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Carapace

Chapter Text

AN: Just to clarify, this and no other of my fics are sakura bashing. I do happen to be disappointed that Kishimoto neglected all the girls until it was somewhat convenient later on. As if they were just a by product. Many of his interviews give the impression he just didn't find them interesting so expect different approaches in each story to your familiar favorites. No, Sakura will not be a medic in this one. Yes she was a legend, but this is exploring another way she could grow as much as the boys and you'll see I do that with all of them. Kucho's place in team seven will be her own as well.

()()()()()()()

Kakashi was legitimately stunned.

He'd been brought upstairs by the Uchiha, and Kucho had served them tea while Naruto assisted. There'd been a hand signal from Sasuke that had Kakashi putting up a low level privacy seal, just one that'd blur what they said. He'd expected a lot of nonsense, probably some complaints about the mission and requests to do something. They were used to physically pushing themselves after all and must be antsy at this point.

Naruto had gone first.

Kakashi had heard of the disaster in the town square of course it was gossip in a small town. What he had heard though was someone had let their cow loose and it rampaged causing massive mayhem. That it was instead a plan that went a bit wild, to say the least. Well he was beaming at Naruto for a job well done that was certain. The villagers hadn't been watching any of their gossip around Kakahsi after that ice breaker dropped in. Divine Bovine interference it seemed to be indeed.

Sasuke then brought over the bamboo. With the assurance they did not know, and they had not tasted smelled or tried to find out what it was. That was quite the way to open up a report. Kakashi had eased open the smuggling case that was the hollowed out plant and blinked. His very sensitive nose knew this smell. It was a very dangerous blend of herbs meant to simulate chakra pills. The drug had been popular with various low ranking ninja as it gave a huge hit to ones chakra. Of course the after price was high, but he remembered it from his early Anbu days. Not long after the third shinobi war. Konoha genin had often taken a few extra chakra pills for a safer hit of the same stimulant if they were certain they weren't getting out of the fight alive. It was a last resort, to do as much damage as possible to an enemy. It was a tactic for the very loyal..or the very malicious.

He promised to explain what it was later but swiftly sealed the concoction and it's container up in a storage seal, rather shaken. It would explain an unusual chakra activity in the area if people were getting this. Even civilians could have chakra this way but they wouldn't live through it. His team had by chance, discovered it on possibly the first day.

Kucho had gone then and explained she'd been in the tea shop and noticed a lot of teas that didn't make sense. Many plants had parts that weren't worth using for tea, and she'd caught sight of someone in the side room that hadn't closed the door far enough. The chakra had been noticeable enough at that range, but not when she stepped back outside of the shop.

"You said earthy." Naruto interrupted.

"I said earthy, she said more striking." Sasuke countered, sipping the tea himself. It'd been a decent enough floral blend. Not his usual fare but he wasn't going to belittle Kucho for picking something she liked.

"Striking..." Kakashi prompted, curious as to what his kunoichi on the team would say.

"Hai, Kakashi-sensei. It was a lot of chakra."

"You know I thought you were talking of Iwa and lightning or something.." Naruto piped up and Kucho giggled.

"I don't think our C class mission would become A or S class, Naruto!"

"Hm. Interesting..I know you and Naruto both seem a bit chakra sensitive..I'll go pay a visit to the shop myself. Is that all then?" Kakashi had set his empty cup down, not one of the three had done more than display idle curiosity if they would see his face. Upon realizing he was not going to let them see though, they had let it go. There were far more things to worry about.

It had endeared them a little more to Kakashi.

"I.." Kucho looked down suddenly, her hands in her lap. "Forgive me Kakashi-sensei but I broke your rule..I had let a few of my kikaichu out while taking a 'nap' earlier.." Kucho did not cry, and her voice was steady. Almost blank, Naruto and Sasuke exchanged a look. Kucho was being 'queen' right now and would not take comfort well. But support? That was different.

"It's hurting her, Kakashi-sensei." Naruto said quietly before their silver haired sensei could do more then further droop his one visible eye in disappointment. "Her hives are as much a part of her as our hands and you saw her the past few days."

"Psychological traumas are the hardest to handle." Sasuke muttered. It was inaudible to his teammates but Kakashi had jonin enhanced hearing.

"I see. How many are a few, Kucho-chan?"

"Nee-chan three and five and less than ten of their soldiers who do not let them out without backup."

Kakashi blinked. "I have not worked closely like this with an Aburame before. Are you really so closely tied?"

Kucho's fingers clenched in her sleeve as she nodded. "We are never without them crawling along us or being able to emerge if they wish to check on us or for company..I cannot..I don't remember a time before.."

Kakashi hummed. It was probably like his sense of smell then. Insanely sensitive compared to most, he was always more disoriented by a lack of smell than he was sight or sound. Part of his wearing the mask was to help filter out too strong of scents. "Can you keep them away from seen areas or ones you may be grabbed?"

Kucho's eyes went wide as she looked at him with such hope that it made Kakashi frown, not that they could see it. It seemed the symbiosis his darkest student had with her insects was far deeper than he had been led to believe. When they were back in Konoha he'd need to sit and get answers from Gumoko, the Aburame may be a closed off clan when it came to their secrets but it was very likely he'd been doing actual harm to his student and that was not tolerable. On the other hand, that she'd obeyed his no chakra, no insect order so well..until she couldn't, but then told him. It boded well for the future. A good agent thinks for themselves and tries to follow orders to the highest of their capacity. All three had shown promise that they could do that. They didn't just look around, just wait for him.

"hai.."

"I trust you can. You have my apologies Kucho-chan, I did not realize how deep the bond you Aburame have and my intention was to keep from someone finding your insects, not to have you harmed."

