AN: There are TWO updates this week! If you just got this one, click back to chapter 7. I had thought I posted it a month ago- My apologies! I made this extra long to make up for it and I have some serious craziness plotted out for the future..We begin to veer even further from Canon. I'm hoping this answers some of your questions about how quickly everyone seemed to get along (though frankly in the actual canon it seemed people could become friends for life after one fight which bothered me.) Fair warning of major diversion completely from my own head.
The mission was surprisingly challenging in it's sheer normality.
Usually when a person advances and gets better, they continue to raise the effort required and constantly challenge themselves. It was a pitfall to become flashier, more devastation in single hits rather then more precise. A trap that many ninja fell into as often as complacency. It was also a very potent reason behind Kakashi's selection of 'Mission Albatross' for his team.
Any team leader could be 'fond' of their team. The truth was you could by sheer proximity learn to tolerate and even like the worst of things. His relationship with Gai was a perfect example of that. True loyalty like his father had raised the young prodigal Kakashi to however, required sometimes holding them back. Much like firing an arrow; one had to pull back firmly before they would launch drastically further.
It was truly the difference between Kakashi and Gai. Both extremely lethal shinobi in their various ways, yet Gai went for flash and more obvious effort. It would take him far enough he would perhaps become a legend long beyond the next generation's memories. In sheer irony it was also the wrong kind of success for a ninja who was meant to be sneaky and silent. Kakashi had never truly possessed the drive for acknowledgment. He was more than one little red flag in the every psychological exam he was forced to take but as it was always in a way that only aided his Anbu ventures; it was barely a footnote. Kakashi had issues and that didn't count the ones he let the intelligence division know about. He had learned to shift his issues about, appreciate the value in those who would be loyal as friends and not have that same drive. He if not for his eye, would have become a legend to the Anbu only. The most fearsome ninja were those you never heard about. There was danger in the anonymous after all. If you could cloak yourself in being unknown and hidden you had so much more potential. It was sheer testament to his skills that despite being easily known on sight Kakashi managed to be regularly underestimated.
Making an opponent doubt the intelligence on you they had received could often win the battle from the start. He kept the true level of potential he possessed for when he was acting only behind his Anbu mask. Only the dead knew exactly how far Kakashi could go.
He saw that same potential simmering in the three children he was currently escorting. They had not left to the road right away. In a sudden change of directive that all three had waited to question him on (a shocking and very welcome gift for a jounin sensei) the three were looking so painfully civilian it was almost adorable. Well worth the swift detour to the start of their mission. He had even been nice enough to pack away their real mission worthy attire in a scroll on each of them in case they had need of them later.
There were pictures that had been taken without flash to preserve the memories and be used for future blackmail. Not that his cute students had any idea about that. Seeing as Gumoko was the only parent alive though, a copy would end up in her hands.
They were behaving flawlessly as incompetent civilians which was rather astounding for ninja even at their new stage of being fully fledged shinobi. One could not say they weren't determined, and if by being 'civilian's' was the way to succeed in this mission they would stumble along the best they could. Kakashi could only approve. Even if not so much of what they wore.
Naruto was back in his hideous orange attire (how many had not been burned was unknown) and had his goggles on his head, walking with arms behind his neck rather then hovering at his pouch as usual. It was a good move on his part, to hide most his gear inside the jumpsuit even if it would take longer to get out. He'd remembered that the first order of business was to appear like civilian's who had failed the ninja academy. For some reason he was even wearing socks with his ninja sandals...ones that had frogs on them. Apparently the outfit could get worse. Kakashi and the rest of team seven would have been very happy not knowing that.
Sasuke was amusing. He couldn't wear the Uchiha symbol which went a long way to making him forgettable beyond just a pretty face for a kid. Many people possessed the black hair and eyes, and pale skin after all. That he had on a large jacket and his old shorts, with a pair of shoes that were more looking civilian in the beat up appearance than boots that had the top part cut off (melted by a stray fireball ) was saying something. His hair was gelled back to look even less like his well known appearance and with his hands in his jacket pockets it was all too clear few of his fans would recognize him. There hadn't been one 'Sasuke-Kuuuuuun' the way to the gate and Kakashi was not hiding his amusement at how relieved his 'number one rookie' was over being ignored.
