Chapter Sixteen: Setting Out
"…don't like this! Come on Baa-chan, there's got to be something to prevent her from going! She's injured!"
"As much as I want to, I can't, Naruto."
"What's the point of having the title of Hokage if you can't even overrule these kinds of decisions?"
"Shut it, Uchiha!"
"Yeah, shut up, teme! That's my future position you're talking about!"
"Troublesome. Can't you two just knock it off?"
"Hey, hey, hey! Okay, everyone just calm down, no need for bloodshed! I understand this entire night has got us all on edge but we got a Mission to worry about and all your yelling's pissing me off. Keep it up and you'll have Forehead on your asses too!"
Sakura couldn't help the soft chuckle that erupted from her lips as she rolled over on her bed, her mind registering her stiff limbs and sore back as her eyelids fluttered open and gazed upon the curtain-covered window, although the subtle light passing through the gossamer drapes was clue enough that the sun hadn't risen which meant very early morning. Blinking a couple of times the kunoichi recalled that the Lightning Diplomat Mission didn't officially begin until noon: the designated time she and her team were supposed to leave to escort the Raito Family back to Lightning Country, which meant she had an ample amount of time to start healing her injuries so she would be more prepared to set out.
So, the earlier she started healing herself, the better.
Sitting up, Sakura absently took stock of her surroundings. Sometime during the night Tsunade had come into the room to switch blood bags for the IV of her left arm, which meant that a little of Hatake Kakashi and Hyuuga Neji was flowing in her systems. The blood bag was empty so Sakura carefully pulled out the IV before allowing her hands to glow with green chakra, getting set to work on her back injury. Other bruises and cuts littering her body could wait; sure, she would be a little sore but the night's rest hadn't recovered her chakra supply as much as she wanted.
Glancing to her right she found that the chair Sasuke had been occupying was empty, but she knew he was just outside the room with the others, their loud conversation being the reason for her wakefulness. She smiled, her friends truly were caring and considerate of her well-being with the amount of worry they were putting into her attendance for the mission, accompanied with her injuries, but she was tough, she could pull through, she had a job to do. As appreciative as she was of their concern she wasn't fragile; admittedly, yes she was reckless the night before – Sasuke had a point that she could have used a Genjutsu and escaped unharmed – but lesson learned, the past had past and now she had her other duties to concentrate on.
"Alright, enough!" Tsunade's voice stated, catching Sakura's attention as she stared at the door, green chakra flickering slightly at her interrupted focus, "Whether we agree with this decision or not Sakura will be accompanying you on this Mission. As tough and determined as she may be not to fail you with her wounds she will need rest. Ino and Hinata, I want you to regularly check on her condition every night, lend some of your healing chakra, and make sure she doesn't deplete it or her recovery will take longer…"
Sakura snorted softly; she knew that.
"Despite the obvious tension between you all and the Raito Family," Tsunade continued gravely, "You will all act civilized. You will all be professional. Am I clear?"
Sakura couldn't help but grin at the obvious hesitance that followed her question.
"…Yeah, yeah, Baa-chan."
"Uchiha," Tsunade acknowledged dangerously, "Are we clear?"
Sakura quirked a curious brow and after several more moments a muttered, "Hn," followed.
Tsunade sighed, clearly in exasperation, and continued on, "…Akatsuki is not to be engaged. Lightning Country is expecting you to be there within two weeks so I want you to waste no time. I don't want unpunctuality to make this negotiation even more complex than it already is," Sakura could just imagine her Shishou rubbing one of her temples, "Hyuuga Neji, Tenten and Sai will be acting as your lookout Squad…They will not be accompanying you but shadowing you, whether ahead of you or behind you depends on what they see and encounter. If there are any sightings of Rain Ninja or Akatsuki they will inform you by whatever means possible. Sakura and Shikamaru are in charge. Any questions?"
More silence, a little shuffling, until Naruto spoke up hesitantly, "…Will we get into a lot of trouble if I accidentally slip and punch the bastard?"
"Naruto," Tsunade growled, Sakura snickering as she imagined everyone in the group smirking at him while he grinned, "Yes, you'll get into trouble so don't you dare do anything stupid!"
"Alright, alright…" Naruto answered sulkily.