Memories of seeing her leaning on the boys, being clingy and listless..

Well now he knew it wasn't just fatigue and acting. She'd been legitimately..undergoing psychological strain.

"Sasuke, Naruto, you noticed this happening?" When both nodded Kakashi sighed, arms crossed. "All three of you need to learn to provide information to your assigned leader. Just as you did with the intel you gathered. If you know an area, people, or something that is happening it is your job as shinobi to ensure that that information is shared. It is better to learn everyone noticed it than one did not and there were consequences."

Three sets of serious eyes nodded at him and Kakashi shook his head. Truly..he couldn't be more proud though. "I'll go and scout. You three stay in this room and rest. Lock me out. Set watches." He went to exit through the window and paused, grasping his privacy seal to tuck back away. "Also, never sleep or be within range of a window or exit. Makes you easier targets. See you in the morning!" Kakashi was out the window and gone before the three children could splutter about his exit.

Kakashi felt little worry leaving them behind. Despite all they had found -truly luck had been with them- it was not a dangerous area. In a life or death situation they knew there was permission to blow their cover and use chakra. All three were advancing better than he had dared hope from this mission. Working without the comfort of all they had been raised to do, the chakra and topics of ninja so far away had put the three children into a much stronger friendship than many comrades who bled together would ever understand.

There was the saying your team is your family.

Kakashi wanted to blur the line even further for this project he and Sarutobi had always wished to achieve. The members of team seven needed to learn how to innately understand what each other would do in all situations.

For now..he had a hiding nin to hunt down.

The tea shop was in a corner of town that had easy escape through alleys. It took almost no time for Kakashi to ascertain there was no trap or other deterrents save the standard lock on the front door. Like the typical nin, he used the window.

The shop was still. Wishing to avoid risking a creaky floorboard he channeled the most minute chakra that would hold his weight very slowly into his feet and hands, crawling along the junction of ceiling and wall. At this slow steady pace the amount of chakra that was released wouldn't even be noticed. Certainly not compared to the levels in the domicile.

Striking indeed.

He could understand now, with the scent of plants and teas overlaying it how Kucho's senses would have identified it as such. This was not a normal chakra but one irregular and spiking in random moments. The reason for it being hidden from the exterior vicinity had to be a chakra dampening seal somwhere, but it wasn't the concern at the moment. Kakashi found the source in the next room over, again, as his little kunoichi had stated. Currently asleep the nin was young. Maybe about twenty years of age. He had an insignia that could not be made out, covered as it was in scratches. No elegant scratch here, there was more as if someone tried to gouge out the symbol leaving it unrecognizable. At least, without giving it far more time than was needed for the moment. Kakashi instead placed a heavy genjutsu on the area and began to check..

It didn't take long. The nin had a letter on him from a relative, likely the tea shop owner. It had stated he could come for hiding as they had wanted to leave Grass. Now normally Kakashi would wake them and discuss things but the timing of a foreign nin who didn't want to be found at the same time a drug is being smuggled about?

Kakashi didn't believe in coincidences. Unfortunately this was one of those times that what was called for wasn't clear. He could end the threat right away. No mess, no problems. If he was the source of the drug it would be done. On the other hand he could risk waking him up and trying to get the information out which would only be a precursor to handing the man over to Interrogations because he may have secrets of his village.

In the end, as always, it was simply not Kakashi's choice. Pragmatic he sealed the man in the storage scrolls they used for corpses. It would not last long, the maximum time one had safely been in one while unconscious remained two days. Kakashi needed to take all the man's items as well in case that relative who had offered him shelter was suspicious otherwise. Now it would just seem he had gone off in the middle of the night.

While not ideal, it seemed Kakashi was going into the clearing to un seal and question a nuke nin. It was a good thing his team wasn't expecting him. The odds of this turning unpleasant were high and while some day he would have to teach the three odd balls his methods, he would allow them to hold tight to their innocence just a little longer.

()()()()()

Come morning, Naruto and Kucho were treated to something very entertaining.

Sasuke got bed head weird. It wet entirely flat and almost limp. By contrast Kucho was still worried about the absolute disaster her curls had gone into and the best Naruto could do was assure her it didnt look that bad. Which was a nightmare to a little girl. Still, Kucho managed to suck it up even if she did want to pout and grumble over stupid soldiers having easily tamed hair.

Sasuke was in the bathroom grumbling and attempting to make his hair stand back up. After a while he gave in and it just did the usual duck butt pattern, much to the amusement of his team. They'd never have guessed the notorious hairstyle was from trying to get his hair to have volume to it and then getting tired. Naruto on the other hand, seemed to have this fear of brushes and combs that led Kucho to rolling her eyes.

"No sign of Kakashi..what should we go do?" Naruto asked, down in the dining area of the inn. They'd meandered down acting like civilians still and ordered standard breakfasts. Sasuke did have to subtly remind Naruto to eat 'at a normal pace like a civilized human being.' It wasn't something Naruto was that unused to and the resulting conversation would only convince an observer of their ruse.

"But it's good broody duck! I haven't had good food since we left Konoha! No offense to you Kucho but you suck at cooking over a campfire."

"It would help if we knew how to make one that didn't try to kill me with smoke."

"You could both have actually helped me gather wood."

Kakashi stood leaning in the entrance to the room, chuckling to himself as he heard the children sounding like they were their age. It would take a ninja of his caliber to spot how they'd take turns talking, one always having eyes flickering over the entrance and exits of the room. They'd alert each other some how, perhaps with a toe tap under the tablecloth? And then the next would take up being observant while the other two talked or ate. Around and around the job went as they ate their fill. Not even a week of being civilian level and out of touch with their chakra and they were still always on alert

Kakashi shook his head. They kept surprising him in the best ways.