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The air around the team had begun to get warmer. So much so that Naruto and Hinata now had their jackets tied around their waists.
"Why the hell is it so hot?" Naruto complained.
Kakashi, who had just finished putting his jounin vest in his backpack, turned toward his subordinate. "You kids are about to find out why this is called the Fire country," he answered with a knowing smirk.
Just when Naruto was at the point of wanting to remove his shirt they came around a corner and his mouth simply fell open.
The road they had been walking was now elevated above the ground by at least four hundred feet and underneath this bridge of rock was a field of fire. There were thin ribbons of magma visible segmenting the ground like organic veins. In between these veins were large vents which expelled hot steam; some of which nearly reaching half the height of the bridge. This vision of hell stretched on for a half mile or so. From the team's right, a lone geyser shot its contents into the air making the teens take an instinctive step backward.
Sakura's eyes bugged out as she stared at the scene before her. "Th th th that's an active volcano!" she yelled with an incredulous expression as she jabbed a finger in the direction of the lava.
"Yup," Kakashi answered nonchalantly. "Let's go," he said and began walking. When he noticed his team was not following him he turned around. "Aren't you coming?"
"That's an active volcano!" Sakura yelled again as though Kakashi didn't have that knowledge.
Kakashi cocked an eyebrow. "And?"
"And you're insane!" Naruto replied, pointing at the jounin.
"This volcano hasn't erupted in over three hundred years. There's no danger," Kakashi answered plainly. The group looked at each other with uncertainty. "I'm telling you it's perfectly safe," he said with impatience.
Sasuke took a calming breath and took a few steps forward, the others followed suit. Before long they were all walking along the bridge. However, they were very tense the entire way across. Kakashi saw their trepidation and decided to distract them with a little history.
"When the first people to settle this land were looking for a place to build their home they crossed this bridge on the way. They named it the Fire country and then named the capital city to match the theme." He sighed wistfully. "I haven't been to Ganshou in ten years. You kids will love it."
Thoughts of the city, for the moment at least, pushed away their fears as they neared the end of the bridge. Kakashi pointed ahead to where the land became level again. "There's the exit," he barely got out before four teenage blurs shot past him. He blinked and chuckled to himself. "Well, at least they made up for lost time."
Sakura could not have more resembled a deer caught in someone's headlights if she tried. She stared, bug-eyed and guppy-mouthed, at the city that had just become visible as they cleared the crest of the hill they had been climbing for the past half hour. The rest of the teens had similar, yet far less extreme expressions of amazement on their faces.
Kakashi noted his team's collective reaction and his eyes crinkled into a smile. "Well, now. I do believe I promised you a break once we got to the top?"
Sakura looked at her sensei as if he'd grown a second head. "Are you crazy?! Now that we're so close?"
Kakashi looked at the others. "Anyone else suddenly have energy again?"
Naruto and Hinata sagged their shoulders and gave Kakashi a look that clearly said 'Please, no more'. Sasuke just shrugged as though he didn't care either way.
"Alright then, we'll take a fifteen-minute break," Kakashi announced.
Sakura instantly looked absolutely crestfallen. She shuffled over to where her teammates were now sitting and plopped down heavily on the nearest large rock.
Naruto reached into his backpack and pulled out a small package. He tapped Hinata on the shoulder. "Neh, Hinata-chan? Want one?" he offered, holding out a chocolate covered butter cookie.
Hinata smiled warmly. "Arigato, Naruto-kun," she said as she took the cookie from his hand.
Naruto grabbed a cookie for himself and scooted over so he could lean against his girlfriend a bit as he ate. Hinata blushed heavily but didn't feel the urge to pass out. She had begun to get used to Naruto's affections and was loving every single second of it. How did this happen? she asked herself in her mind. How did my dream come true? She glanced sideways at Naruto. Will I someday be able to tell him I love him?
Sasuke looked over at Sakura. She was staring at the city with a longing expression, checking her watch every minute or so. "Sakura," he called.
Sakura tensed a little at her friend's voice but forced herself to look his way. "Y...yes?"
Dammit! She's still scared of me, Sasuke thought in frustration.
Naruto looked at his brother and frowned. He knew why Sasuke was upset. He remembered his conversation with him in the woods a few days earlier...
(("Sasuke?" Naruto called out just before seeing his target sitting in front of a small pond.
Sasuke sighed at not being left alone. "Hey," he said without looking up.
Naruto sat down next to Sasuke. "What's up?"
Sasuke sighed and threw a pebble into the pond. "Nothing."