woman was the one to open the door to him, but Hotaka brushed right past her, once again at Sasuke's side.
“I don't know about this guy. He seems...off.”
“It's only for a few days, Shikamaru. We have to go over some suspect reports with Hotaka-san.” Hinata said, quick to offer assurance that it wouldn't be so bad.
“If he lasts that long. Sasuke already looks like he's about to kill the guy. And another thing, why does Sasuke get a towel and we're left to freeze our asses off? His hospitality only extends to members of the Uchiha clan?”
Hinata shrugged, her cloak had already been removed and was moving to take off her jacket next so it could dry as well.
“...I'm glad you decided to return to Konohagakure. It'd be a shame for if the last living Uchiha had to be put to death.” Hotaka said, talking about the Uchiha massacre as if it was idle chit-chat. Sasuke, wrapped in a thick quilt thrown over him by Hotaka; tightly gripped the handle of a mug of hot tea. If the look in Sasuke's eyes was any indication, he was debating to merits of shattering the cup with his bare hands or chucking it at the back of their host's head.
“This guy has a death wish.” Shikamaru stated.
Hinata would have begged to differ, but didn't think Shikamaru would understand. Or...that he'd think she was a pervert, for being openly suspect that their host had a crush on Sasuke. So, the Hyuuga decided to keep silent and let Shikamaru draw his own conclusions. As the night dragged on, Hotaka was forced to interact with the others, since Sasuke was in shut-down mood and wouldn't even offer up responses like 'hn' or 'mn'.
“Hotaka-san, we're not here for check the border or to see if you need supplies.” Shikamaru said, coming right out with what the goal of their mission was NOT. They couldn't exactly explain that the Hokage suspected he wasn't being wholly truthful with the weekly reports.
His green eyes went wide for a moment, then a right palm pushed long bangs out of his face, “Oh? What are you here for then?”
To Hinata, he looked a touch nervous. Her insight into people's mannerisms wasn't as quite as keen as her father's or Neji's. But, sweat along the brow line, neck, maybe even his palms from the way he was rubbing them over his pants leg; were pretty big tip offs that even someone without Byakugan could spot.
“There are some...discrepancies between your reports and the other outposts.” Hinata pointed out.
Hotaka didn't seem too concerned about it though, “North, South, West, and my post in the East, it's all different territory, even if it's inside the same country. So of course I'll see a different group of people and landmarks.”
“We get that, but this isn't about differences about geography or people you see passing through the villages ”
Green eyes blinked, looking as innocent as the day he was born, “Then what is this about?” His mouth split into a grin. “Oh! I see...you think I'm a double agent or something. Right?” he ended with a chuckle. However, his laughter slowly died when no one was joining in with their own amusement.
“No, to be a double agent you'd actually have to know something.” was Sasuke's whip-crack remark.
“Ah...that's my point.” Hotaka said, “I've been stationed out here since the last Five Kage summit, four years ago. I've only ever made brief trips to Konohagakure and back. So...” Hotaka lifted his long legs, crossed and propped up on the table, while he leaned back in his chair.
“What information would I have to give away? And to whom? Akatsuki is gone. And most of the ninja villages are tied together in one form or another."
The legs of his chairs clattered as Hotaka brought it down to the floor again. He leaned over the table, nervously tugging his hair back, "Besides, only an idiot would give out information about his village, when he's already stationed out in the middle of nowhere."
"It'd be too easy for his or her Kage to send someone or a team of someones out to kill him and no one would be the wiser or miss that person.”
Although he had a valid point, Shikamaru knew it was too soon to assume this guy was clean. If what he said 'was' the truth, then that meant the three other outposts were being deceptive. However, it would be next to impossible for them to conspire and collaborate their reports, what with the hostile natives and unfriendly terrain of the Land of Iron.
While Hotaka fixed their dinner, the trio decided to gather more information on him before making a definite decision on whether to conduct an interrogation. So far they had nothing in terms of proof, other than the conflicting reports.
