AN: It's still keeping to Wednesday's. Busy week with sick family and all means shorter but I'll keep to this once a week schedule for now so at least they are far more often.
At some point, the rookie nine came together awaiting their further instructions as a few shinobi were still being caught up. It started with a slow trickle of Chouji finding Kucho, and then his team following. From there it was team eight, Shino's soft buzzing almost clear to Naruto and Sasuke, if sounding more like the male Aburame had an accent to the pitch of his hive. They could almost make out the rise and fall of almost inaudible buzzing communication as the two Aburame stood side by side, the rare beetle shifting from one body to the other. What Sasuke thought was interesting was how it seemed those aware of the Aburame subconsciously were avoiding looking at them.
Apparently, the innate trepidation around insects was far more widespread than he had ever begun to suspect. Though outside of the fact he could never appreciate spiders again save for that Kucho had twice scared his Sharingan into his eyes with them, there weren't any bugs that Sasuke actually minded. It still rankled that what had activated the Sharingan, to begin with, was a spider, deadly as it may be, and that she took it on herself to scare him with another of them to help get it in the other eye! Perhaps, if not for the gift of glow worms as a lonely child who dared not trust anyone- they may be taken away again by one whom he'd loved most so how could anyone be safe?- he would have been indifferent. Instead, there was even a tally on one wall in his home of who had caught the highest quantity and the most hard to find or peculiar of a species to bring to Kucho where he and Naruto recorded their findings. Kucho still giggled when she saw the boys kept track of everything from moths to butterflies to centipedes and millipedes. There were simple number tally's when they had absolutely no idea what it was beyond -extra legs or wings- that were noted down with a horrendous scribble to mimic the creature.
There was something to be said about being able to wander the parks and see something that could be captured to bring to their female teammate and get praised for it. Some part of Sasuke lingered on precious memories that bled like a loose tooth he couldn't cease prodding; filled with times he and Itachi had gathered cat paw prints. It was...he supposed, very much like that. Only now there was a blonde brother in all but blood he claimed as teammate racing against him to find something new and wonderful. That they had helped Kucho with her most fervent desire of a breeding project still made something burning and wonderful that could bring tears if he thought on it too hard coil up under his ribs.
Beyond family, beyond teammate's as those ninja around them thought of them, he and Team Seven -including their trolling incredibly over qualified sensei who just had no idea what to do with kids so he was treating them as adults and they absolutely loved it- had become something more. Something so incredibly precious that Sasuke could admit there were times, secret times when snores and buzzing insects wings in the night helped drown his guilt, that Sasuke was glad the Uchiha were no more because he had no one judging his team and him against imaginary standards that had no place in the real world.
For just a moment, Sasuke's eyes trailed over the jacket Naruto was wearing. There were no symbols on it really, but Sasuke wondered.
Maybe they could come up with a new one? The Uchiha fan, the Aburame insect, whatever that swirl was Naruto insisted just ended up on all his garments after an evening..did Kakashi have a symbol? A clan? Sasuke paused. Surely..surely he did. They'd find something, and then he'd ask Kucho to get her nee-chan's to get Kakashi's measurements so even if he never wore one he'd have one of the jackets like they did. The thought was so distracting he realized he must be breathing in far higher levels of pheromones.
Which meant Kucho was nervous.
Ever so subtly, he leaned into her shoulder. It was barely there, the faintest brush of fabric and muscle beneath but enough he could measure an exact faint pulse of chakra, the same discharge as if he trailed his hand to rest on her shoulder. A rapidly undulating beat exploded over his own and Sasuke fought the urge to snicker. Kucho could not help but respond as she would to another Aburame, complete with their own pulse and wave codes that even sometimes spun and twirled like an insect in a dance to convey distance and what resource was found. It was just something that happened because to Kucho, Sasuke and Naruto were her Soldier's, her Hive. Her mind could not think of them as anything else and for that reason every time she responded on such an instinctive level...
Sasuke realized again how much he needed his team. At some point, though he did not know if it was the Albatross mission, Jiro's, somewhere in the mire of all the D-ranks after they had won over the civilians, or that fated Wave experience. Somewhere, his goal had swapped from killing Itachi and restoring his clan to keeping his team safe and knowing that in time, with Kakashi -he'd looked their sensei up and he'd been Itachi's supervisor! Imagine how much their sensei could teach them that Itachi threw away by his act and defecting so young!- they would be a force to reckon with. He still needed to rebuild his clan but he already had a family. Hive.
