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Carapace

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AN: Well this time around Carapace kind of...slaughtered the poll. Okay then! Glad you all enjoyed the interlude. They're back to being ninja. For a bit. I swear these three just like being children. Guess we should let them enjoy it while they can.

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

"DOWN!" Kakashi's voice was harsh and almost more a sharp bark than words.

No matter what they had been in the midst of all three of team seven dropped. The sounds of wood splintering and flesh being impacted was nauseating as various projectiles went about indiscriminately. Not waiting to be told it was clear, because sometimes you couldn't wait and waiting got you killed; Naruto rolled back onto his feet and dashed over to his teammate's. They were only genin they needed the strength in numbers.

This was supposed to be a scroll retrieval and delivery mission just scooping it up from an outpost to take to the next but the guy who originally was carrying it was down -a civilian or something he couldn't remember right now, surely this wasn't happening?- Naruto had to go with that. Latched onto the idea that it was Kakashi trolling them as he'd gotten help doing before even if they were outside Konoha for this. Even if they'd gotten it as a mission. If he focused on it simply he could do this, it was just a training exercise for Team Seven to work on their plans in a rapid way. Thinking like that beat the fear back down that wanted to paralyze him and he clung to his delusion. This was just a test..

"Sasuke!" Naruto was already making the hand signals and Sasuke nodded, his own flashing rapidly. They could hear the angry buzz of Kucho's insects fanning out to provide cover at their backs. No time to count how many opponents, but there was at least five in front of them..they didn't look scary. More bandit like maybe?

"Set!" Kucho snapped out and her hands slapped on their backs before Naruto spammed clones everywhere. Hidden in the chaos, and with it seeming that she just did that to leave them out of the sudden eerie kikaichu enhanced genjutsu that overlaid the grounds in thousands of meandering lights and patterns -scent trails for the insects- were that she'd just passed over slightly upgraded beetles. They had to stay within her most the time still as the evolution was still in early stages of breeding but during a battle the boys couldn't risk not having every edge.

The moment they felt the crawling along their necks Sasuke finished his fireball jutsu, right on the tails of a dozen Naruto clones who each held conductive wires that no matter where they fell before attacking the targets, sent curling hungry flames right towards their attackers. It was a great way to divide the fire attack and while they were evading that one, a second wave and then a third of clones, each with wires in hands continuously spamming and swarming the opponents in the area. It was as if the three of them were the hub of a wheel, needing to attack in ever direction.

"One!" Naruto barked out, moving into the early stages of the overloaded chakra bombs he had figured out so long ago it felt like, the early days surely weren't just this year?.. The beauty of how they named their attacks wasn't the usual yelling of them, not the classic formation code words. No, for Team Seven they'd figured out number codes. So when they started a count down people waited for that. It bought them precious seconds. They'd never reach the number they were expecting.

Who started the count was the first part of the code.

One meant Naruto was going to use bombs and each of his clones was set to self destruct so Sasuke wouldn't use the fireball again. That didn't mean he was out of other plans.

"Two!" Sasuke smirked in agreement and let fly a barrage of shurikens, his favored tool. These were specially made to shatter upon impact or with a pulse of Sasuke's chakra. Bombs in the crude sense that people rarely looked out for, sending shrapnel everywhere. Kucho was still in position from setting up the beetles and while she'd kept throwing out the genjutsu's in disorienting patterns that were dismissed easily the sheer volume made people think that was her only attack.

They overlooked Kucho then and she made her move with none the wiser.

"Boom!" Naruto hissed out, not even worried that it was with a manic grin as he felt the pinch of the kikaichu riding on his skin not even allowing the genjutsu to take hold and he didn't move when the 'imaginary' blade seemed to be on a path to tear through him. The beetle reacted so swiftly to dispel the genjutsu through it's pincher bite that it never had a chance to affect Naruto's brain.

The resulting explosion was …

"Overkill. Take a moment to recuperate." Kakashi said as he landed behind them yet his voice and body language was content, impressed even. And a little wary at the sheer destruction his three students had just created.

While Naruto's clones had blown up, Sasuke's shrapnel bombs had obliterated those attempts to dodge. And Kucho?