Kucho by contrast had to wear something 'normal' that wouldn't out her as an Aburame. As she was hardly going to wear less a quick stop with her mother meant Kucho was joining them in very old fashioned yukata and special tabi that could be worn outdoors without the geta. While it was made in such a way to protect her it looked entirely civilian and pointless out in the wilds. Her hair had been wrestled by her mother into a tight twist interlacing the hair ribbons into the plait to help disguise the texture, that would stay put on top of her head for a long time if she didn't force it down. Despite a few strays (you couldn't call them strands when they were frizzy curls pointing any way they wanted) a pair of plain hair sticks helped keep the large bun in place. The glasses couldn't be helped during the day but it wasn't considered too unusual to see people with their eyes closed much of the time so she was attempting that instead though her glasses were tucked into the wrist pouch she carried to look even less capable. Just looking through her lashes. Naruto swore it got easier. The occasional stumble just made her look even more the helpless regular girl not yet a teen but not really a child type.
In the end the three were moving awkwardly and with stilted conversations that came across perfectly. Even if the real reason was because they suddenly weren't permitted to use chakra at all, instead focusing on suppressing their chakra by remaining calm and consciously not using it; and that meant no ninja specific conversations as well. It was amazing how suddenly all the things team seven used to get along so well was stripped away. Leaving Kakashi with the beyond entertaining sight of three children, one usually bubbly introvert, one emotionally and psychologically damaged, and one extroverted to the point of headaches..to try and flounder a way to socialize.
Because Sasuke had to socialize. He was pretending to be normal after all.
It only took ten minutes before the three (Kakashi included) voted that Ramen was not a topic that would be permitted on the mission.
"So." Sasuke paused as he forced the words out. He hid it well but he was left highly damaged from the massacre. There was no visits to the Yamanaka or the like after all, and most the help he had been given only further alienated the boy. In truth the only people who encouraged him to talk about what he wanted and did not judge him was his own team. It was strange, in a wonderful way, being just Sasuke.
"Naruto. What do you do, as a hobby?" At least they were allowed to use their real first names. It was a little beyond the blonde menace to remember alias's yet.
"Uh.." Naruto paused and tilted his head to the side. It was something that made Sasuke smirk in pride as Naruto was actually thinking about his answer rather then just blurting it out. "Well I like to garden. Or I wish I could but I just have a couple small plants that won't die. I think it's a neat skill though..but there's no room for it in my apartment. Obviously from all the D ranks I don't know which are weeds because I've only grown things in pots. Never gotten weeds from those, just occasionally need a bigger pot because otherwise the roots go all octopus trying to strangle them."
It was a surprisingly normal topic and Kucho smiled at him, with her eyes closed most the way as a lack of glasses it was also rather un-Kucho like. "You could start coming over and helping me. I have plenty of space you could take a little to practice on."
"Learn to grow tomatoes." Sasuke grunted. The tips of his ears may have been red but Naruto grinned widely.
"Sure. But you'd have to eat them because I don't like them.."
"I like them only if they are fresh." Kucho pointed out. She chuckled then. "I like fruit most.."
"Guess that's from your uh..your..uh..family. Huh?" Naruto stumbled over not bringing up Kikaichu. It was actually discomforting for him to not hear the buzz of her swarm around them or the occasional crawling visitor riding on his shoulder. Naruto didn't think he'd ever stop killing spiders or ants that snuck into his apartment or startled him. Kucho's littlest family members though he liked. It helped that since he could tell the flying and tracking ones apart by their carapace colors Kucho would always beam at him.
"They're all a little..fond of sweets aren't they?" Sasuke sounded far too relaxed. If you knew him, and judging by the faint misstep of Kakashi he picked up on it. Sasuke's voice sounded normal for anyone else but it was really the twitching I'm about to hit someone for dragging this out of me Uchiha deadpan. Naruto just grinned wickedly. This forcing Sasuke to socialize was funny!
"Mmm." Kucho nodded. "Honey too. Okaa-san makes a wonderful treat by baking fruit with honey and nuts. Next time I'll invite you both over."