"Everyone, get geared up and ready to go by noon," The Godaime finished up, "You'll be meeting the Raito Family at the Northern Gates. Understood?"
The shuffling of feet could be heard outside the door, fading away down the corridor; Sakura returned to her healing hearing the door to her room open as other footsteps approached. She kept her gaze on her lap, arms raised and bent so her hands were on her back as she felt the sensation of chakra flow through her sore muscles.
"Already up and set on depleting your chakra, are you?" Tsunade muttered as she stopped beside the bed, "I thought I taught you better than that."
Sakura smiled, though didn't shift her gaze, "I'm not depleting myself, Shishou, just healing what I can."
"Well, let me take over," Tsunade responded, gentle hands pausing Sakura's efforts before they moved towards her back; Sakura was able to move around slightly and finally glance up at her company: Tsunade, Sasuke and Naruto.
"Feeling better, Sakura-chan?" Naruto asked timidly, azure eyes darting between her face and the injury Tsunade was healing, "You really had us worried."
"I'm fine Naruto," Sakura assured, glancing briefly at Sasuke, the Uchiha quiet but also watching her, "Besides, Sasuke did a good job watching out for me last night; especially when Kiyoshi came by."
"He came here?" Naruto bellowed, looking between Sasuke and Sakura; Sasuke's own expression had darkened with remembrance and Tsunade's hands had faltered in its healing, "What'd he do?"
"Nothing, Naruto, calm down," The kunoichi sighed as she waved her hand dismissively, "He just wanted to make sure that I knew I was still a part of the Mission."
"…Bastard…" Naruto muttered, arms crossed as he glared at the floor.
"Enough of that," Tsunade sighed, then she poked Sakura in the shoulder lightly, "As for you, Sakura, I want you to take it easy on this mission, especially if it comes to fighting. That injury to your back almost affected your spine to the point of paralysis; so don't strain yourself as the wound heals. I also don't want you to be taking night watches for the first few nights, just rest, alright?"
Sakura nodded, "I understand."
"And you two," Tsunade acknowledged as she looked over her shoulder towards Sasuke and Naruto, "You two better behave."
Both males looked at the floor with reluctant glares before simultaneously nodding their heads.
Tsunade then pulled back from her healing and Sakura smiled as she felt her limbs and back move more flexibly and without pain. Leaning back she looked up at the Godaime just as the woman began to rummage through her robes. After several moments she took out two scrolls and placed them on the bedside table.
"Those are for you and Naruto," The Hokage explained as she glanced at Sakura then the blonde, "They're the Jutsus that can help you if you encounter any Akatsuki Members. They're meant for you two alone so practice with each other, read it over in isolation," She glanced at Sasuke, who was staring at the Scrolls with a raised brow, "As a matter of fact, Uchiha should learn a thing or two also…Practice with them if you see fit however use it wisely," She began walking towards the door as Naruto nudged Sasuke excitedly as they stared at the rolls of parchment, "Now I have the Raito Family to attend to. Rest up Sakura, I'm sure you'll be fit for travel once you have a few more hours of sleep."
Sakura nodded, "Of course, Shishou."
Tsunade nodded also with a small smile and left the room before Naruto walked over to the bed and ruffled Sakura's hair, leaning down and planting a light kiss on her forehead when he deemed it boyfriend-mannerism. Pulling back he smiled brightly at the bed-ridden kunoichi which she returned with a small chuckle.
"Glad to see you're okay Sakura-chan," Naruto stated before he looked at the window, the light from the sun's rising now becoming visible, "Rest up. Teme and I need to get ready but we'll be back in a few hours to pick you up," He grinned, "Then we'll grab a quick bite at Ichiraku's before we meet with the rest of the team at the Gate. Sound good?"
Sakura laughed, not minding the game-plan Naruto had laid out, "Sounds perfect Naruto. I'll see you in a few hours," She craned her head to look at the quiet Uchiha and smiled, "See you, Sasuke. Thanks for stopping by…And for staying."
Sasuke stared at her a few moments before nodding, "Hn."
"So close your eyes now Saku-chan!" Naruto urged as he backed away towards the door, "We'll see you later! Love you!"
