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Carapace

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AN: First published 11-24-15 on Ff.net I am now cross posting here for those who may enjoy it. It has temporarily become my main fanfic to work on as I left the followers in a lurch for almost a year as I focused on other fandoms and decided to make up for it at least through the chunnin exams. Also: I'm going to change my name to match my FF.net one of BetweentheSeaandStars soon so keep that in mind if book marking.

Carapace. Because I have plot bunny issues. You don't want to know how long this was sitting around in my skull. . I promised to finish one story at a time though so Ghost and the Obviously Crazy Child is the main story I will be working on..Anyways I just realized that with the Aburame hair my Portugese side (I am a mutt but you'd never know) would fit right in because for a blonde pale girl I can get brown and my hair does this electrocuted poodle thing. And then I was like..huh. There's really a lack of tan or darker people in Naruto..and Aburame stories.. let us fix that. That's all this took. This will be an alternate Team 7 fic.

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Kucho was special.

Females in the aburame clan weren't common. Much like the insects they cultivated a partnership with there was usually a single queen to many drones and soldiers. Prospective children could be brought into the clan early enough and trained if one of the Kikaichu groups took a liking to them. It was the symbiosis that made it all possible after all. Kucho was born to an Aburame female who had gone outside of Konoha to expand their bloodline. She'd found a suitable male, coupled with him, and been done with it. She'd waited to be certain that she would carry and then eliminated the male. like a praying mantis or black widow.

He'd been a very powerful nuke-nin after all. Elimination had been the original goal. She'd given birth to Kucho, and no one in the clan did more then congratulate her mother on what fresh stock she'd brought in. The missing nin hadn't been particularly well known for anything other then stealth and sneak attacks but in those two areas he had been nigh untouchable, unless you were a beautiful willing woman in disguise. That had been traits that Mei had wished to pass on. Their tracker beetles had essentially won the previous two shinobi wars for them, and were almost wiped out partly into the third war. Such traits could only add to the human quality of the symbiosis. He'd not had any suspicious ideas either because he'd never seen the Aburame woman without her mountains of clothing and glasses, so he just had seen a pretty dark haired dark eyed traditional woman and didn't see the fact her Kikaichu were suppressing her chakra..just a civilian. Why worry?

Dead but he left a daughter behind, not that he or any existing relations he had would ever know as the hit had been called in from fairly far away. When the Hokage had been informed, very clinically, about the fact that the nuke-nin had provided the 'necessary material for the Aburame clan to continue to improve, why? Because though he had a lack of morals he had talent that was potentially genetic and highly useful.' It was Aburame humor to not react outwardly even as the clans still joked about how they could make their comrades groan and cringe. Getting the Hokage to face palm was something of a goal.

Kucho's skin had been a richer color than was normal. There were a few slightly tan individuals in Konoha but Kucho was a warm toasted mochi hue. It was why one look at her and her mother had dubbed her Kucho. Beetle. Like the carapace of her mother's favorite hive of flying Kikaichu. She had mismatched eyes, one black and one light brown. Not that anyone really noticed, hidden behind the glasses everyone in the clan wore most the time. Kucho wore a larger pair then most, preferring the look to hide her eyes even from the sides. Yet, when indoors she would leave them off as her eyes weren't as sensitive as a true Aburame's. Her hair was the typical Aburame unruly mess, but in fluffy curls that varied constantly. There were looser waves near her face, tight corkscrews and looser ringlets and some that just were frizzy messy and ridiculous with multiple colors of ribbons worked in to two pigtails with the upper half of her hair, the lower left to do whatever it wanted. Her hair was black and brown and she'd taken to bleaching a few parts of it with lemon juice so it would take a lighter brown hue, just a few stripes that made no sense, like the carapace to her favorite Kikaichu.