However, why it wasn't confirmed that Hotaka was guilty of anything 'criminal', he was in fact guilty of blatant favoritism. Once dinner was before them, Shikamaru couldn't help but notice the very generous portions given to Sasuke. While his and Hinata's dinner wasn't meager, it was still noticeably smaller.
The Hyuuga woman came back to the table, three vials tucked into her pocket, “It's fine. No detectable poison” she whispered. Being members of the ANBU squad, they had to take these extra precautions, even when they were around other Konohagakure ninja.
“Good thing, because Sasuke would have been dead by now.” Shikamaru muttered in response. The other man was already on second helpings. While Sasuke was no where near Chouji's monstrous appetite or Naruto's almost gluttonous binges on ramen; it still came a bit of a shock to the Nara to see his teammate pack away so much food in such a short time.
'I wonder if he even tastes his food' Shikamaru wondered. Like all things, Shikamaru took his time eating. The beef broth was warm and welcoming after hours spent braving the flying snow outside and the meat was okay, but he had had better- still filling though.
Hinata attempted to make small talk with their host, but other than a few chipped responses Hotaka didn't seem all that interested in talking with her. Instead, he was much more interested in knowing everything there was to know about Sasuke.
Then, it finally dawned on Shikamaru as he bit into a piece of bread. 'I think this guy is flirting with Sasuke'. Surprised by that revelation, the Nara forgot to chew and nearly choked on the bread in his mouth. Quickly, Shikamaru drank some water, forcing himself to swallow it down.
He coughed again when Hotaka asked Sasuke once again if he got enough to eat. “Why don't you just go ahead, get down on one knee, and ask him to marry you already.” Shikamaru said under his breath.
Hotaka looked up and at the Nara, to which Shikamaru shook his head, “Nothing, don't mind me.”
To his left, Hinata tried to hide a giggle, but didn't smother it in time. They looked at each other and next it was Shikamaru who had to fight the urge to smirk as it occurred to him Hinata was also aware of Hotaka's 'crush' on their teammate.
'This should be fun to watch' the Nara decided, especially since Sasuke was looking increasingly annoyed.
It seemed the only place Sasuke could escape Hotaka was the bathroom. After dinner, Hotaka suggested that since the Uchiha still looked a bit frostbitten a bath might warm him up. Sasuke only gave in on the offer because he was still freezing cold.
Steam rose up after the tap for hot water had been turned on full blast. Seated on a stool with a basin of warm water at his side to rinse his hair, Sasuke's fingers massaged shampoo lather into his hair, eyes closed tightly to keep the soap out. Since he couldn't see anything, Sasuke was a bit caught off guard when he heard the door to the bathroom open.
However, he thought back to all the little innocent pranks he had played on Shikamaru- whether they were out on missions or at home.
'So...he thinks he can enact a little payback, huh? Well we'll just see about that.' Sasuke mused, his hand blindly reaching for the basin. Once the water poured over his head and rinsed out the suds, Sasuke whipped his head around and expected to see a smug Nara standing over him...
Instead he got a face full of naked legs and genitals. Dark eyes went wide before Sasuke quickly looked up to see it was Hotaka.
“Sorry, I hope you don't mind the company, Sasuke but I could use a bath too.”
Shikamaru and Hinata were having a nice conversation about nothing in particular; but then it was rudely interrupted when Hotaka suddenly bolted out of the bathroom, with nothing covering him save for a towel. Despite being naked, he seemed comfortable enough to walk over to two of them and ask.
“Is he always so...violent?”
Shikamaru tried to hold his laughter in, while Hinata had her face hidden behind her hands. “N-not usually. He -snicker- must really like you though.”
Hotaka's green eyes grew wide and a bit hopeful, “You think so?”
“Sure. Sasuke's difficult to know, but once you've weathered through him throwing things at you, cursing you out, and threatening to kill you; he's like a kitten.”
“Oh. When you put it that way.” Hotaka said, steeling his nerve and tied the towel around his waist securely before walking back to the bathroom.
“Go get him tiger.” Shikamaru said around another snicker. “...he's gone Hinata. You can open your eyes now.”
