A/N : I tend to forget to say it, but thank you all for reading my work, and taking time to comment it, by reviews or the private messages I receive. I am glad that you appreciate what I am writing and I hope to keep you entertained.
"Talking in mind-scape"
Chapter 13 : Outside...
Two weeks later, Monday morning, in the Hokage Tower, Mission Control. Kurenai entered, escorted by Hinata, Naruto and Shino. Besides the Mission table, where the Hokage was sited with Iruka helping him, a jounin was waiting. His hitai-ate was fixed on a bandana covering his skull, and from it escaped bangs of brown hair on the side and middle of his face. Behind his flak jacket stood a katana, strapped using a small rope. When he saw the genin team approaching, his face started to lighten and a small smile shown.
"Team Eight, I heard you were looking for a bigger challenge?" The Hokage said smiling a bit.
"You betcha Old Man! We are tired sick of those stupid missions! Give us something to show our true abilities!" Naruto replied pointing his finger toward the village leader.
"Hokage-sama, not them also..." Iruka was pleading by his side.
"Hokage-sama. Team Eight is ready to handle a C-Ranked mission." Kurenai stopped Iruka's complaints.
"Well, it seems your mission was already prepared for you, so I hope you are." Hiruzen launched a scroll to Kurenai. "Here are your mission parameters. See with Hayate, here" he shown the jounin beside the table "for all details. Kurenai, you'll be in charge of the protection, but your team will act as support."
"Hai, Hokage-sama." Kurenai replied, with a little bow.
Team eight turned to exit, along with Hayate, but Naruto stayed.
"Yes Naruto?" replied the Hokage.
Naruto walked to the table, so he could speak solely to the Sandaime.
"If we are going on a mission now, we won't be able to deliver the medicines. Is it possible to send team 10 do it?"
"Why them specially?"
"Because... Well, even if he is lazy, Shikamaru is reliable and there is the lady that asked for us to do the deliveries..."
"That's a noble reason, Naruto. I'll see if it is possible. Now go, you don't have much time before leaving."
Naruto's face was now painted with one of his wide grin.
"Thanks Old Man, I appreciate! We'll wrap up this mission in no time, Dattebayo!"
And then he run through the door to catch back his teammates.
"Ah, Naruto, no problem?" Kurenai asked.
"No, just taking care of the old lady..." he replied, blushing a bit, which made Hinata smile.
"Oh. We leave in thirty minutes, meet up in the West Gate in twenty five. Be sure to be packed as usual for our survival trainings."
All three genins nodded and started to run towards their respective houses to finish packing.
Kurenai turned to Hayate and they started to walk towards the gate.
"Do you know what Umino-san meant by 'not them also'? " She asked.
"Not much earlier, Kakashi arrived with his team and they requested a C-Rank. The genins seemed really pissed off by their previous missions. When Kakashi supported their request, they got an escort mission towards Wave. But knowing Kakashi, they will leave after us."
"Why don't we wait for them to travel together? Wave and Rivers are not far from each others..."
"Well, I thought about it also, but the caravan we will escort will be a bit faster than them walking, and I don't think that putting a customer in the caravan of another customer is really a good idea. Also, our roads would only be the same for half a day, afterward, they will go more south than us..." Hayate explained.
"That, and you think Kakashi will be so late they won't leave before 1200..."
"Well, I would like as much as possible to arrive fast..."
After a short time the two jounins arrived at the West Gate, where a caravan of 3 carriages was waiting, with two chuunins discussing. Both wore standard Konoha attire, just like Hayate. They also had a neck protection reaching their chin. One was wearing his hitai-ate like Hayate, on a bandana, but his hair were escaping in a less symmetrical fashion. The other one wore his hitai-ate on a more traditional forehead band, under a mass of spiky black hair. He also had a bandage baring his face, just between his eyes and nostrils.
"Good, you're already there. How his the caravan preparation going?" Hayate asked to the two ninjas.
"We were just waiting for you and the support team." Replied the one with a bandana.
"Were have you put them? Kurenai, do you store them in a scroll?" Continued the banded one.