She was the same age as Shino and some of the others, but Kucho had little interest in being around him out in the field looking for new bugs when she had her current ones to improve. Kucho was a very hands on and curious child. When Aburame called their children 'snuggle bugs' or 'book worms' it was much more telling. She was both. Kucho avoided her peers because she was happiest curled in the lap or side of one of her elders, hearing stories or observing how they'd tend to their insects, and teach her the same. It also gave her a hefty issue with childish behavior. Whereas her peers picked up the nitpicking that was so common among them, for Aburame's hated to be questioned over things that they felt was obvious. Kucho tended to go for blunt and deal with it behavior that she learned from the oldest of her elders. They weren't a terribly formal clan after all.

Unlike many she kept to the hakama bottoms that billowed out so she could feel as if she was wearing a pretty skirt, while still being able to spar and give her insects plenty of room to deploy. She didn't care if it looked silly with her white and gray turtleneck and baggy sweat shirt that she left open, or that she happily wore peach and blues rather then grays and greens. Her bugs liked how easy she was to spot when they were flying and she liked how they looked crawling against the colorful background. She loved how they felt tickling along her, her hives were shared with her and since the constant loss and replacement of them was so difficult, one of her favorite elders showed her his own clan and how he'd bred them to live much longer. It allowed them less adaptability in battle as they wouldn't learn as swift, but when they did hatch new ones it created an incredibly hardy and intelligent bug.

They relied on her as their main hive mind of course, and she was used to thousands of little lives constantly in tune with her. Kucho's symbiosis was astounding even to her clan, as she and her insects would just interact together easily. Her queens were her little sisters to her, and her adoration for them reflected back. Kucho was not as impartial as Shino, but they could work very well together.

Kucho was unashamed of her love for the prettier aspects of her insects, and started to mimic them herself as she got older. She didn't hide the lower part of her face, much more open and expressive than many in her clan. She had several bee hives she kept by her house that were her 'little friends' and raised butterflies. She was working on creating a strain of Kikaichu that would have gorgeous multicolored wings and deliver devastating poison's and powders from their wings but hadn't figured it out yet. Kucho's kikaichu tended to be beautiful colors and as so many insects communicated through sound and motion, Kucho begged to learn traditional dances. Indeed the elders were delighted someone wanted to learn their older styles, as even her parent's generation had been uninterested in them. Kucho was often to be found twirling about, long fluttering furisode sleeves trailing along with hair ribbons, and playing swarms of kikaichu about her with tiny bejeweled bodies winking.

Her clan would just shake their heads and chuckle, amused at such a happy beetle.

The academy and Konoha as a whole seemed unsure what to make of her. It wasn't unusual to see the laughing little bug of her clan racing around town trailed by her hair ribbons, with kikaichu clinging to them that couldn't fly so that they could enjoy the feeling of flight or so she'd claim. Kucho spent time in the library, she'd trail after Kunoichi that she admired, not at all upset that her clan's affiliation with insects, and her own often being worn like jewelry, perturbed people.

After the Uchiha massacre she'd approached Sasuke in the hospital and left him several glowworms to keep him company at night. When he'd then found her in the academy training yard a few days later, so quiet and severe and stand offish by comparison to the boy he'd been, she'd just waited silently. Kucho had tilted her head, eyes perusing him even as Sasuke glared at her with his own dark gaze before he relaxed, slightly. Whatever he'd been looking for in her he hadn't seen and it made him at ease. "What do they eat?"

Kucho had smiled behind her glasses, as they were outside. "Slugs. When they become fireflies they'll seek out food on their own."

"They're bugs." Unsaid, they aren't that smart. Still, it was more out of him than anyone else had gotten she was certain. It didn't bother her that he thought so little of insects as most did, her Kikaichu hummed in her chakra coils, highly amused.

"They will know to find you come night."

Sasuke had made a soft hn sound and nodded, walking off. He didn't offer thanks, she didn't look for it. She just didn't want anyone to be alone, as it was a concept she didn't have. Not when she had a few thousand of her 'friends' carried around and inside her. The Kikaichu were adamant about one thing though..they did not like Naruto. So while she wasn't mean, she didn't give him more then a head nod at times and walk off. It was a pity, he seemed to be able to make her laugh with his pranks. The fact she didn't hide her giggles though seemed to make Naruto's day so even if her Kikaichu didn't want to be near him, she'd not hide that she thought he was funny. He'd give a huge fox grin in her direction and she'd wink back.