"Nice!" Naruto paused then as quiet descended once more. The sound of their shoes crunching the gravel road had never seemed so loud. Even as very young children newly in the academy you were encouraged to walk softly. Consciously not doing so, not brushing their hands over weapons, eyes darting about..there was a clear reason why this was up in level from the D rank. They were on the constant alert. Fortunately, Naruto was hardly traditional shinobi in those areas and the two brunettes were just trying to be a little more like him. Who would have ever thought?
"Sasuke, what about you for a hobby?" The blonde was half tempted to start pointing at his teammates. It was clear neither was used to being verbose, and especially not in the way that was outside of Kucho's information gathering or Sasuke's discussion of various histories or ninjutsu schematics. It appeared that in socialization Naruto was actually far ahead of his companions.
"I read." Sasuke copied a move he saw Naruto do often and rubbed the back of his head. It felt weird using gel to make it not stick up normally but straight up instead. The front was slicked back but he felt like an idiot. "I like reading history, especially about my ancestors." That much was true. Especially after he had found records of many who were not 'great and powerful Uchiha' but those who founded one or two new styles of their own. Those were ones who had never unlocked their Sharingan and he could use their techniques at this stage of his not yet seeing the first tomoe. Sighing then he began to understand why Kucho was always complaining that they made her talk to much. It was hard talking about nothing.
How did the civilian's live like this? Going so slow and with nothing of interest to mention? He already knew plenty about his teammates! Well, at least enough to fight with them at his back which was a high compliment considering their training and profession. He wouldn't have trusted anyone else at this point from the academy days even at his side.
"Hey! Hey! Hey! What about you Kucho?" It was strange not hearing the honorifics but Kakashi had pointed out it was a current 'fad' with the real civilians. A random rebellion against tradition. It was rude and awkward but..what part of pretending you were a civilian drop out and not doing anything like you normally would wasn't?
"I like to garden, and learn the old dances from my grandmother's and elders." Kucho had taken a moment, as like so many things she had to be cautious to edit any shinobi themed hobbies out. Speaking of breeding her insects, spending time with Anko..none of that could come out.
"Ehhh? You've mentioned that before but we've never seen you dance. Just carried around your fan a few times."
"Ah.." Kucho rubbed at her nose, thankfully not blushing. She didn't think she could fake a blush on something at this point of her career. "I didn't know you'd be interested. Most the information I had gotten told me that generally boys don't like such things. At least not at our age."
"Our age? What they get lazy when they're old?" Naruto wrinkled his nose at the idea and Kakashi had to step in, laughing.
"They just learn to appreciate a pretty face."
"Hey! I like pretty girls, I think Sakura is super beautiful and smart and funny and her hair smells like that strawberry shampoo and.."
"He broke again." Sasuke deadpanned to Kucho.
"It'll keep him distracted." Kucho shrugged and then grinned at him. "It is better than the Ramen lecture."
"Nothing is worse than that." Sasuke agreed. Silence fell on the rest of the group as Naruto continued to bask in the beauty and wisdom that was Sakura.
Sakura had been one of those who apprenticed under someone else. She was phenomenal at math and clerical related reasoning, and being very by the book. Her scores had just been below Kucho when it came to the written portion of their graduating class and seeing as she was a civilian who wasn't likely to match well with any of her year mates, someone snatched her up. Kucho had kept tabs on learning where everyone went, something Anko-san insisted on viciously. It seemed most shinobi of lower Chunin rank who took on apprentices were not specialization specific. Rather, Sakura was being exposed to a number of potential careers and would be sent to whatever she was deemed the best fit by her superiors. She would become a cog in the wheels of Konoha, and likely far happier than she would have been on the front lines. Anko said the girl showed signs a few months in of being best used for code breaking and being an assistant to a department head in the future. Neither of which were small choices, Kucho wished her pink haired fellow kunoichi luck..but she wasn't going to tell Naruto anything about his crush.
He'd have to ask first.
A soft clearing of Kakashi's throat later made them realize he expected them to keep talking as well and the two brunettes shared a pained look. They couldn't speak about anything related to their work, which happened to also be their passion. It was..oddly making them feel empty.