"Really funny Kotetsu. It's their first mission outside, so I gave them time to prepare. They should arrive shortly." Kurenai was covering her smile under a serious face, trying to sound annoyed by the joke.
Just as she spoke, the three genins arrived, together, dropping from a nearby roof, landing around their sensei.
Showing them with the hand, she made the presentations.
"Hyuuga Hinata, Aburame Shino, Uzumaki Nauro, here are Kamizuki Izumo, Hagane Kotetsu and you have met earlier Gekkou Hayate."
The children bowed to the older ninjas in respect, which surprised Izumo and Kotetsu, not used to these kind of treatment, specially from Naruto, who they chased sometimes during his academy times.
"Our mission will be to support them during the travel of the caravan towards a port at the frontier with Kawa no Kuni. There, Hayate will help the negotiation on behalf of the village, and we will escort the caravan back here. We will work with our usual formation, Shino you cover the front with your bugs, Naruto on the sides, stay in the middle of the caravan. Hinata, you have our backs. I'll be towards the front with Shino, Hayate, on the back with Hinata. Kotetsu, Izumo, in the middle with Naruto. You'll also be in charge of protecting the merchants. Genins, if any Ninja appears, you are on protection duty with the customers, while we handle the threat. If there are only bandits, the nearest stop the threat. If there are too many, protect one carriage each, while Hayate, Kotetsu, Izumo and I will handle most of the fray, Kotetsu on the left, Izumo on the right. Questions?"
"How many?" Naruto asked plainly.
"I'd say, 6 each sides. Be sure to stay behind Shino's level and in front of Hinata all the time."
"Let's go meet the merchants so we can start." Hayate said, moving towards the caravan.
Around the carriages where 6 people, checking the cargo and the carriages. Seeing the group of ninja approaching, they all stopped and gathered.
"Amagawa-san, allow me to introduce your escorting party. You already met Izumo and Kotetsu, we will also be accompanied by Yuuhi Kurenai's team, here. These are Hyuuga Hinata, Aburame Shino and Uzumaki Naruto." Said Hayate presenting Team 8.
The reply came from a middle aged man, with grayish hair, wearing a sort of brown attire not specially recognizable. By his side a boy, looking about 15 or 16 years old, with clear brown hair and similar clothes. On his left were two young adults, same height, same middle length straight black hair, same clothes, the difference being the farther on the left was definitely a girl. On the right stood also a man and a woman, but really not the same. The man looked old, he had unordered white hair, gray clothes. He was shorter than the young boy, but his shoulders were large and so were his arms. The woman by his side was tall. Taller that the rest of the group. Her hair were a kind of blond mixed with ginger, and terribly unruly. She was strongly built for a woman, and her face was showing no sign of a smile having occurred in the previous decade.
"I'm pleased to meet you all. I am Amagawa Noritada, this is my son Tadashi who will be conducting middle carriage." The boy nodded his head slightly. "On the last carriage will be Sotomura Mayu and Sotomura Shozo". The look alike boy and girl waved their hands in a symmetrical fashion, smiling. "And the front will be driven by the best carriage driver on this side of the world Koguchi Sanako, accompanied by our blacksmith Ariwara Masashige." The old man made a smile hearing his name cited last, the woman didn't move at all, but a growling sound was heard.
"Amagawa-san, how long before we can leave?" asked Kurenai.
"We are nearly in order, just finishing to check the cargo and we are good." The merchant replied.
"Tell us when you are ready, we'll start right away." She turned to her team as the merchants got back to their businesses. "Naruto, Hinata, be sure to check what Hayate, Kotetsu and Izumo are doing and telling. We will work as a company where I will be the leader, but also as platoons. Hayate and Hinata on the back, Izumo, Kotetsu and Naruto on the middle, and Shino and I on the front. Always bear in mind what the others are doing to help them if need be while keeping the mission on rails. Be sure to check the carriages to know them and be able to see any problems occurring while we travel, be it a malfunction or an enemy trying to infiltrate our ranks."
All of the ninja nodded their acceptance of the formation, and moved to gain knowledge of the carriages.