Slowly, her fingers spread apart, pearl eyes peering from the spaces. Once she saw with her own eyes that the coast was clear, Hinata raised her head with a sigh and leaned against the wall. She frowned though upon hearing Shikamaru laughing beside her.
“That was terrible.”
“What? Sasuke deserves it.”
Her frown deepened, “I meant to Hotaka-san...and Sasuke. But mostly Hotaka-san, since he can't win against Sasuke.”
Shikamaru sighed, hands brought together and resting behind his head, “Nothing is going to happen, Hinata. Hotaka probably won't even get within ten feet of him, before Sasuke knocks him on his ass. Doubt he'd kill him though.”
The Hyuuga opened her mouth to counter his 'theory', but suddenly the bathroom door opened again. Hinata didn't even have a chance to blink, let alone fully close her eyes; when Sasuke zipped out, dripping wet and naked.
“You bastard...” he snarled, trying to pull Shikamaru up to his feet by his shirt collar, but the Nara wasn't going anywhere. If anything, Sasuke trying to drag Shikamaru up to stand, forced the Uchiha to bend over, getting right in the other man's face, his slicked back black hair dripping on him.
“You sic'ed that guy on me, didn't you?” he asked between gritted teeth.
“Ha, you hear that Hinata? It's not enough that Uchiha Sasuke has claimed the hearts of women all over Konoha. Now he thinks that guys dig him too.” Shikamaru said with a chuckle.
Hinata didn't even answer him, not that anyone expected her to. When Shikamaru turned his head, he was surprised to see pale eyes staring at him...and at Sasuke too. At first, he thought it was shock, but the quickly spreading blush along her cheeks told that yes, she was alive, conscious, and watching their every move.
Sasuke wasn't paying attention to her though. Instead, he took the opportunity to shake Shikamaru, “I'll get you back for this” he hissed.
Sasuke came through with his threat, because when it was time for them to turn in for bed. Shikamaru found that the blanket from his pack was missing. He didn't have to look very far. Sasuke had it folded it up underneath his head and was using it as a pillow.
'Great' Shikamaru thought. He could just go over and take it, but he had a feeling that's what Sasuke wanted.
Curled up on the futon mattress on the floor, in between Sasuke and Hinata's mats, he shivered. The room was just so drafty.
'How can that Hotaka guy stand living here...' Shikamaru opened his eyes and looked up as a blanket was draped over his body. He looked over at Sasuke, but the bastard was still holding the blanket hostage.
'Then where...' he turned over to look at Hinata. She was just settling back onto her mattress when Shikamaru spotted her, the blanket had 'mysteriously' levitated off her bed and over him.
Pale pearl colored eyes blinked at him, the young woman sitting up just as she was close to laying her head down.
“No. Hinata, take this back I don't need it.”
She shook her head, “You keep it.”
The dim room was silent. Hotaka was sound asleep, snoring on the far side of the main room- his back to Sasuke for the first time all evening, but that was probably to hide the black eye from the rest of them. And they both assumed that since Sasuke's eyes were closed and he hadn't turned over in awhile he was asleep too.
Finally, Shikamaru sighed, “Come on...bring your mattress over here. ...don't look at me like that. We can share.”
'Why does this sound so familiar?' Hinata thought to herself. Of course she knew 'why', that really wasn't the question. Rather, the Hyuuga wondered why she was so quick to fall for it again. After getting up, Hinata pushed her mattress to Shikamaru's side. Once she was laying down again, he draped the large blanket over the two of them.
“Is that better?”
Hinata nodded in response, “Much. Thank you.”
Meanwhile, Sasuke had his back to them, but he was hardly sound asleep. Dark eyes rolled, hidden by the darkness. 'Why don't you both throw on pajamas and gossip about cute boys already?' he thought sourly. Still a part of Sasuke said he brought this on himself. He told that 'part' to shut the hell up and let him sleep guilt-free; then tightened his grip on Shikamaru's ill-gotten blanket.
Notes: End of part one! More to come soon-ish. Thanks for reading!