Sakura couldn't help the blush that rose to her cheeks from Naruto's declaration. She knew he meant it in a platonic way but the situation and the company made it a little more surprising to hear. She had seen Sasuke stiffen as the words left the blonde's month and as much as Sakura wanted to chalk-it up as surprise she couldn't help but wonder if, maybe, Sasuke really was jealous.
Pushing away her thoughts, not needing a reason to prevent her from getting some rest, Sakura waved her farewell.
Timidly, to keep up appearances – although a small part of her wondered about a certain Uchiha's reaction – Sakura quietly responded, "Thanks Naruto…Love you too."
She watched as Naruto grinned brightly before he left the room but her gaze remained on the dark eyes that snapped towards her, stared at her with a mixture of something she couldn't identify, before he grunted roughly and left the room also.
Guiltily, because Sakura knew she was playing with fire – worse, playing with feelings – the kunoichi slid deeper into her covers and closed her eyes.
"Oh Naruto…What are we doing?" She thought dismally.
No, she wasn't going to be getting the rest she needed.
"D-Do we have everything?"
"If the definition of everything is 'every last luxury of Konohagakure no Sato' then yeah, I think we do have EVERYTHING!"
"Calm down, Ino."
"Calm down? Do you not see the piles of junk this family is willing to bring at the risk of their safety? They don't know the meaning of freaking discretion! They're just asking for a reason to be found and bringing death upon us in the process!"
"So no, I will not be calm Shikamaru! This family is making this mission harder than it should be and our lives a living hell!"
"Sorry Hinata-chan, but it's true."
Ino huffed angrily, stomping her right foot against the ground to emphasize her fury, hands resting on her hips and grey-blue orbs glaring at the wooden carriage just a few yards away from where she stood. It was an elaborate coach with gold rims, curtains, velvet seats within, and elegant white horses pulling it. Atop it, trunks and various bags and other supplies unnecessary for the journey were tied on. Passing civilians and shinobi, who walked by, stared at the spectacle in curious confusion and awe, since carts of that appearance rarely came through the Village Gates. Even the Hokage – or other Kages for that matter – never traveled in such style because traveling in such lavishness clearly spelt out disaster; it was a moving target for those shinobi assigned to assassinate important people or bandits to ambush and steal what they could.
Shikamaru took a stand beside the blonde, gazing at the cart with bored eyes and hands typically shoved in his pocket. Ino failed to acknowledge him, content to stew in silent indignation.
The Shadow-User sighed, "Ino…Everything we're going to need is in the packs on our back. Lightning Country is about ten days away, we have time to go at their pace but if it gets down to it and we get attacked then the team will have no qualms leaving the cart behind. For now, we'll play by their rules…Until then, don't be troublesome."
Ino was quiet; her eyes still trained on the cart, brows furrowed and scowl still in place as she took in the steel – gold-plated – wheels and the last of the luggage that Hinata was tying on, "…You think we can sabotage it so they don't get to bring it at all?"
"Ino…" Shikamaru exhaled as he shook his head, "Whether we bring it or not, they're still not Ninja, they can't keep up at our regular pace. So be grateful they want it rather than having to carry them on our own backs."
And with that Shikamaru walked away leaving Ino to scowl darkly at his reasoning and the blinding gold that flashed in her eyes thanks to the sun's brightening rays. So, with one last glare at the cart, Ino stomped away, muttering under her breath.
Hinata jumped off the carriage gracefully before looking up at the packed belongings tied atop the extravagant coach. As much as she knew Shikamaru's reasoning was sound the fact remained that having the cart was going to make it harder for them to travel without notice. As opposed to the tree branches shinobi traveled by a carriage needed even and travelable roadway so the main roads were the only way to go. If one large carriage rimmed in gold and luxurious possessions flanked by six shinobi didn't scream Importance then Hinata wasn't sure what did.
Ino was right; they were pretty much a walking target just shouting to be ambushed.
"I'm fine Naruto, stop babying me!"
"I'm just looking out for your well-being Sakura-chan…What do you expect from your boyfriend!"
"As sweet as that may be, boyfriend or not, I will pummel you if you keep hovering!"
"Aww, don't be like that Sakura-chan!"
"Dobe, will you just listen to her? If she's fine, back off."
"What's that bastard? Let's see you get a girlfriend and not be worried out of your mind!"