By the time they were done, the merchants were also ready to move and they got through the gate, heading west.
The first day of travel went smoothly. The genins being a bit stressed by the presence of other shinobi, meaning that the mission might be dangerous and complicated. But soon, they were at ease, chit chatting with other people about their jobs or general subjects. When the evening came, they covered two fifth of the travel distance to the harbor town they targeted, and Kurenai decided to call it a day and prepare a camp in a clearing not far from the road.
"Naruto, Hayate, place traps in the forest to prevent too easy intrusions. Hinata, Kotetsu, firewood. Shino, Izumo, Water supply. We'll eat on supplies. Amagawa-san, can you park your carriages in this part of the clearing? Turned so as to ease the departure. Hayate, Naruto, extra traps on the back of the carriages."
All went following her orders.
After walking a bit from the clearing, Hayate stopped to speak with the genin.
"We will turn around the clearing to place traps in three layers. Farthest from the camp will be easy traps to prevent animals and travelers, and inside, two rings of ninja traps. I'm sure Kurenai told you how to place the easy ones, you take care of them?"
"I can do much better than that, Hayate-san... How about I show you?"
"Well, it won't hurt to try."
Naruto created a clone and gave him a pot of ink, a brush and a stack of papers. The clone then went and traced symbols on different trees around them.
"You know these?" Naruto asked, showing papers to Hayate.
"These seem like detection seals, but this design... it's not the usual one."
"I still cannot do them correctly so I have to rely on my supplies, so I will get them back tomorrow. They will detect moving life form, but unlike the usual ones, they can be tweaked using chakra to change the detection range, the threshold, or the amount of chakra emitted upon detection. My clone is posing normal ones but on the nearest ring these would be more useful. They are placed on another seal, a storage seal with a little trick that eject the content, which, in our case is an explosive tag. The Detection seal triggers the Pop Storage seal that launch the Explosive seal, sticked to the Detection one, that triggers it to explode."
"That's quite useful, I reckon. You should place an animal ring outer of your clone's, inner from that, we will create 2 rings alternating normal traps and yours."
"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu". 3 clones popped in a smoke cloud, and went running.
"They will take care of the animal traps." The blond added.
"Ne, I have been told of your ease with clones, but seeing it used by a boy as young as you is still surprising. You know, thinking about it, this trap remind me of another one I saw... But instead of explosive tags, it was bomb paint..."
Naruto was now scratching the back of his head, a wide grin on his face.
"I may have tested them once or twice recently..."
'He isn't an Uzumaki for nothing... He's so much like Kushina-sensei...'
"Let's get going, prankster" Added the adult, smiling.
Once they had finished, they came back to the camp to find everyone busy doing one thing or another. The diner was made of survival rations, dried meat and some seeds, and was currently being passed around the fire. Naruto and Hayate were the last to arrive, their mission being the longest. Once they were all seated, Kurenai started to organize the night shifts.
"For tonight, we will do 4 shifts. As it is their first mission outside, I prefer that the genins are helped by a more experienced shinobi. As I already taught them much, so I will take the shift alone. Izumo, with Hinata on the first shift, as Hinata will need the best possible rest for her eyes. I will take the second shift. Kotetsu and Naruto as you are the most energetic of all, you are on the third. Hayate and Shino, you cover the last."
All nodded at the mention of their names.
"Excuse me, Yuuhi-san." The leader of the merchants asked after ensuring she had finished.
"We know that you are here to protect us, but we talked about it earlier together, and we would like to provide our share in the night guard. We may not be trained as you are, but the more the merrier as they say."
"I appreciate your proposition, Amagawa-san, but it will put a too great strain on you and your colleagues, you will have to drive the carts tomorrow, you need to rest."
"But we will rest also. We will make shorter shifts, but one of us will stay awake all the time, to keep you guys company. We will do it whether you agree or not."
Kurenai looked at Hayate to seek his advice.
"Fine by me." The swordman replied.
"So we accept your proposition with pleasure, I'll let you decide your turns together, as long as the length of your shifts."