Well her insects had done more than was obvious as a beaming Kucho dissolved into their forms. The kikaichu clone mass swirling in the air to re-enter the glasses wearing Aburame as she dropped down from a tree. Smirking with the scroll in hand that had been the entire focus of this mission. She'd used the distraction of the fireball to leave a clone behind in control of one of her Nee-chan's giving it access to much of her repertoire and able to take and give a few hits. It was a new way of using the Aburame Kikaichu clone that was likely to remain rare, the same elder who had taught her to breed and extend the life of her queen's and other Kikaichu had come up with it. You needed a very aware and strong minded queen Kikaichu to even try to use it. With her bond, Kucho had five. Making more than one wasn't possible though, not yet. It did use a lot of chakra and that was the reason for the genjutsu coverage, she couldn't hide the mass pooling together in any other way.

"And where is the one who had the scroll, Kucho?" Kakashi asked as if bored.

"Ne, Kakashi-sensei..it was your stupid clone. You tell us." Naruto said as he swung his legs.

"...it was a henged opponent Naruto." Sasuke said. It sounded oddly kind coming from Sasuke but the reasoning was simple. There weren't any large pieces of evidence of what had just happened and clearly their often bright but just as often idiotic teammate thought this had been some sort of training mission. Even if it was his own delusion, he couldn't be permitted to keep it.

"Ah..oh..." Naruto gulped, wavered a little and looked around the rocky expanse. Scents that he'd ignored until then seemed to be pressing down as the adrenaline shifted, the after effects making him tremble.

"I think I'm going to be sick.."

Sasuke stepped over and held out his hand in a sort of fist. His expression was blank but his eyes were understanding. If anyone knew about shock, he did after all. His own breath was all coming in through his mouth so he wouldn't smell flesh and blood and the metallic after effect. That way lay flashbacks the Uchiha did not desire. Naruto managed to lift his own and nudge Sasuke's fist away halfheartedly though he appreciated the sentiment.

"You did well."

"No." Kucho was handing Kakashi the scroll but neither of her teammate's took offense as black and blue eyes locked onto the pigtailed girl. There was a sense of anticipation that Kakashi picked up on and was once again bemused at how his little Aburame female seemed at times to hold the sort of 'Alpha' rank but so easily did the three of his students shift who was in charge.

"I'd say..that was exceptional reaction time. I am very proud." Of them, of their performance. It was unspoken and Naruto let out a shaky breath.

"This isn't like fishing to desensitize us like in the academy..I'm.."

"It's a bit hard to accept." Sasuke agreed. It was, he was honestly fighting his own traumatic memories at the moment but he wasn't going to break down. Not here where they were so vulnerable.

"..." Kucho walked over and though her glasses were on both boys simply knew she was making eye contact and could guess what for. They nodded and the soft humming of her kikaichu flowed around them as she stepped closer to let the pheromones work faster. "It is. Logically we always knew this was happening someday. As shinobi we can accept that, as ...people..we dislike the reality that this is what occurs. That it was needed. The dichotomy is all right."

"It means the fact they don't go together." Sasuke said seeing Naruto open his mouth. There was a way that Kucho was standing, slightly hunched that told them she was very much not in the mood to talk. That she was doing so, to help put them at ease, was helping to calm Naruto. He knew he was the most extroverted and outgoing of the three of them and that was okay. They all knew how to help each other be more comfortable and right now as three children came to accept that they had just obliterated their opponents the only comfort was there was no bodies, nothing identifiable to come to terms with.

In a way the utter lack of anything but shattered trees and soot, still cooling embers and strange ground splatters..

It was just as unsettling. Because that meant they'd have a lot more to become accustomed to.

"We need to start walking." Kakashi said softly. He looked over each of them and then helped them gather up the weapons that had been tossed around. This time at least the lesson on looting an opponent for valuable tools was put off. If anything had survived the massive attack it wouldn't have been much. Before them though he burned the body of the one who originally held the scroll.

"Was he.." Naruto bit his cheek hard but he just had to know because just yesterday the guy was talking about every stupid thing that bothered him and now he was gone. "I mean.."

"Ah." Kakashi waited, until he saw the slight turn of the two brunettes as they paid attention eyes never leaving the burning -and didn't it reek, the scent of human burning luckily ninjutsu made it very fast, faster than it should be but they had no time- body. Honoring him as best they could. Clearly none of the three had paid attention to his name. It was a pity they would learn it like this but for all the children showed so much promise, ever so much. They were still in the end children and the simple fact of the matter was they hadn't paid attention to the smaller information when the one with them seemed so unimportant.

"His name was Jiro. He never made it as a ninja, an academy drop out but he would take low ranking missions sometimes and pay for the privilege of going on them."

"...family?" Kucho asked. Of course she did, Naruto and Sasuke had a flashback to when she'd explained the concept of hive's and taking care of them and the extended family. It was the natural way for her to ask after him, if not to take care of the man's family -which would be for her hive directly- at least to give closure.