"I'm lucky." Kucho finally spoke softly, both of her teammates looked over but Kucho's eyes were still shielded by her lashes, her gaze affixed upon the ground as she walked. "My ah..friend Shino was talking about his friends, and they seem a similar mix as us but.." she paused. "They don't.." another pause but the two knew what she wanted to say. They were a stronger hive.
"Yeah. As much as we didn't get along that much, especially since we are out of school now.." Naruto added in with a shrug. "I don't really see any of the others, most of them though I don't care. They were stupid or jerks and didn't get to know me just wrote me off as stupid and hopeless..or the broody guy who not one even tried to get to know beyond his name and face, or even you."
"Ah, I didn't go out of my way to talk to them.." Kucho pointed out softly.
Sasuke shook his head, agreeing with Naruto as his eyes wandered about. "You also never ignored someone who talked to you. They were just too fixated on being useless." It was the best he could do without bringing up that she cared to be a capable kunoichi where most were more interested in being 'women' when they were barely into the double digits of age.
"You know we're right, Kucho. Admit it!" Naruto grinned slyly, Kucho instead gave a sigh and both boys blinked as she actually whined like one of the girls they were talking about.
"Kakashi-san." She wouldn't leave off the honorific's for him, no matter the fad..and she couldn't call him sensei right now. Kucho waited until the single dark eye was in her direction, his book still at face level. Once that happened Kucho gave him her best serious look, her eyes locked onto the tiniest movements of his mask as she asked the next question in her most serious tone possible.
"Are we there yet?"
Naruto started laughing and even Sasuke snorted as Kucho pouted, her eyes dancing wildly but safely hidden neath her lashes to protect her sensitive eyes from the light. Kakashi just waving a hand casually. "maaa maa not even close. We'll be walking a long time before we make camp."
"Camp? But I didn't bring a tent! Or a sleeping bag Or.." Kucho started sounded panicked and if they hadn't known her, it would have been believable. As it was Naruto was grinning, recognizing the sound of an Ino rant when she'd forget something pointless. Judging from Sasuke's cringe, he did too. Ino just got this particular cadence to her complaints that set everyone on edge.
Kakashi sighed and slowed down, looking over his shoulder as Kucho fiddled with her wrist bag, but she was looking off to the side.
Curiously, so was Naruto.
Maybe he had some natural sensors in his little team? There was a single chakra in the direction they were looking, a strong one about mid-chunin level. It was one he recognized though. One of the many chunin who was likely out running messages.
"You'll be fine."
Both of them looked forward then, trusting him.
Very curious. Sasuke seemed to think she was just playing up the role, Naruto wasn't even aware he'd picked up on something. Kikaichu he knew when well attuned to the Aburame made natural sensors out of many but he'd figured her keeping them so tightly wound in her coils would have lessened her range instead of increased it. It seemed like she had very devoted beetles indeed if they were increasing their effort to keep her safe when hidden. Naruto..
Well he'd never been able to get an answer out of Minato if he was just that skilled or could sense chakra. Who knew? It was one more thing to see about working with his blonde student someday. There were a few more hilariously (for Kakashi) awkward conversations between the three children as they traveled but it was proving to be a completely beneficial lesson already. Too often shinobi friendships bloomed because of shared skills or moments of the battlefield. Often those whom would never mesh became closer then siblings from those bonds. However, as his own team seven had proven back in the day even if it seemed they were close from that you could be complete strangers to your own team and 'friends'.
The irony was as close as the three had become in the months already, it was a shinobi's closeness. One born of sweat and jutsu's, of training and D ranks. They were utter strangers in the ways they would have formed friendships otherwise. Sasuke had no one outside of the three. Naruto had the Hokage and Iruka, and the two that ran the ramen stand. He had a strange friendship with Kiba- but again it was one based on fights and growls. Kucho was the only one he had observed with a true friendship and that was still highly limited. Choji seemed to be her closest friend, though he had witnessed her and Shino walking together far more. With the others, it was more a 'you are friends of my friend' situation.
Shinobi children did mimic their elders and were often just as ..distant..as anyone else.
Kakashi had taken this mission half to try and help his team forge a true friendship. If he took away their 'security blanket' and was able to train them in other ways in the process, all the better.