"We will, Yuuhi-san."
In the night, Naruto was looking blankly at the fire. He had sent clones to patrol around the camp or to disguise as nature so he was only focusing his nose to know if someone is coming. In a tree nearby, Kotetsu awaited, listening to the forest.
"Say, Naruto..." Started the man in the tree.
"What did you do to become this calm?"
"Well, I am assigned to the inner village protection. So for a bit of time, lots of time when you made a prank, I was is the team to catch you. We weren't that successful but in the end, I escorted you often to the Hokage office after that."
"Maybe I should tell you that I regret to have bothered you. I do not prank to disturb your job..."
"Don't, it was a great training for all of us, you became quite good at being undiscovered when doing your prank and fleeing without being caught, so we had to improve too. But that's not my point... You were always bragging that you would become Hokage and all, yet now... You were quiet all day, even in the meal time you were just like a normal ninja... A bit more loud on some points, but it seems you changed this much in a short time period..."
"I am still going to be Hokage, Dattebayo!" The boy said, raising from his seated position and pointing a finger at a tree. "The greatest of all time..." The end was trailing, like something missing, but still sounded with his fully convicted voice.
"That's good to hear. But..."
"I learned. Being loud and boastful is not the best way to show that you will be the best. But I train as much as I can, and I. Will. Be. Hokage..." The beginning sounded melancholic but the end was said with such determination, it almost sounded fake in his voice. " … dattebayo!" And this sounded determined but also happy, and along with his wide grin, sounded typical of the boy.
"That's good to hear. I don't know you much, but I would appreciate much a Hokage that can be funny from time to time..."
Naruto was a bit surprised at that so he did not reply and sat back.
"And what about the girl?"
"The girl?" Naruto was more and more stunned.
"Yeah, you know, when we brought you to Hokage-sama, you shouted that you wanted to become Hokage and to have a date with a girl... Haruka or something like that..."
"Sa... Sakura... chan" The boy's eyes were wide opened.
"Yeah, Sakura!" Kotetsu was totally oblivious to the boy's change of tone. " You were always talking about how she was the most beautiful girl on the planet, that she was nice and all, that you will go out on a date with her... What about her? You still in love?"
"I... I didn't... not even once... what... that means?!"
It was now Kotetsu's turn to be lost.
"It only means that she might not be as important as you thought she was." The voice was clear, calm, gentle, almost sweet, and came from neither Naruto or Kotetsu.
Kotetsu had felt her come from one of the tents so he did not react, and Naruto was too lost in his thoughts to react.
"You don't have to ask to yourself about what happened, just ask yourself where you are now. Who she is for you now, and more important who you are attracted to now."
"But Sakura-chan... I always loved her... That cannot go in one instant..."
"You are still young, you have a lot to learn about loving a girl. Maybe what you felt for her was not really love but more like a bit of attraction. Love can be tricky and deceptive. Sometimes, you don't recognize you are in love before it strike you like a blade." When she finished she sat around the fire.
Naruto thought about what she said.
"So how do I know? How do I recognize love?"
"It's like a fire that burns inside of you. When you think about the person, you feel warmer, when you see the person, you shiver as the warms spread to you body, when you hear her, your mind feel lighter, and your problems seem easier to solve, or simply disappear. Sometimes, you'll see him while being fully awake, like there was a giant picture of him in front of you, painted on glass..." As it goes, her voice sounded more and more gloomy.
"I... see..." Naruto was thoughtful.
And he rose his head. And jump on his feet, putting a hand in a kunai pouch, the other pointing at the woman sited around the fire.
"Who! What are you doing here?!"
"Relax Naruto, she's one of the merchants." Kotetsu tried to sound reassuring while he was a bit chuckling...
"But when did you got here!"
"I came for my part of the shift. I arrived just when you talked about the girl."
"Oh..." Naruto sat back, going back to his thoughts.
"Don't think too much about it. It will come clear in time." The woman said, calmly.
The shifts went clear and all slept correctly in the end. The night ended as the day had gone, easy and uneventful. But that would not be the case of all the trip...