Chapter 3: Mission: Escort Part 2
Unbeta'd for now. Please excuse any typos!
AN: I changed my penname to IcyFantastique. Don't panic ;)
The morning sun rose far too soon for Kakashi's liking as he lay awake through the dark hours of the night. He watched as the fiery ball teased him with it's yellow rays and subtle warmth leaking through the window. Turning over, Kakashi was just barely able to peer over the edge of the bed and see his sleeping students still breathing softly in little lumps buried under a pile of blankets. Reluctantly, the Jonin rose from his resting place and glanced over at the students.
"Oh, how adorable." He cooed at the sight.
Before him, his three little students were curled together, snuggled like small pups. Sasuke's arm was tossed lazily over Naruto's chest, head nestled tight against the blonde's neck as if snuggling with some human sized stuffed animal. Sakura was pressed against the raven's back, her petal pink hair mussed and covering her face, a trail of drool creeping down her chin.
Kakashi decided to take advantage of this glorious situation. Leaning downward with a conniving smirk, he delivered a firm poke to each of the sleeping children's cheeks and chuckled as each face gave an adorable scrunch and emitted a tired groan.
"Time to wake up." Kakashi practically sang; he couldn't recall the last time his voice had sounded so jolly, the pitch in itself resonating brightly in his ears.
Sasuke was the first to allow his eyes to slide open, black orbs foggy with sleep. The boy licked his dry lips and gave a blink or two before finally realizing his very compromising position, feeling the pressure and warmth of his female teammate fixed to his back, as realization seemed to leak into his eyes he also seemed to take notice where his arm had been tossed.
"W-what?!" He cried, eyes widening.
"Five more minutes, Kakashi-sensei." Naruto whined, rolling over.
Sakura's emerald gem-like eyes popped open one at a time and she gave a sweet sniffle and brushed the back of her hand over her mouth, wiping away any evidence of her nightly habit. The girl blinked and a hot blush swept over her face as she adorably reeled back away from her handsome teammate.
"Don't dawdle." Kakashi swiftly informed, buckling his sandals with nimble fingers. "We want to get on the road as soon as possible, before lots of traffic hits. The more inconspicuous we are, the less nagging I'll have to listen to." He added a bit sour, thinking back on that Arashi fellow.
Without looking back to make sure the Genin were doing as he said, Kakashi exited the room and made his way to the front entrance where most of the caravan was already waiting. Prince Hirohito was bundled in a soft downy blanketed to bate off the brisk chill of the morning and was cradled in Kana's arms, suckling on his thumb and clearly still fast asleep. Kakashi grinned at the sight before he felt his arm grabbed. Arashi had a deep frown etched into his face, not something at all surprising to the Jonin.
"We should have already been on our way a half hour ago, Kakashi-san." The man spit the honorific as if it were distasteful poison. "The sun has begun to rise and surely there will be plenty of ninja already clamouring around the main roads looking for easy targets."
Kakashi turned on his heels, successfully disengaging the man's grip on him and faced Arashi with an encouraging smile. "I assure you, Arashi-san, that we are no easy target. However, should someone be foolish enough to try and attack, I assure you that myself and my team will handle them. No harm shall come to the Prince."
Arashi's eyes darted over the slumbering toddler and his lips puckered in a most odd manner that Kakashi could not quite describe. "Yes, of course. The Prince's safety is of the utmost importance. But I'm sure you understand, Kakashi-san," the man trailed off before continuing in a hushed tone. "That this caravan holds more than just one precious treasure."
Before Kakashi was able to question what the man meant, Arashi speedily escaped and returned to the group, striking a rather forced conversation with an older woman concerning her aching back muscles. Kakashi watched the man as he spoke animatedly but with little interest. He knew this man's type as he had faced many enemies like him in his past. His time in ANBU had made him a pro at sniffing out people like him; a wolf in sheeps' clothing.
The caravan traveled with relative peace for the next week, passing through lands of sweltering heat and bitter cold as they made their way through the mapped path to their destination. The genin traveled with little complaint and mostly kept to themselves, except on the occasions when a small break was necessary for the young prince, then they became the most precious things Kakashi had ever laid eyes on. Sasuke and Naruto had warmed up to the idea of a dribbling toddler waddling around them and entertained the lad with ease alongside Sakura and the boy's ever diligent nanny.
It wasn't until one brisk evening after the group had passed through a particularly rough bout of rocky terrain, that the easily maintained peace began to crumble like sand. It wasn't at all a surprise to Kakashi, in retrospect, the signs had been there and he should have been more watchful when it came to the suspicious character that was Arashi.