They had already thrown themselves into being a 'hive' as Kucho had always called it, Sasuke and Naruto had slipped up some times and stated the same. He knew they could be an exceptional team already- had proven such since the bell test- but there were many areas to work on if they were to become the force he wanted to mold them into. This had been an aspect of his own training he had always neglected, until the loss of Obito. He wouldn't see his fledgling genin go through that lack.
And if he managed to sneak many photos of the children actually looking like such, all the better. It was blackmail for the future.
Camping out that night was the first time the three had done so on anything other than the academy mock trips in one of the training grounds. The truth of it was the ground was hard and rocks got in places you didn't want them, sleeping rolls didn't do much besides insulate you a bit. There were no pillows or tents, this was after all a trip meant to scare off civilian's from the shinobi lifestyle so many comforts they may otherwise have simply did not exist this time.
The group was spoiled on running water and food not to mention indoor plumbing. Swiftly they learned the difference between barbeque and the lovely smokey flavor and when everything came out half burned or raw and you had smoke in your eyes. Kakashi of course, didn't help them make the fire and they did a terrible job of it. Keeping watch was a good lesson but hard, all three were used to sleeping through the evenings unless they had a bad dream or a lightning storm. They weren't to change into their pajamas as 'enemies could come at any time in the night, slit your throat. Be swift and silent..just a lot of blood. We may not even know until we go to wake you in the morning and you're a white corpse, cold and still.' Kakashi said.
It was certainly not the type of trip that was talked about in the academy. The three got it, even Naruto did. This was to make kids never regret that they failed the academy. They were living this mission as if they were those civilian's. The next time they went out things would be very different.
It still frankly, sucked.
By the fourth day conversations were starting to finally sound normal. It was actually pretty good for the fact that two were clan raised and one was an orphan with socialization issues. Kakashi still made them do more than their fair share of the work and didn't help them or teach them the right way to do so. They were figuring out things in the clumsy way of experience. With him always watching of course. It was soon learned that Naruto was actually the best at getting a fire started, he'd get into one of his old overly enthusiastic modes and before long the sticks he was working together would either form a spark..or snap.
That Kucho was good at cooking had not transferred at first to doing so over a poorly made fire. It didn't take her that long to get the hang of it and she muttered something about 'Chouji is so making camp food with me for a month..he'd never manage on this.."
The torture that was playing civilian's was improved because they could actually complain freely. It was what normal children would have done and even Sasuke had gotten in on it the second day when he had to fetch water again because he had underestimated how much would be needed. He'd ended up on water and wood duty to get out of the other two tasks. It was really entertaining that he didn't even try to play it off as anything other than what it was either.
"What do you think this village we're going to will be like?" Naruto asked tiredly, his feet hurt. You didn't realize how much you used chakra until you suddenly had to not, and in fact suppress it as much as you could, all the time! Even if the way they did that with their tiny reserves was to just not draw on it, having to be aware of it at all times so he didn't jump higher than a civilian could for instance was exhausting. Subconsciously he had always used it to help toughen up his muscles..and his feet. Something he had not been aware of until the first time his arches and calves ached. He'd actually fallen over in the morning when he first tried to walk.
"I just want it to have a place I can wash up that's not a river. Too much mud." Sasuke grumbled. His white shorts were assuredly no longer even light colored. He may have ended up in a water fight with Naruto once. Neither had even thought of splashing or shoving Kucho when they did, she had been looking haunted and rather pitiful but never said a word.
Kucho groaned at the idea and nodded, her hair was under a handkerchief at this point and the tightly done bun was more a massive snarl. There was no way she'd be undoing it herself. "And something to eat that we don't cook..over fire."
"Or with sand in it."
Kakashi twitched his lips underneath his mask as they all took turns complaining. They sounded like regular children instead of the highly capable young ones he'd shown off to the hokage. That the constant effort -impressively far more than they really would have had to try to suppress of their chakra really as anyone who had some training could have larger reserves than not- was not so needed had been kept silent by Kakashi. For one reason, when they were so focused on actively suppressing it it would be that much stronger and more ready to obey when they utilized it. It was part of why those who made Anbu were always suppressing their Chakra, it was like doing certain exercises..those who needed to slim down did so, the same ones who needed to put on muscle would do that. In the case of his students where Naruto's control was hideous it would help him get a better chance of working with his monstrous chakra reserves than any delicate leaf twirlings. In Sasuke's point he would not be over exhausted some day by the sharingan, and it would help build up Kucho's reserves.