Heh. He was actually already an uncle to a caterpillar. It was a start.
Ino had tried to glomp Sasuke and coo at him but she couldn't get close. Their faces relaxed but serious, the two teammate's of her beloved had him well placed between them. Naruto was at a slight angle, and with Sasuke's arm almost touching his creepy little bug partner -ew! Bugs!- there were just too many people that she could run into before she managed to get her arms on the Uchiha. Her attempts to flirt, call out and generally get him to even send one of those cold glances her way had all failed. Chouji had gotten an actual nod from him! It made no sense!
A suddenly increased buzz from the two Aburame who were actually holding hands, were they related or just clan mates? They didn't look alike, not with how different in color they were but what did she know? Despite her gossip Ino actually didn't try to learn much about the least understood clan in Konoha, she was too freaked out about the insects still. But that loud buzzing made four others fall quiet..again..Chouji? Even Shikamaru! Six of them!? Turn and Kucho pointed towards the front just before the crazy loud woman started to scream at them.
As if she'd known.
What was going on!? Were the bugs going to try and take them over!? She needed to save Sasuke!
Shikamaru looked over and then sighed. “Ino's in her own world again. She's going to rant at us soon.”
Chouji couldn't resist and grinned as he bit into another chip. “Troublesome.”
The glare from his Nara friend was so worth it.
It was finally after the announcement and the passed out papers that Naruto saw his chance to see what Kakashi may have given him. He'd wanted to play up his 'dumb idiot' act a little more, especially as it wasn't that long ago it was his reality so being able to pretend let him feel good about how much he'd already grown, but Sasuke caught his eye.
Fine. Naruto could admit when it came to sizing up a situation Sasuke was stupidly fantastic about it and kept his jaw clamped tight. Instead though when he huffed and shuffled his papers -because someone may be watching- he carefully slipped the folded one beneath the second one down. Then while pretending to flip through them he unfolded it to see what Kakashi-sensei had given him.
Okay, honestly? Even if it turned out Kakashi had utterly prank-blocked him for the last part of the exam this kind of maybe sort of made up for it. Partially. He'd tell Kucho to at least not give the ninken fleas.
“Hey! Sasuke-kun! Get your scowling grunting self over here, I dunno this word!” Naruto bleated out. By being loud and annoying he got everyone to ignore him after they snickered. Kucho he knew would be curious, but respect that if he wanted her to know he would tell her. Or she'd get it out of him later. It was a Team Kakashi thing.
Indeed, with just a faint scowl and grunted sound Sasuke made his way over. There was an exaggerated slowness to his movements that somehow portrayed utter loathing and disconnect with the blonde that somehow negated the fact that their trio was dressed in a way that made them the most coherent looking group there. Naruto made a mental note that he needed to work on his own body language more, maybe it was a clan brat thing?
“What is it, loud mouth.” Sasuke snorted as he leaned over his shoulder. It looked like he didn't want to touch, but since Naruto had kept his papers tilted to hide them it had been easy to guess that whatever needed to be shown, was there.
“Look at this, I think you have better eyes than I do. Man, I hope I don't need glasses!” Naruto wailed, tilting it up close to Sasuke, almost in his face really, again with a plan. He needed Sasuke to activate his Sharingan and this would hide it. Fortunately, they had come up with such ideas when utterly bored back on Mission Albatross where the return trip meant they had to creatively come up with ways in the future to not give away their talents whilst still utilizing them.
With a put on sigh, Sasuke did just that. It took every ounce of his acting to not react though as the image was seared into his brain thanks to his clan's blood line gift and he instead scrunched his eyes closed, pressing a hand to his forehead as if frustrated. Hard. Because he needed the pain slight as it was to keep from laughing and breaking up their farce.
“You kept one of the brat's interview forms. Just get rid of it.” Sasuke grumbled other hand clenched. Don't laugh. Don't. Just because his teammate's acting abilities had turned his former annoying behavior into something of a joke didn't mean he wanted to actually give that away to potential enemies.