"Just because I'm not tied down with a girlfriend doesn't mean I don't care, loser. At least I wouldn't smother her."
"Yeah, you'd probably just be an aloof and apathetic asshole who'd send her the wrong message!"
"Shut up! Both of you!"
Hinata shifted her gaze away from the carriage down the street where Team Seven was approaching. All three were geared up and ready to go; Sasuke was dressed in his Jounin attire, black pants and a black, long-sleeve shirt with the Jounin flak-jacket over it. His Kusanagi was strapped to his waist and a lone bag was slung over his right shoulder. Naruto was similarly dressed – told by Tsunade to tone down the orange – his backpack slung over both his shoulders while his hands hovered close to Sakura. The kunoichi was walking slowly between the two males, her eyes closed and brows furrowed with irritation. A messenger bag was slung over her right shoulder – most likely filled with medical supplies – another bag was strapped to her back, and she was wearing dark, form-fitting pants that reached her ankles, her knee-high shinobi sandals over it, a sleeveless, black form-fitting fishnet top and the green flak-jacket over it.
Sasuke and Naruto were throwing insults and comments back and forth at one another while Sakura's patience steadily became thinner. When the Medic spotted Hinata her eyes lit up and she began to walk faster, leaving her company behind and causing Naruto to yelp in surprise, stating loudly that she should 'take it easy, Sakura-chan' which earned him a smack to the head courtesy of Sasuke who responded 'she's walking idiot, what trouble can she get into by walking?'.
And then their argument started up once more.
"Hey Hinata-chan," Sakura greeted tiredly before her gaze landed on the monstrosity of a cart behind the Hyuuga Heiress, "Uh…What is that?"
Hinata giggled at the confusion displayed on the pink-haired woman's face before responding, "…I-It's the Raito Family's t-transport…"
"Transport?" The Medic repeated incredulously as she frowned, "You have got to be kidding me…"
"I-I wish I w-was," The Byakugan-User sighed, "Ino-chan i-isn't too happy about it ei-either…"
"Who wouldn't be?" Sakura replied as she stepped around it to get an all-around image, "This…thing is like asking any and all enemies to attack us."
"You too?" Shikamaru exhaled softly as he joined the two women.
Sakura stared at the Tactical Shinobi with a raised eyebrow, "You and I both know that by traveling with this thing there's a guarantee that Rain Ninja or Akatsuki – scratch that, both – will be encountered."
"And you and I both know that if we bring this issue up the Raito Family will just make it harder on us when we want to try and go through with this mission as smoothly as we want it to," Shikamaru muttered realistically.
Sakura chose to glare at him, taking the challenge, "Rather we travel without this junk than risk their – and our – lives drawing out enemies."
"At least we have a chance against those enemies or even retreat and leaving the coach behind than risking another argument with the Diplomat and losing this fragile Alliance," Shikamaru countered blandly, though despite his bored expression his eyes were sharp.
The Medic frowned, her features twisted into something between a scowl and a pout, "…You and your damned logic, Nara."
The Shadow-User merely smirked before walking away, "I win."
Sakura rolled her eyes just as Ino stepped beside her, the blonde looking at the scene for a few seconds before realization of what just happened dawned; she pat Sakura's shoulder sympathetically, "You too, huh?" She sighed, "Nara Shikamaru: 2. Kick-Ass Kunoichi: 0." Then the Mind-User grinned lightly, "Don't worry, we've got a whole Mission to catch up."
Sakura couldn't help but laugh, "Right."
"You know…These guys are just getting more annoying the more time we spend with them," Naruto stated, everyone turning his way to see his arms crossed and gazing at the coach with a frown.
"We're entitled to our opinions, Naruto," Sakura answered as she adjusted her messenger bag, "But don't let them hear you say that."
"Yeah, I know," The Kyuubi-Vessel grumbled.
Hinata giggled lightly before she moved towards her discarded pack near the rear of the coach, shrugging it on before she walked towards the gathered group. Noon was drawing nearer and all they were waiting for was the Raito Family's arrival. Now that the day had finally come for this Mission everyone seemed a little on edge but assurances lay with the fact that at least they weren't alone, but with comrades they trusted and worked well with.