"...And so that's why I don't like strawberries even if they are red like tomatoes." Sasuke finished calmly. The last uchiha apparently got a little..random..when sleep deprived after a few days. Well he had taken first watch last night, that stretched into third as well when he woke to use the little boys tree and found Naruto asleep. Pulling double watch had done him no favors.
Naruto glanced over at his teammate and gave him a shake of his head, face smudged with dirt and leaves in his hair. He'd just given up besides washing before eating about the fourth day in. They were practically sleeping in the dirt after all.
"Remind me to take you to this one place that makes really good strawberry mochi.."
"Oh no you don't!" Kucho wrinkled her nose and shook her head. "No, we are finally near civilization you are not allowed to go all quiet! Then 'that' talk will come out of Naruto.." Kucho was almost hysterical and Sasuke just blinked before nodding. Their normally level headed teammate had not been doing well on this trip. It had been the hardest on her, and not for any reasons that any had thought of at the beginning. Perhaps even Kakashi hadn't realized what this had done to her.
"We'll go somewhere that's buzzing with noise." He assured her softly.
Naruto chuckled, getting the reference but they both felt bad for her. Kucho hadn't gone this long without letting her kikaichu roam before and it was really stressing her out. They were a part of her, her senses, her adoration for her kikaichu so well known that for her to shiver at ever wisp of dust that brushed her face- rather then tiny legs- made her eyes tear up under her lashes. She'd started getting clingy to both of them and while Naruto was fine with it, 'even if you are way uncute so don't get any ideas OW! Hey!..' Sasuke had taken some time to tolerate any touch at all. Seeing Kucho rub her arms and look utterly devastated though...
He remembered her showing up all the time with a jar of glow worms to keep him company after the massacre and ever since. She'd not asked for anything.
She hadn't ever even told anyone.
Occasionally he'd lean his shoulder into hers, hands firmly in his jacket pockets. She'd give a tiny shudder at the unconscious miniscule exchange of chakra just from skin contact. It wasn't anywhere what she was used to with her kikaichu but it helped her feel less like she was suffocating. So when he'd initiate the nudge she would sigh and lean back into him and it wasn't enough but since it was all he could handle giving..
"What are friends for?" Naruto shrugged it off casually as he spoke for Sasuke.
Kakashi considered that he could almost feel the other two nodding a victory. Though he did wonder why Kucho seemed so out of it.
This was exactly what he needed from them right now. If he was going to train them as he thought they could be, he needed them to have a level of trust and intuition about each other that went far further than just shinobi friendships. He needed a loyalty that would set them apart from all the others. After all, if they succeeded in the long term, the team would be useless without a single member of the quartet. Having these times to fall back on would be priceless at a later date when they wouldn't otherwise know how to blend in and leave the veneer of capable shinobi behind.
If they could remember how they were acting now, tired and with their guard down as they finally were to just -be-. They'd blend into the crowds without a second thought. The best shinobi after all, was the one whom you had no idea had been there.
Arriving in the village the trio was clearly not acting as they all but gave the puppy eyes to the owner of the simple inn. Kakashi was letting them spend a night indoors, sighing and just waved them off. "Fine, one day and night here. Go clean up and be ready to head out tomorrow. I promised your parents to take you a bit further before we head back." Kakashi sounded utterly done with them. Acting or not, the three all but bolted for their room.
Filthy as they were it was unanimous that Naruto was going to wash up first. He had the worst hygiene of the three and he was also very good at getting people's guard down. The three had muttered together, quietly in case of ears. A plan had been made while Naruto was scrubbing days worth of filth off and getting completely clean. Kucho and Sasuke laid it out, then Sasuke went to shower and change while Kucho caught a now clean Naruto up. Kucho was going last so that she could spend time in the room and 'nap.' In reality she was going to let a few of her kikaichu out for a bit under the covers because the separation of them only being in her chakra coils was causing her psychological strain. Just a few though so there was no chakra flux, but she needed to feel them and see them for herself.