“Bwah...how? I mean I can't just burn it or ...I may torch my forms to get in! You just wanna see me fail! Well, I'll show you!” Naruto glared and then shoved the paper in his mouth, chewing with loud smacking slobbering sounds before swallowing. Very careful sleight of hand done as only a master prankster capable of eluding Anbu had the form instead back up his jacket and secured at an inner pocket as he crossed his arms.
Because Kakashi? Kakashi had slipped Naruto a very simple line map that pointed out sources of water and shelter and dangers, as well as potential ambush locations they could take advantage of and there, was only one guess why they had it now. Of course, it would be up to them to find the locations that would provide a location to orient off of, but it was still a massive advantage. And with the Sharingan, it was now seared into Sasuke's brain even if something happened and they lost the map. A brilliant caution on Naruto's part.
“You aren't done yet?” Kucho finally came over, arms crossed and foot tapping. If she'd been a cat instead of insect-related she may have been bristling. Neither boy took offense at it knowing their introverted girl member was feeling crowded and snappy because not only was this a massive gathering, but it was all but nine hostile shinobi. Even of their own group, it was high odds they would end up fighting.
“I'm sorry Kucho-chan! Don't make them eat me!” Naruto wailed before writing furiously, making Kucho give a tiny giggle before she relented. Once the papers were done, they were still far ahead of some of the ninja who had been out of school longer and no few had forgotten or simply did not know what to put down. Again, that they had practiced with Kakashi and filled out the more complicated versions before the proper exams helped greatly.
“Mingle time.” Naruto wagged his finger at the two brunettes. As they just gave him matching expressions Naruto took the chance to grab Kiba. He had a real question for the boy who had been his friend when they were younger before he struggled so badly with jutsu that Kiba thought he was weak and not worth his time instead of just slacking off. He'd still have to work on correcting that, but right now honestly it wasn't about Naruto.
“What gives, loser?” Kiba growled at him but something made the Inuzuka hesitate. Naruto looked serious, but not angry.
“Is Hinata-chan all right? I mean, with you and Shino there on her team I know she's safe but she seemed if anything even more timid when we sat by each other. Has something happened?” Naruto was genuinely concerned and Kiba could smell that. There was something else cloying that had shifted the scent he used to know for the boy and something rich and dark like old cinder fires that could flare back up with the right breeze.
In the end, perhaps it was the lack of orange, or that Naruto had concerns without belittling Kiba over the kunoichi of his group, or his scent. Kiba didn't know why he answered. “Her dad's a piece of crap. The cat kind. We have to remind her way too often that we are glad she's on our team and she's helped or saved us plenty.”
There was a sudden growl from Naruto that oddly made Kiba feel a reminder of that friendship back in the day when Akamaru was new to him and he'd skip class and pull pranks. When he didn't need to use words like out with the rest of the village but growls and body language was good enough for the blonde to get him. Kiba's eyes didn't miss the way Naruto looked right over at his own kunoichi for Team Seven before a muscle on his jaw clenched. The understanding, that mentality that wove a good team together. Then his eyes swept over Hinata, and Shino before Naruto locked his blue ones back with Kiba and frowned. “Shino can't do the bug trick to help?”
It actually took Kiba a moment before he shook his head. “He just has the one hive, he mentioned something before about it to me but..you saying there's something?”
Naruto huffed and nodded. “I'll ask Kucho-chan about it. It's sort of a Clan Secret but...it'd help if you idiots went with him to the compound I bet.”
“The ..wait with all the other bug lovers?” Kiba scoffed out the common slang for the Aburame and that growl was there again. This time it was a bit deeper and bit less friendly.
“They are marvelous people Kiba. Do not talk badly about them. But think about it, or ask Shino. I bet they've gone to your place, haven't they? And you've gone to pick up Hinata-chan? But you ever go there, for Shino? Don't be a scaredy cat Sheesh.” Naruto drawled before they heard a call for team seven to get their scroll and Naruto was off, leaving Kiba to wonder.
He'd not meant his response to sound that bad but maybe, maybe Shino was taking it that way?