"No. He was just an orphan."

Naruto flinched.

"No one is ever just an orphan."

"Aa...you're right." Kakashi said softly. He could sense it, several important conversations. Discussions that needed to be had and now was the right time for them. It was also the wrong time. They would have to wait.

"Let's get moving."

"If possible bring us back this way." Sasuke said as they left. No one needed to guess why.

"Jiro would be pleased to know he made such an impression. It was why he wanted to be a ninja." Kakashi said calmly. They didn't ask how he'd known him, it didn't seem right to do so.

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

The scroll was delivered, a note passed to Kakashi to hand to their hokage and the trip back was made at a much faster pace. They did stop to leave a grave marker for Jiro though, where he had fallen.

When Team Seven returned their eyes were a little bit dimmer. It was one thing to come to terms with fighting, with even potentially killing.

But Loss? Even for someone you didn't know that failure could be a worm that ate you from the inside. As well he knew.

Kakashi had taken them aside one by one to speak with each on the trip back. He'd helped them cope even if they didn't want to admit to it, but one thing that Kakashi had also made certain they knew was that they couldn't save everyone.

But that it was always worth trying.

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

"We keep getting C-ranks." Sasuke pointed out to Kucho once as they were eating, Naruto was too busy arguing at Kakashi rather than with him. He'd already finished his meal in a rush though being a little better about his table manners and thanking Kucho profusely for the meal.

"Yes." Kucho enjoyed how little she needed to say for Sasuke to understand. He was a little less social than she was, but she was also a much happier person naturally. Truly though it was just nice how little of her emotional energy it took to be around her team. They could have been exhausting. They weren't. Oh certainly Naruto could be, but he was so genuinely trying that it never wore on her that much. And he'd make up for it with such an exuberance relieving her from some of the physical aspects of whatever they were doing or even just keeping everyone's focus on him that it let her relax. She often saw Sasuke do the same.

"He's favored." And it made no sense but Kucho nodded. That they had both seen it said something. Perhaps among civilian's it took more than three to be a coincidence and beyond that to be a conspiracy. Among ninja? Twice. Or two people who noticed the same event and drew the same conclusion.

It was true though. Even with the fact they were working ever so hard, constantly really, on their training most did not get even one C rank for a long time after a team was formed. That Team Seven made an effort to spend time together and doing things not related to training or studying after that first mission Kakashi had taken them on out of the village was in no hindrance to their goals. If anything they had realized few ninja kept themselves well rounded and spending time with their friends only helped them.

Yet all their prodigal effort meant nothing when you stacked it together. They had four more C ranks outside the village lately. Often they were quick and dirty, wrangling animals, tracking down missing pets. But because it was outside it was a C rank not a D rank. The quite frankly insulting missions that they kept getting that was almost like being pranked hadn't slowed in any way. It was just compounded with very low C-ranks.

Aside from the incident they would always think of as Jiro's Mission.

Both Sasuke and Kucho had noticed one thing though that explained why they were getting such choice C ranks for a new genin team not quite ready for much more all that often.

The Hokage doted on Naruto.

Oh he was attempting to be subtle but Sasuke was an Uchiha, he breathed paranoia observation as a matter of course for all he tamped it down.

"It's to our benefit.." Sasuke muttered and for all it was a surprise he relaxed when he felt Kucho's hand on his arm. Kucho wasn't a very contact heavy person with him usually respecting that Sasuke didn't like to be touched.

"We see each other." Kucho said and Sasuke just sighed and nodded.

It was what it boiled down to and of course Kucho had sensed what the real issue was. Not the C ranks because what genin would complain about that? No, it was that he'd worried for a moment that the Hokage would be treating Naruto like how many villagers did him. Favoring Sasuke for a stupid reason he couldn't help, his name and family and the tragedy. He didn't want that, he certainly didn't want Naruto to feel he owed anyone either. Not even the Hokage.

"Yeah." They saw each other. Even as kids Sasuke had been just Sasuke, a kid whom Kucho thought may like glow worms to keep him company. Kucho had always been open and happy yet so calm and reserved at times. The balance between him and Naruto.

Sasuke looked at her, privately amused that the rose glasses did so little to actually obscure her eyes just protect them from the light.

"I think we need to talk to him though."

"..." Kucho tilted her head but nodded slowly. "If you think it is important, we shall."

And that was one of Team Seven's secrets. They could bend.

The massive mayhem and destruction was just a usual unintended side effect.