Kakashi keeping to his 'playing escort to brats' was sipping tea at the bar, or rather holding it as no one actually saw him move his mask to drink. The chatter was easy, there were a few locals who were familiar with the 'falling leaf' program and teasing him good naturedly about how spoiled this trio was and if he'd scared them off ninja's all together or just being one. Kakashi was having fun embellishing it as he discussed the team's mishaps in trying to camp. There was a wonderful story about the first time they'd been woken up..having slept in..and it involved squirrels that he snuck into their bags. All the while he was paying attention to see if anyone seemed overly interested in hearing about the children.
It really was just a scouting information mission hidden as an escort one. Yet there had been something about the recent..events, in the area, that had put the Hokage on alert. One did not get to his position if you did not listen to your instincts. It wasn't anything obvious just that the village was more backwater than usual lately and closed up tightly. Whether it was because of the unusual chakra patterns found, or if they had moved inside and were being sheltered was unknown. The inn was the only potential social area for Kakashi to send his feelers out. Adults were regarded very warily.
Hence, the children. Just by being nosy little shinobi brats they may stumble across something. It had been worth the gamble, the additional training they were getting as well as bonding time is why Kakashi had volunteered them for the mission. While they slept that night -with someone always on watch- he would scout the town as silently as if he had on his Anbu mask.
"Kucho really misses her family huh?" Naruto asked as he walked with Sasuke. It wasn't a big village, but certainly it didn't' need to be as it was less than a week away from Konoha. There was the usual range of shops and market stalls to explore though and they were blending in by exploring.
"Yes. She has not been away from them this long and the separation seems to be hindering her." Sasuke paused, going to look at some leafy vegetable and Naruto groaned.
"Really Sasuke? You like tomatoes and now you're looking at bunny food? I think you're not really a kid. You like healthy stuff!"
"Nothing wrong with liking the good stuff kiddo." came a gruff voice.
Naruto didn't look up or pay attention, his sharp blue eyes noticed that Sasuke's had narrowed for a second, sideways, doing it for him. Huh. What had his teammate noticed?
"Yeah but I'll wait till I'm old and wrinkled to be all healthy, thanks though old man."
"I'll take this one please.." Sasuke cut the voice off. He paid and then walked around quietly but he had a peculiar expression. Under his constipated face that Naruto was starting to learn to read so well he wondered why he ever thought the Uchiha was emotionless.
"You need to find a bathroom?" Naruto asked, tactlessly. It was also a simple way to let Sasuke know his acting was slipping.
A sharp black eyed glare was his answer before Sasuke sighed, frowning. "One of the plants looked..odd."
Naruto scratched at his jaw. "Which?"
"think Kucho'd like something?"
"Ah." Sasuke smirked then, really they were learning how the other thought and he nodded. "Blue flowers. Not on the plant, in the paper they are wrapped in. Only one."
"Hey find me something to eat that'll make my stomach feel like I ate without dirt or ash in it kay?"
"...if you can be subtle I'll look for Ramen." Sasuke pledged, he meant it too. While they had their very different strengths, one thing you couldn't best Naruto on was stealing and causing trouble. He had to learn it very well and very young, or go hungry. It was part of why Sasuke didn't belittle his skills. He just reminded him to be subtle because otherwise, especially after almost a week of talking without being able to bring up anything that the team had come to relate to each other on, he knew Naruto wouldn't hesitate to find some way to cause mass hysteria in the market. As long as it didn't involve chakra..he'd look the other way.
"..kay we need a cow...and three spools of wire and.." Naruto mumbled as he wandered off.
Sasuke pinched the bridge of his nose. He really did not want to know, but if it got results? Well Naruto did have an entirely different idea of 'subtle' after all.
"Okay...come again?" Kucho gaped at her soldiers as she sat with them on the bed, the bundle Naruto had filched already tucked away after they had peeked inside. Now it was deep within his clothing bag hidden under the dirty underthings. No one was going to want to shuffle through old clothing.