The caravan had settled among a grouping of large boulders, shielding them from the harsh winds that blew through the rocky valley that night. They had set up thick tents and borrowed warm blankets to the ninja, much to the squad's relief that they would not have to bear the night's cold with their thin field sheets; the cheese cloth material was light and easy to travel with but it hardly provided enough coverage in a blustery valley.
"We should reach the village ahead of schedule." Kakashi briefed Arashi as the remainder of the caravan settled down for sleep in their tents.
Kakashi watched with an amused eye as Naruto poked Sasuke's pale cheek, snickering mischievously when the raven batted the prodding finger away with a frown. Sasuke had seemed rather fatigued that day, appearing more cranky than usual when roused from sleep earlier that morning, and his cheeks had been colored bright pink throughout their hike in the valley. Although such a thing could be explained away by the strong winds. Kakashi would keep a close eye on him come the next few days. A sick ninja on the field was as useless as a dead one, as cruel as that sounded. Once they reached the village, Kakashi would have the boy visit a medical ninja, as much as he was sure the child would argue and fume over such a preventative action.
Arashi's snide voice called Kakashi's attention back to the point at hand. "We should take the detour through the neighboring rock canyon. The wind is slowing us down immensely and the prince's health is delicate at this stage in his recovery."
Kakashi eyed the map that Arashi had presented him with and saw that the detour had already been marked with red paint. "Such a detour would be unnecessary, Arashi-san. The wind should die down once we've reached the edge of the valley tomorrow. Another mile or so and we will be back to flat lands which will alleviate the winds."
Arashi's eyes flashed dangerously and Kakashi felt his back stiffen at the sight. What was this man attempting to accomplish by distracting them with such ridiculous "short-cuts"? It didn't make sense.
"Yes, of course." Arashi growled, anger evident in his voice. "I forgot. Regardless, we should attempt to hurry our pace along. I know the Lord and Lady are expecting their son back soon."
"I'm sure it will be a nice surprise for them both when we arrive earlier than expected." Kakashi ended the conversation with a brisk "good-night" and returned to his dazed genin huddled near a large boulder.
"Kakashi-sensei," Sasuke whined, Kakashi had almost mistaken the childish summons for Naruto. "I'm cold."
Kakashi saw the boy was shivering beneath his wool blanket and field sheet, indeed the boy was sick by the looks of those flushed cheeks and chapped lips. Kakshi laid his palm down against the Uchiha's forehead and hissed at the burning heat; poor boy must have had that fever festering for the entire day but had chosen to stay silent.
"Silly raven," Kakashi practically cooed softly. "You need to tell me when something is wrong so I can help you."
Sasuke scoffed, stubborn even in his fevered state and rolled away from his teammates who watched with curious eyes. Sakura appeared worried, brow furrowed and fingers interlocked as if she were saying a prayer. She kneeled beside him and brought a damp cloth over, wiping his forehead with it.
"I tried to tell him that he should let you know, Kakashi-sensei." Sakura insisted as if she were avoiding a tongue lashing for keeping quiet. "But he said it was just a head cold and that I should mind my own business."
Naruto laughed but it wasn't cruel in nature, merely something that could be akin to a nervous habit. "That's just like the prick to get sick on us and then be all hush-hush about it until he can't even move."
Sakura tossed a glare at her blonde teammate and Kakashi just sighed, not entirely disagreeing with the rambunctious boy.
"Yes, well there's no use in arguing over it now, is there?" Kakashi settled the debate when he noticed Sasuke shift uncomfortably beneath his blankets. "Sakura, Naruto, you two get to sleep and rest. With Sasuke out of commission I'll need you to pick up the slack." Kakashi patted Sakura's petal pink hair when the girl gave him a wide eyed gaze filled with concern. "I'll take care of Sasuke, don't you worry."
The girl nodded and crawled over to her designated sleeping area where she had crafted a neat nest for herself right beside Naruto's disorganized pile of linens and luggage.
Naruto locked his gaze upon Sasuke for a moment more before saying with subtle affection. "Don't worry, asshole. I'll fill in for you until you're back on your feet." The blonde gave a cocky smile before adding. "But don't get used to it!"
Sasuke's lips turned up into a barely noticeable grin.
The night was hard and long. While Kakashi had hoped that sleep would cure the raven of his fever, it seemed to only worsen his condition. The boy shivered violently through the night and Kakashi had surrendered his own blanket to the child without a second thought, cocooning him like a sad caterpillar in the extra wool. It seemed to do little in regards to the boy's comfort.