Sakura, who had put her messenger bag down to release the pressure from her shoulder, felt a light draft of wind brush against her shoulder and automatically looked over it to see three cloaked figures appear in a whirl of leaves. All three forms stood from their crouches, their dark cloaks shifting lightly with the breeze, faces covered in masks which instantly equaled ANBU.
"Neji, Tenten, and Sai…" Sakura registered in her mind.
"You're our Shadow Team," Shikamaru acknowledged, careful not to give away their identities, "Do you have radio contact?"
"Frequency 72.3," One of them answered, Neji's voice clearly recognizable to them, "When you've reached Lightning Country we will meet with you there and travel back with your Squad."
"Understood," Shikamaru nodded.
"Be careful," Sakura called out, a little nervous about their particular Mission, "Alright?"
One head bobbed in acknowledgement, "You too," The voice was feminine and Sakura could imagine Tenten smiling kindly; the female ANBU stepped forward and placed a hand on her shoulder, "And glad to see you up and about Sakura-chan."
"…Thank you," The Medic answered, but her tone conveyed the gratitude of not just their relief but the fact that it was she and Neji who saved her – as well as Neji who donated some of his blood for the transfusion.
"We know you would have done the same for us," Neji acknowledged.
Sakura smiled and Tenten stepped away, "We should get going. See you all in Lightning."
Everyone waved – aside from Sasuke who nodded – and voiced their farewells. Sakura, however, zoned her sights on the third ANBU and walked up to him. His head tilted to the side in silent curiosity and Sakura could imagine his closed-eyed smile behind it.
"And you," She stated seriously, also careful not to reveal his name, "You be careful too. Because," Her voice dropped to a whisper, "…It's not Team Seven without you either."
Sakura really wanted to know what Sai's expression was hidden behind the mask as his head remained tilted, but after several moments he had nodded his head.
"She's right, you know!" Naruto shouted in agreement as he grinned; and although Sasuke was frequently annoyed by Sai, he silently admitted that the boy had grown on him a bit too.
"…Thank you," He finally replied, and Sakura smiled and gave him a brief hug before he rejoined his temporary team.
Neji, Tenten, and Sai gave a final wave before they disappeared in a whirl of leaves, Sakura silently wishing them luck as she watched the spot they once occupied.
"And look who's finally arrived," Ino mumbled in dismal resignation, casting another glare at the large carriage beside her.
Coming up the Main Street was the Raito Family, all three dressed in their regal and professional garb. Masaru was a little more lightly attired, at least in clothes that can be walked in. Kimiko was wearing a loose kimono, also light to wear but very flashy and screaming its steep cost. Although Kiyoshi's garments were also obviously high-end they looked quite maneuverable and it became more apparent that it was his preference since his sword was strapped to his waist, which meant he was ready and willing to jump into any brawls that occurred.
Sakura wasn't sure if that action would either help or hinder any aggressive interactions with enemies.
Kakashi, who was leading the Raito Family, waved a single hand in greeting, "Yo."
"That might explain their tardiness," Naruto snickered as he gestured towards his Sensei, Sakura and Sasuke sharing amused smirks.
"I heard that," Kakashi drawled, his lone eye glaring at the blonde half-heartedly; he turned towards Sakura, "Glad to see you're feeling better Sakura."
"My fastest recovery yet," The Medic jokingly replied, though she grinned, "But I'll be taking it easy for the next few days so no worries Kaka-sensei. And thank you…For the donation."
"Anything for you," He responded sincerely as he ruffled her pink locks, earning a pouted protest from the young woman, "Just be careful out there…" He looked up to scan the entire team, "All of you."
"We got this, Kaka-sensei!" Naruto beamed, fist pumped, "You can count on us!"
"Can we just go already?" Kimiko whined as she walked towards the carriage, "I want to go home!"
"We're ready to depart," Shikamaru confirmed with a nod, "Once you're all settled, we'll head out."
"Finally!" Kimiko muttered before opening the carriage door and made herself comfortable inside; her head then poked out from the window, "And my stuff better be here! If anything gets left behind I'm taking it out of your payroll!"
"E-Everything is accounted for…" Hinata assured.
"Kimiko," Masaru warned, earning a pout from his daughter; he turned to Kakashi and bowed his head, "Thank you for escorting us Hatake-san."