The scroll was handled behind the curtain in Team Seven fashion. Sasuke had come up with the plan, battlefield strategy was more his thing where gathering intel and thinking oddly was Kucho's, and Naruto was all chaos and last minute insanity. And insane amounts of chakra. It was because of that Sasuke turned the scroll in his hands a few times, then handed it to Naruto as soon as they left the tent to stand behind some stones nearby. A flash of hand signs off by just a few motions, old Military Police ones from two generations before that team Seven had decided were far enough removed no one would bother and claimed as their own- told Kucho to layer one of her normal genjutsu with a kikaichu held and inspired one below so anyone peering through the first layer would deal with whatever Nee-chan two felt like that day. It tended to be confusing to all the senses but the layered effect, especially since there was a complicated hive mind mentality taking much of the work and hiding common signs of a genjutsu in place, meant they were well hidden for a little effort.
“Clones, Naruto. I want two scrolls for each of us.” Sasuke instructed and with the sort of trust that only came from putting your life on the line as well as being friends in ways that didn't relate to ninja life, Naruto did as asked after examining the scroll carefully. The clones were then picked up, capable of holding that form for at least half a day if not more even if Naruto tore through much of his chakra -they'd experimented after all with Kakashi asleep when it was their turn on watch on the way back from Wave- and each of them hid one well and one where it could easily be retrieved and just looked poorly hidden. Only then did Sasuke hide the real one by handing it to Kucho. Frankly, it would be absolutely swarmed, literally, and even if knocked out it was unlikely most would want to reach into a pile of insects. Hardened ninjas perhaps but none of those here were above genin.
“Plan?” Kucho prompted as she adjusted the fit of her jacket once more.
“We go straight ahead, veer off by ten degrees right three times. Then we try to get an orientation. See if any landmarks I should know are present.” As he answered Sasuke tapped by his eyes so Kucho would pick up on it.
Behind her glasses, her own mismatched orbs widened and she smirked. “Oh?”
“Yeah, it's a no on the fleas, Kucho-chan.” Naruto grinned as he looped his hands behind his head with a wicked grin.
“Wonderful. I'm not as fond of them.” Kucho admitted and tapped her lips. “Ticks are useful, as are mosquitoes, carrying diseases in larger amounts. Now if we could get an infestation going...”
“Kucho-chan?” Naruto wailed. “Please cease being uncute. And stop planning ways to wipe out a village.”
“Kakashi-sensei said it was a good activity to practice my strategy.” Kucho pouted and Sasuke actually chuckled.
“Depends on what you send the fleas upon. People notice large groups of rodents, but maybe on a recent caravan of people? Especially from a rival village? Then they'd be blamed..” Sasuke joined in and Naruto groaned as this was not the first time they'd discussed this idea.
“You two! Stop it, no trying to take over the world!” Naruto finally snapped and pointed at them, his eye getting a twitch to it as he idly wondered if this was how Iruka had always felt when he was in class?
Matching slow smirks from his brunette teammate's told him everything. One, they had once again played him. Two? Join in.
“Besides, if you're going to take over the key is to not get caught so you'd want to have some kind of a puppet in charge or the like.” Naruto sighed, giving in to the game.
“Well,” Sasuke started off, even as Kucho dispelled the genjutsu and the team made their way to their allotted gate. “You are always saying you want to be Hokage.”
“Wait..NO! No using my dream for your nefarious plans!” Naruto gasped, careful not to yell.
“Too late!” Kucho sang out as she looped her arm through his, bubbly personality restored from the short break they'd taken away from everyone else.
All playing around was dropped the moment the gate opened. There was no reason to goof off, it could get them killed. Instead, Team Seven took off in perfect linear formation as if they were on a mission. Kucho was on point, her insects streaming out behind, ahead, in every direction branching out. Trackers were deployed as they had meandered waiting to get their forms signed and into the event and with that she'd have a good idea of almost all the teams that came near to them. Some of their rivals the kikaichu had not been able to land on, or willing to go near but at least a third of the foreigners were so marked. Something she had been telling Shino wordlessly while they stood and he had at least the agreement to tag the Konoha group. Ideally, the two Queen hosts had the same logical thought, it would be best to avoid taking out their own group. That also meant Chouji would be off limits and her Drone would do his best to keep the other two on his team from targeting them. That still left far too many opponents.