Sasuke tossed and turned and woke up several times through the night whimpering and calling for "nii-san." before falling back into a fitful sleep. Kakashi stayed up and watched the boy, rubbing his back when a coughing fit would arise and soothing him back to sleep with soft words when it seemed he was on the verge of tears. Kakashi didn't know what more to do. He felt completely helpless for the first time since he had gained his little genin and he didn't understand how to comfort an ailing child, although Sasuke seemed to accept his gentle words and backrubs easily enough. This small reassurance did very little to comfort him as the raven continued to moan and toss about for the remainder of the night.
As the sun rose over the horizon, lighting up the small valley with its ever blinding rays of sunshine, Kakashi swept his hand over the boy's brow. The fever had indeed gone down as the child had rode it out through the night but a dull heat still remained and Sasuke's breath came with difficulty. The genin was in no shape to perform his shinobi duties and Kakashi was prepared to handle the situation accordingly.
Arashi was already awake and preparing a light meal for himself when Kakashi approached him. "One of my genin has fallen ill and is in no condition to perform his duties today." Kakashi explained blandly, though he hardly felt that he owed anything to the man. "My other two squad members will be picking up the slack and monitoring their teammates abandoned post along with their own. However, I believe that detour you mentioned may be useful in this situation." Kakashi was loath to admit that the rat of a man had actually suggested something worth noting. It was true that the canyon was possessed rough terrain but it was a shorter route compared the winding valley they traveled now. Kakashi wanted to have Sasuke examined as quickly as possible and out of the harsh conditions of nature.
Arashi's mouth curved into a sly smile and he patted Kakashi on the shoulder as if the two were old pals. "I knew you would come to see the sense in my route. We'll be back in Iwa before the week is half over."
Arashi meandered off to explain the new travel route to the others of the caravan while Kakashi gave the man a hard glare.
Traveling with a sick Uchiha was something that Kakashi had never been privileged to and hoped to never be again. Sasuke was a whiny child when ill and the fact that he was in the presence of strangers and even his own teammates did little to curb his moans of misery.
"Kakashi-sensei," Sasuke groaned for the fifth time in the last hour, "I am so thirsty."
Kakashi sighed and lifted his water canteen over his shoulder, feeding it to the Uchiha. The boy slurped at it hungrily and licked his lips in satisfaction after he was sated.
Kakashi was used to hauling around pounds of luggage during his missions so allowing his tiny pupil to ride on his back for a few miles hardly seemed to be much different. The key point that Kakashi forgot to factor in was that luggage did not speak.
Readjusting the raven on his back and giving the boy a firm pat on his thigh, Kakashi continued down the rocky gravel path that led into the canyon. The canyons of Iwa were a magnificent sight, something that Kakashi had always found time to be awed with even during his missions as an ANBU.
"These are some huge rocks!" Naruto squealed as he took in the grand rock walls of the Iwa canyons. "Iruka-sensei told me once that back in the old days, villages would have competitions to see who could climb the highest without chakra; lots of people died from falling because they'd been climbing for hours. I thought he was just kidding but wow!"
Kakashi smiled at the blonde's enthusiasm and Iruka's little story. "Such a tradition is still widespread in Iwa, Naruto." Kakashi explained. "Many ninja come here to test their physical strength after they've graduated from the academy to see if they are really shinobi material. I knew one Iwa squad leader who made his entire team climb these mountains for days as punishment after failing a mission."
Naruto's blue eyes widened with a hint of worry as he took in the magnificent sight of the Iwa canyon. "Y-you wouldn't do that to us, right? I mean, even if we failed a mission, you wouldn't make us climb dangerous mountains for days, right Kakashi-sensei?"
Kakashi considered teasing the blonde that he absolutely would, but the boy seemed legitimately concerned. Kakashi could never imagine being so cruel to his little pupils and instantly put such monstrous thoughts to rest. "Of course not. Who would I treat to dinner every night if you three were out climbing rocks all day?"
Naruto smiled softly and went back to quietly admiring the natural scenes.
By midafternoon, Sasuke's health seemed to improve. His fever had mostly diminished to nothing but a warm buzz, however the boy still claimed to have bouts of dizziness and nausea. When it came time to rest and allow the prince to roam about freely for a bit, Kakashi tucked Sasuke under a blanket with strict orders to take a nap and not move around.
"You're fever will return if you start running around." Kakashi informed after he received a rather heated glare from the boy. "If you don't want to be sitting out of missions for the next two weeks while you recover, you'll do as I say and stay under those blankets."
Sasuke pouted silently while Kakashi returned to his other two charges kneeling in the dirt and tickling the prince's bare feet.