Masaru then turned to Sakura and bowed his head again, "I…I apologize Sakura-san for removing you from recovery. Thank you for reconsidering in joining us."
Sakura was a little surprised by the Diplomat's unexpected apology – and bow for that matter – but shook her head with a small smile, "It's my job, Masaru-san; I need to get back on my feet some time, ne?"
Masaru cast a curious stare at her before he nodded his head and followed after his daughter. Kiyoshi remained quiet, dark blue eyes studying the team before him – earning short glares from Ino, Sasuke, and Naruto – before he entered the coach and closed the door behind him.
"Alright, left side of the carriage: Hinata at the front, Naruto beside the coach, and Ino at the rear," Shikamaru informed before setting his sights on the Hyuuga, "Hinata, you are going to be our eyes and our guide…Keep an eye out for any suspicious people and make sure we keep to the main roads."
"Y-Yes Shikamaru-kun," The Byakugan-User affirmed.
"Right side: Sasuke in front, Sakura beside the carriage, and I'm at the rear," Shikamaru continued, eyes straying to Sasuke, "You'll be in charge of front protection while I'm in charge of rear…Also, you have our Medic to keep an eye on; no offense to your skills Sakura but as you're in a state of recovery we're going to be keeping extra eyes on your safety."
Sakura sighed, "I understand."
Sasuke nodded, "Hn."
"Naruto," The blonde perked up at the Shadow-User's call, "You'll be protecting our Eyes, Hinata has the Byakugan and without her we won't be prepared when enemies converge on us, so you'll be watching out for her safety too."
Naruto grinned and looked towards the Heiress, "You can count on me, Hinata-chan!"
Through her darkening blush, Hinata nodded.
"And me?" Ino asked, one brow raised, "Do I have a special job? Do I get protected?"
Sakura couldn't help but let out a small snicker, which she tried to suppress when Ino glared at her.
Shikamaru however, sighed, "You'll be helping me with rear guard and, if it ever comes up, you'll be interrogating any enemies we detain."
Ino crossed her arms, staring at the Nara-Genius pointedly, "And?"
Shikamaru rolled his eyes and sighed again, "…And I'll protect you."
Ino broke out into a wide grin and quickly placed a quick kiss on his cheek – making sure none of the the Raitos could see and accuse them of getting frisky on the job – and hopped towards her station, "You're the best, Shika-kun!"
Shikamaru exhaled deeply, not oblivious to the amused glances – even from Sasuke – darting his way before he waved them off. Naruto and Sakura had begun snickering again but obliged while Hinata and Sasuke moved to the front, the Heiress patting the horses pulling the coach and prompting them to start moving.
"And we're off!" Naruto yelled, a light giggle within the carriage answering him, earning a roll of viridian orbs from Sakura.
Shikamaru sighed. Yes, they were finally starting their Mission.
Hopefully it wouldn't prove too troublesome.
A/N: Yay! So I got out the next chapter of It All Started With and the team is finally starting their long-awaited Mission! Hope you all like it so far, let the adventure BEGIN! Yay! I apologize again for the late update, another writer's block, I completely forgot how I was going to approach the traveling aspect of the Mission so this Chapter was sort of a Filler, but I will try to get the next installment out as soon as I possibly can! It's Summer, I have to TRY! So, please let me know what you think so far and I would love to hear from you!
Bee, tee, dubs (btw)...The Curse has also been Updated, Missing In Action will be making an appearance, a Plot Bunny Idea was added to Keep or Scrap?, and False Facade and Forbidden Bonds will be updated sometime within the next two days, so keep a look out!
Next Chapter: Hmm...I think I should start giving you Readers long-awaited SasuSaku Fluff, hehe.
And! If anyone is confused about the Mapping of this story, I'd recommend checking out the World Map at (www . leafninja . com) Just take out the parentheses and spaces, it's where I get a lot of my Naruto Information! :)
BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has reviewed and read my fiction(s), I appreciate your support and feedback! You're all AWESOME!
Oh! One last thing! Anyone got a Twitter? I made one for the sole purpose of making friends who have the same interests as me (Naruto, Inuyasha, Fullmetal Alchemist, Final Fantasy VII, Anime in general), let me know, I'm open to new friendships and whatever, up to you, just PM me or drop a review! Happy reading everyone!