A/N: Reggie's official conclusion: this story is going to be long. I've got a bunch of scenes in my head, and enough plot ideas and twists to keep this going a while without over doing it and just telling my story. I haven't finished my outline yet, but I'd be willing to bet money that this will be longer than 'Pieces', so if you're emotionally invested already I hope you're in for the long haul.
This is the last one I would class as a truly 'introductory' chapter. After this, the pace of the story picks up significantly.
Sorry for the delay, guys! I never have written well during the summer time.
Kingdom of Secrets
Chapter 4: Circumstances
It didn't take much longer for the group to go meet up with Kan again. They only really needed for the kids and Kakashi to pack their bags, and Iruka to grab extra supplies and put them in a bag also—which Kakashi had Naruto carry much to both the Chuunin and Naruto's annoyance. The Jounin could tell Iruka was not taking kindly to being treated like a prince, which would probably make this whole trip very interesting in deed.
It occurred to him that this would be the first time he'd get to watch Naruto and Iruka interact for an extended period of time, and someone help him but he was terribly curious. Sure, the younger man had taught the kid and stayed with him that long everyday, but that's not the same as being with him constantly for long missions. Maybe then Iruka would see the things in Naruto, both good and bad, that Kakashi could, and maybe even argue with him less. Then again, he was probably hoping for too much. He didn't know that much about the younger man, but he knew he was stubborn.
Kakashi had also expected that walking through town with Iruka in his full formal wear would turn more than a few heads, and bring upon them a lot of questions from those who knew the Chuunin sensei that couldn't be answered. He was surprised, then, to realize that few of the villagers spared them more than a passing glance. In fact, Kiba and Naruto walking together and arguing caused a lot more of a stir than the first part of the party did. The other ninja must have, the Jounin concluded, simply seen him and the clothing and decided it was an escort mission and left it at that.
He'd have to remember to tell Tsunade about that when they got back.
When they reached the front gate, it was evident that Kan was very agitated. He was shifting from foot to foot, and nervously kept brushing his toffee-colored hair out of almost female pretty face. It probably didn't help the guy's nerves that Kotetsu and Izumo were watching him with identical looks of obvious suspicion on their faces. Kakashi couldn't really find it in him to feel sorry for the guy though. He HAD made it clear they wouldn't hesitate to attack Konoha after all. Hard to feel bad for someone so willing to destroy your home.
There was a brief flash of delight on the foreigners face as he saw Iruka's formal wear before he bowed so low it looked like he was going to brain himself on the side-walk. "You look excellent, my liege."
"No need to rub it in," Iruka muttered, deliberately ignoring his fellow chuunin's open mouthed gawking. "And I told you not until we're outside of the village."
"Forgive me my lord," Kan said, the slight mischief in his voice obvious, "but I am outside the village gate."
The brunette's left eye twitched rather humorously, and Kakashi wondered vaguely how his students kept from laughing while he was yelling at them as Iruka spoke. "Until we are well outside the village then, Kan. In fact, I would rather you didn't do it all. Ever."
"I'm afraid I can't do that," was the serious response. "You must be treated with the utmost respect. That is the law."
"The law there, Kan. Not here."
"It is our home, and therefore we are still bound to it."
Iruka looked ready to argue the point, but then with a sigh surrendered, and instead focused his attention on the now snickering gate guards. "And you two! This isn't to leave the area, is that clear? Tsunade-sama wants this kept as secret as possible."
Izumo held up his hands in a placating manner. "Don't worry, Iruka-sensei. I don't think anyone would believe us if we told them."
"I don't care. Nobody hears about this, or I'll post those photos around town larger than even the Icha Icha movie advertisements."
Both of them paled rather comically in total sync.
"Alright, alright," Kotetsu said, giving a small sniff as he stammered. "We won't tell a soul, we swear."
Iruka's smirk bordered on sadistic, and next to him he felt the kids collectively shudder. Kakashi couldn't help but rub the back of his head nervously, and ponder momentarily on what he'd gotten himself in to. Standing in the wrong place at the wrong time as usual, it would seem.