Kucho's darker coloring also meant she was logical for being on point as in the shadows of the Forest of Death she blended far better, only her rose glasses seemed out of place and as dark as it was, the glasses were off and tucked away. Naruto brought up the rear as he could react with masses of clones and that meant Sasuke was in the middle, the most vulnerable to attacks from above or below, or if Kucho's passing alerted anyone. Their combined Jutsu's, however, was set up to take advantage of Sasuke and Naruto or Kucho and Sasuke providing overwhelming onslaughts or else between insects and clones swarming, distract and disable while Sasuke finished them off.
Kakashi's hard work with his team, and their determination on their own meant they were far faster and nearly silent as they went. Flashing hand signs, only rare words needed for direction. It was as they passed the hour mark that Sasuke recognized one of the areas marked on their map. “Kucho! Nineteen!” It was a random number that was less likely to be called out, so using it instead of Stop, Hold, or Wait tended to be effective. Getting it near instinctive had required lots of Naruto clones helping to distract them and had taken almost an entire day. Mind, it had been one Naruto's clones had loved as every time one yelled nineteen and any of the three didn't immediately stop what they were doing and turn to look or hold still, they got hit with a water balloon.
“Sasuke?” Naruto asked as he pulled up, Kucho coming to land as well. Sasuke grunted before going to the ground, walking around with his Sharingan active. Yes. A tree that looked like a hand..the stone with a very precise angle to it. “This is one.”
“Well...” Naruto found himself wordless and he snickered. Kakashi had come through. Wow. Kucho just waited as Sasuke frowned, plotting from where they were and where they wanted to go.
“Objective?” He finally asked, wanting their opinion. Did they head right for the tower and try to take someone out, or use one of the ambush points?
“Nearest shelter, water, or bottle neck?” Naruto asked as he had been the only other one who actually saw the map. Just in case, he wasn't pulling it out to look at again unless absolutely needed. If they were closer to shelter it wouldn't matter this early, but water was good and gave them a resource as well as reasonable spot to ambush, and if there was a true ambush point pointed out by Kakashi there was no doubt it would be both perfect for the ones setting the trap, and almost impossible to avoid by the unlucky. Of course, they'd be waiting or luring.
“Bottleneck.” Sasuke agreed and then turned to Kucho. He knew she'd have guessed what they were talking about but she tilted her head.
“I'd prefer one closer to an objective point. It does us no good to achieve it and then need to continue with a target upon our backs..” Kucho trailed off and the boys waited. The Queen mode was active and sometimes she became vicious, not that either of them minded that. Utter mayhem was something of their calling card.
“Come on Kucho-chaaan...” Naruto teased, feeling his foxy grin emerging.
“How near are the various..bottlenecks..and do you think we could just leave them, prepped?” Kucho trailed off.
“Eliminate opponents..” Sasuke murmured and smirked. “Like you did in the exams.” He nodded in approval. “Let's visit the one near and set it up. No doubt it was selected for such things. Knowing our source..”
“More like how they know us.” Naruto snickered but neither argued, this time Sasuke took the lead and Kucho shifted to the end of the line.
Up in the break room, a good dozen sets of eyes whirled to lock onto the supine form of a nefarious copy nin who was reading the blue book now. The plant he'd had near earlier was all but destroyed and after a little force, he convinced the chair to recline even though it was not made to do so. The orange caterpillar was now happily making its way back and forth across the mask of its buggy-sitting playmate; as the occasional giggles seemed to make the insect believe the branch was shaking and it needed to go back in the other direction so it never fully left his face.
Whatever those observing the camera focused on Team Kakashi had meant to say was entirely forgotten at the sight of what seemed like an orange moving mustache over the well-known mask. They seemed to be reacting as if he'd thrown a Gai level genjutsu at them and shattered their minds.
Pretending to be unaware, Kakashi mentally smirked. Really. It was so easy to side track such 'well trained' ninja. He'd have to thank his uncute little students for their getting him to watch Squirmy later. Though he did feel a surge of pride that not only had they understood the coded map, but were thinking beyond the exam's simple goal. They were showing initiative, dangerous levels of capable initiative. The sort that let intel and teams return safely. Not only that, but he hadn't missed the subtle shift in how they were talking. His team did not know they would be observed while in the forest, but from him, they had learned to always, always, assume someone was watching and listening.
He had no idea it had already bought them time.