"Well I used the wire to tie to the sugar cubes which meant I had to wrap it as otherwise they'd crumble, and then carefully tied it to.."
"After that point." Kucho prompted with a tiny flick of her wrist. Sasuke was just sitting there, rubbing his temples.
"Oh! Okay, so then I used two sticks like when I make a spark but I wanted smoke and.."
"Where I was running from the lady hitting me with her bag for sliding under her skirt when I was dodging the hooves or later later?"
"...What's this about a pond?"
"..You would focus on that Kucho-chan." Naruto shook his head with a sigh, though his blue eyes caught the shaking of Sasuke's shoulder's. Faint as it was. "Okay so after it kicked the cart and when it tossed it's head trying to get the sugar the first bit of wire caught on the ledge where I'd hung the second meant to take the guy's hat off so he'd cause a commotion, The cow didn't like getting stuck and took the whole awning and ran and couldn't see so she ran into the pond."
"Dragging the cart." Sasuke prompted with a little smirk.
"Dragging the cart." Naruto confirmed.
"Which you managed to grab the 'vegetable' from earlier." Kucho said softly, her eyes wide as Naruto nodded. Kucho then turned to look at Sasuke. "The.."
"Yeah. The one that it turns out has some weird powder in a bamboo stalk. We don't know what it is and until Kakashi-sensei is back we shouldn't try to find out." He'd remembered reading in his father's ledgers about how hollowed out sections of bamboo had been used to smuggle things before. The military police had usually been the ones to find that as the shinobi were otherwise occupied. When he'd seen that one stalk of bamboo not quite matching the rest wrapped up for sale..well he'd set Naruto after it on a hunch. It may have nothing to do with why they were there but Kakashi would likely be curious anyways.
Kucho shook her head and smiled. "Makes me feel silly I just visited the tea shop across the way."
It was in her smile though and Naruto grinned. "You found something for Anko?"
"No." Kucho was a heavy one, which both of them knew meant she was using doublespeak still just in case of prying ears. "Kakashi. To thank him for putting up with us."
"You sure you want to do that?" Naruto asked. 'You are certain?' was what he really meant.
"He has weird tastes." Sasuke agreed. They were trying to account for the fact someone could be listening. 'out of the ordinary' was the code there.
"Positive." She answered both without need for a code so much as using emphasis as she switched topics. Hanging on one too long was not how most conversed naturally. "I feel a lot less sleepy after my nap. Like I could run for hours.. only not." She didn't expect Naruto to understand, Sasuke though, was her counterpart in intelligence. His dark eyes blew wide as he looked at her, jaw slightly open.
"You..you're sure? I mean, you don't need more time?"
Kucho's smile was soft, full of wonder as she shook her head. "I'm pretty sure..all good."
It had nothing to do with the mission. While Kucho had hated her forced separation from her Kikaichu she had always known advanced users could transfer the chakra they stole to other users on the battlefield. Her trick was she needed to be able to store vast amounts over a long period of time. Nee-chan five and three had been the main ones who came out to cuddle with her under the blankets. Nee-chan five..had also been sure she knew how to proceed. That meant she could plant one on Naruto and Sasuke, not only to draw and store chakra for later -which she hadn't really told them about- but to snap them out of a genjutsu if need be.
"That's..good I guess?" Naruto asked, completely clueless. "So what you get for Kakashi?"
Kucho chuckled. "Oh just some teas that aren't from around here.."
"Earthy flavor?" Sasuke asked, his lips twitching as they spoke around Naruto who still had a long way to go with learning to look underneath conversations. Luckily he had the two of them.
"Not really..well maybe a touch. More striking."
Sasuke nodded. "I bet he'd like some before dinner."
"You want to go invite him you two? I'll go get hot water and a tea pot from the kitchen..and some cups too.."
"I got that. Sasuke you go get Kakashi, I'll charm the kitchen staff." naruto grinned, that was one thing he was good at.
Kakashi was going to be surprised at what they'd already stumbled on. Well, Kucho had stumbled but grabbed the opportunity, Sasuke had observed and planned..and Naruto had been his mayhem creating self.
Seriously that was going to become the team motto..