With that appearing to be settled, the brunette Chuunin started walking away from the gate. "We might as well get this over with."
"Excuse me, your highness," Kan said, chasing after him until he was a respectful distance behind. "You shouldn't be walking! I insist that you will ride my horse."
Iruka whirled around to face the other man so fast that his low-ponytail whipped his own face. "What did you just say?"
Kan gestured to the horse, a magnificent bluish-black beast, which was tethered to a nearby tree. It raised its head from munching on the grass and turned uninterested brown eyes to look at his master.
"It would be unseemly for my prince to be walking while there is a perfectly acceptable animal for him to ride. Uma would be most honored to carry you, my liege."
Kakashi could only assume that Uma was the horse, and if that was the case then this guy was thoroughly uncreative with his names. And Uma certainly didn't look that honored to be carrying anything. In fact, he seemed perfectly content to keep munching the tender grass growing right next to the tree.
"I refuse to ride like some prissy little princling and slow us all down when I could run just as easily, formal clothing or not!" Iruka's face was nearly red with rage and his eyes were flashing dangerously. "You want to get there as possible, do you not, Kan?"
"And yet," Kakashi mused idly, "wasn't it your idea to keep up the appearance of a regular mission to avoid unnecessary attention. A prince with ninja skills would certainly look suspicious, don't you think, Iruka-sensei? All pride aside, of course."
The kids and Kan, who was probably having second thoughts about wanting his prince home by this point, were looking at him like he was suicidal. The Jounin chose to ignore them, instead keeping eye contact with Iruka. The Chuunin had his head held high now; looking at Kakashi with that same defiant look he'd worn during the Chuunin exam nominations.
"All pride aside, it's still more practical to travel without an animal. They have no stealth, and they make finding a spot to camp more difficult as it has to be sufficient for them as well. Places like that are always more open, and harder to defend."
"You're speaking like we need to be constantly on our guard for intruders, Iruka-sensei. Expecting company? Possibly keeping further necessary information from us?"
Now those brown eyes were so narrow the irises were almost invisible. "I have told you all information that I deem pertinent to the mission, Kakashi-san."
"You also deemed it unimportant to share the detail of your heritage with the Hokage and those closest to you. That's how you got in this mess in the first place."
Kakashi had him floored, and Iruka knew it. He floundered for a moment, his mouth opening and closing slightly as he struggled to come up with an argument against that. None would come. He huffed slightly, before walking over to the horse. He untied the rope with ease and mounted the confused Uma with a grace only close to a lifetime of training in ninjutsu could give him.
The silver-haired Jounin then turned to face the rest of the party, choosing to ignore their awestruck faces. "Kan, you're going to lead the horse at all times. Keep your eyes and ears open. You're unfamiliar with these woods, so you may pick up something we would miss. I am trusting that you would not want any harm to befall your prince, since you spent so long looking for him, correct?"
"I will guard him with my life," he responded, face contorting into an almost scowl at having his loyalty questioned.
"Good man." He waited until Kan had moved off before facing the other three. "Kiba, I want you and your dog up front and scouting a little a head. Keep on the look out for the common sorts of thieves looking to waylay nobility as well as anyone stronger that might cause us problems. Sakura, I want you next to Iruka-sensei at all times. Be ready to help him as need be, and keep an eye on Kan. We can't trust someone so eager to start a war, no matter what he says."
Both of the Genin nodded their faces suddenly serious.
"Hey, hey, Kakashi-sensei, what about me?"
"Naruto, you'll be a little bit behind. Same as the other two, be on your guard for anything suspicious. Most likely, we won't run into anything. The real danger is when we get there. In case we do get separated," Kakashi knelt down, using a nearby stick to draw a rough outline of the southern coast. "We're aiming for this port city. We'll meet there. Wait for those not with you for three days. If they aren't there, continue to the Island, always remembering that protecting Iruka-sensei is always our top priority."
The trio nodded again, starting to grin with anticipation for their mission. There was a tremendous feeling of the unknown that was hanging over the whole thing that made this exciting for them. For Kakashi, it made him anxious and on edge. He hated it.
"Let's move out."