"I'm going to go scout out the area ahead. You two are in charge until I return." Kakashi informed them seriously before adding humorously. "Do be sure that Sasuke stays where I put him and that he doesn't try to escape."
Naruto slauted Kakashi and grinned devilishly. "Don't worry, Kakashi-sensei! I'll make sure the asshole doesn't go anywhere."
Sakura gave the blonde a sharp smack to the head and scolding look for his language, quickly returning to her games with the prince and pinching the babe's pudgy toes.
Kakashi sighed and hopped away to scout out the area, completely unaware of the fact that Arashi had wandered off.
"Peek-a-boo!" Sakura giggled as the baby in her lap squealed with childish laughter. "Peek-a-boo!"
Naruto lay on his belly beside his female teammate and watched as the charming girl elicited warm bubbles of laughter from the tiny boy. He was mesmerized by the girl's motherly instincts and gentle personality when around children.
"You're so good with him, Sakura." Naruto noted with clear admiration.
Sakura, as she had before, blushed and gave Hirohito a tickle on his belly. "I used to go with my mom when she would volunteer at the nursery in the hospital. A lot of the babies were newborns so I wasn't allowed to play with them or go near them but I would help entertain the toddlers in the daycare center." Sakura explained. "A lot of them were children of the doctors and nurses so I would help take care of them while their parents worked their shifts."
Naruto nodded along as he listened to Sakura tell stories of her time at the hospital and they joy she got out of helping care for the children. "Maybe you should be a teacher at the academy, Sakura." Naruto suggested after listening for some time. "You could teach the younger kids and I'm sure you'd be great at it!"
Sakura blushed, "You really think so?"
"Sure! You're really patient with kids and you like to have fun with them, just like Iruka-sensei. I think you'd be a great teacher!"
Sakura smiled kindly at her blonde teammate and felt a warmth grow insider her heart that she didn't know was possible when it came to the obnoxious boy. "Thanks, Naruto."
"Do you have the merchandise?" An unseen voice drifted from the darkness of a deep cave about two miles from the where the caravan had parked for its afternoon break.
Arashi stood tall just on the inner lip of the cave and peered inside, seeing nothing but blackness and feeling an unusual coldness seep out. He couldn't help but think perhaps this had been a mistake. He was, after all, fooling the famous Copy Ninja of Konoha.
"I have it right here." Arashi held up a plain looking sack in front of him to the invisible entity. "Everything we agreed on is inside."
"Good, very good." The voice purred. A long, skinny, gray arm reached out from the shadows of the cave and grasped the sack and its contents, ripping it away from Arashi's grip. "You may go now, you have completed your task."
Arashi paused and stamped his foot as if he were an disobedient child. "Now wait just a minute! I gave you what you asked for and now I believe you owe me something for going to all the trouble of doing so."
The voice cackled and echoed inside the darkness of the cave, causing Arashi to step back and squint, attempting to see some evidence of a being shrouded in the dark. Still he saw nothing.
"I promised you no such thing, boy. Now go, before I claim your life as well as my treasures."
Arashi was mildly frightened by the idea of an invisible foe but he would not back down. "I had to convince the famous Copy Ninja of Konoha to take this route so I could deliver these goods to you and I demand some form of payment for my troubles!"
The ominous voice ceased in its cackling with a sharpness that frightened Arashi farm more than the eeriness of the voice which once more flowed from the cave's mouth. "Did you say, Copy Ninja?"
Arashi, determined to seek out payment, practically gloated. "Indeed, I did! The man is as stubborn as a mule and I highly suspect he had his doubts about my purpose in this caravan. Despite his time in ANBU though, it seems that did little to sharpen his skills. He didn't even notice that I'd slipped away."
There was silence on the other end and for a moment, Arashi feared that the person had left with his valuables. However, the voice returned sounding desperate and with a calm fury that was frightful to hear.
"Take me to Kakashi Hatake and I will see to it that you receive the proper payment."
AN: Good lord, has it truly been so long since my last update?! I apologize! Honestly, it feels like maybe a month has gone by, not 5!
Anyway, I tried to make this one extra long and juicy with fluff for you guys to make up for the ridiculously long wait you all had to endure. I had originally intended to make this "arc" only two parts but it appears that with all the added Team 7 fluff, this will be extending to 3 parts (I'm sure none of you mind though)
I just want to thank you all for your kind reviews, they mean so much to me and encourage me to write. Also, thank you so much for all the favorites and alerts.
I hope to see you all real soon! Farewell for now Lovelies! ~