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

"Flare!" Kucho yelled out the end of her jutsu and got a rather pathetic little spark to flicker over her fingernails.

"..er." Naruto rubbed the back of his head. "Okay show me again. Slowly."

It was the usual meeting after the day of training and missions where Team Seven would work with each other on their jutsu's they were learning. Kucho had still been struggling with the signal flare she'd asked of Kakashi. It wasn't a hard jutsu, it just seemed to be escaping her as to actually use it properly.

On the silly side she had figured out how to just make her nails and fingers glow and had far too much fun sending messages back and forth with her fireflies at night.

"Dog..Ram..no wait.." Naruto spoke as he followed her. Sasuke barely even noticed as he reached over to adjust Naruto's finger positioning as he was watching Kucho's sharply.

Even a bad example was still worth getting Naruto to practice.

"Here." Sasuke tapped her wrist, making her lift her hands a little to straighten them. "By the fourth signal your wrists drop, changing the angle."

"..Oh.."

The boys looked at her hands and then their own. Well..that was probably why.

"Kucho-chan you're hands are tiny!"

"It only took you all this long to figure out." Kakashi said from a branch, where he had been hidden and observing them all along without their knowledge. He did love seeing his students jump. Mostly because they tended to fall into attack stances and draw weapons. Such nice reflexes they had.

"What ..You wanted Kucho to fail?" Naruto asked but there wasn't an accusation, more a frustrated confusion. "Then why can she kinda get it."

"Because that's not the signal flare jutsu. It's missing the final part. Yet she still almost forced it. I wanted her to do something that would put stress on her drawing out her chakra to help her deepen her reserves. Not knowing what she was doing did that." Kakashi walked down the tree slowly, one eye creased in pleasure as despite the flat expressions, his students stayed silent to listen. "It's important to build up so you can do a more powerful version of some jutsu's, like the flare, because once you know how to do them it's harder to power them up. You may need it to go off higher, brighter, and so you want that to be your default in panic. Control is for a controlled situation which will be without the emotional turmoil. Now.."

Kakashi took out his hands and went through each. Monkey. Dog. Ram. Tiger.

"There was a different one at the beginning..." Kucho said softly and Sasuke figured it out first, but he was the smarter when it came to jutsu's.

"Monkey controls the burst and force..so since you're comfortable with the brightness and color variations now.."

"Exactly. Try it."

Kucho didn't hesitate and when the move was announced this time her hands jerked upwards on their own and a steady single pulse of bright red light went up before hovering in mid air about ten feet above them and finally fizzled out as her hands dropped.

"YES!" Naruto whooped and then scooped up Kucho to whirl around, chanting about how awesome she was.

Sasuke just smirked and rolled his eyes watching as the embarrassed Aburame futilely whined to be put down but she was smiling wide and there was the buzz of her insects showing she was truly happy. Sasuke wasn't fooled.

"You wanted us to learn the lower version too." He mumbled under his breathe and Kakashi just gave a soft chuckle. Agreeing, but not explaining. Not really.

"Kucho-chan seemed to like being able to talk with her glowing insects."

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

"Kucho...How did we end up here like this again?"

"Naruto."

"Aside from Naruto."

"We didn't tell Naruto not to do and I quote him "the things"..."

"...I'm pinching him when we get out of here."

"Want me to hold him?"

Sasuke nodded as he dug out his wallet along with Kucho. It would take them both to fix this. Because Kakashi never helped them out when this sort of trouble came, he added to it.

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

"Wait..guys..really..and how did you find me so fast anyways?"

"Tracker kikaichu of course, Naruto. Please step back inside Kakashi-sensei." Kucho said as she set her glasses off on top of her jacket where they wouldn't get damaged. "We will enter when done."

"Have fun!"

"H-Hey! Kakashi-senseiiii YOW! Not the pinching Sasuke!"

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

"I said I was sorryyyyy" Naruto whined as both of his teammate's sat on his back, passing the clean rag back to each other as they wiped off the imaginary dirt from their knuckles. It was really more making a point, and that Naruto had allowed them to do so showed that everyone was more playing up with the attitude then truly unhappy. A fact that not even the blonde missed out on so he didn't complain that they were using him as a chair after Sasuke delivered his pinches. Which surprisingly, hurt.

"No you did not."

"Okay fine I'm sorry!"

"For.." Kucho took over prompting from Sasuke and Naruto groaned.

"I am sorry for running off to do things and leaving you both with my bill at Ichiraku. Okay?"

"You're making it up to us Dobe."

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

Kakashi shook his head. No matter what, they were still kids.