Once when they were seven though she noticed a lot of the kids picking on Naruto for something, a lost ball or the like when they were at the park. She'd looked over at Shino, head tilted making her upper pigtails flop like dog ears. He'd just sighed heavily from within his high turtleneck. "He is an outcast, why? Because they have been emulating their parents as it is expected. The young copy the elders as we do, however it appears that our peers rarely think rationally."

"My Kikaichu do not wish to be near him." She did not have the common verbal tick of "why" often, but she would wait a long time deciding her next words Especially among clan. "Yet they feed on chakra. That he has a good deal of chakra is highly evident to both of us. Leaves me to surmise that it has to do with his particular form of chakra which may be an inherited trait that my Kikaichu find distasteful. Perhaps experimentation to see if there are other forms of chakra they are hesitant to sample to save us surprises when we are of age to go into the field?"

"Hm. Valid hypothesis. Agreed."

No, they didn't have normal conversations, but it wasn't really two children that moment but rater two empires composed of several queens and many thousands of soldiers and drones. Kucho paused the and then slipped her hand into Shino's. She was a touchy member of the clan but the little trickle of her chakra she fed into him, and his kikaichu, was habit when Aburame touched. It was no small thing.

He squeezed her hand back. They weren't close friends, but they understood each other.

"I wish to play." Shino said softly, shyly. It was something that could be rationalized, they should socialize for later, get to know the strengths and weaknesses of their allies. But they were also children.

"Perhaps a game of tag could be suggested where we could attempt using your trackers?" She said with a soft smile, knowing Shino hated to showcase his friendliness. Aburame were meant to be in control at all times. Kucho had much leeway due to her symbiosis being unusually potent, but Shino was clan heir. She could help him find ways to justify 'immature' behavior to his parents.

"They are indeed, no where near to where they should though the infusion from your own tracker beetles is highly helpful.." Shino nodded, another hand squeeze and they went forward in synch. After all he was clan heir, but she was a female among insect users. Queen's always outranked soldiers. Tugging Shino along with her they approached their year mates. Ino, as one of her more recent memories supplied, shivered upon seeing them. Or perhaps it was the pretty beetle riding on her jacket?

"What do you two want?" Ino sneered, not at all decently for her age either. Shino's fingers gave the ever so faint twitch that was his repressing a flinch and as was her right protecting Shino as clan heir..a fellow queen's host, she lifted her chin and answered.

"We wish to join, and suggest a game of tag?" She gave a wide smile then, having observed that despite the baring of teeth being hostile to most mammals it seemed to always set other humans at ease. Strange.

"Yeah! Tag!" Choji looked over, munching his food as always and beamed. "Long as I don't have to be it first!...maybe hide and seek?" He mumbled the last, clearly his bulk hindered him in speed and yet hide and seek was met even more enthusiastically by the others.

A few brief pulses of her chakra into Shino's fingers, used like a clumsy (at their skill level) morse code between Aburame confirmed that it would be challenge enough still for Shino to track them all. He verbally offered, without bringing up their hives. "I shall seek. You all may hide. I will count to one hundred to provide ample timing. No leaving the park." With that he turned, visibly held his hands over his glasses so they could believe he wasn't peeking, and began. "One. Two. Three." It was a slow steady count that went in time with his heart. The children scattered.

Somehow Choji was left behind, looking around worried as apparently the Nara who usually played with him, and the Yamanaka, had bolted off. Well, more like Ino had dragged Shikamaru. Taking pity Kucho stepped up and held out a hand to Choji. After a moment, and Shino's counting being louder, he took her hand.

They scampered.

Choji limited her hiding options as going up was certainly not an option, nor was hiding in a hollow log or anywhere her slim build would have been an advantage. Instead she tucked him with her by a bush they ducked into and blinked before looking over the top of her rose hued glasses so he could see her eyes, people seemed to like that. "Are you um..scared of bugs? Because I could hide us very well but they would need to be on us. I do not wish to trouble you.."

Choji blinked, shoved the last chip in his mouth and pulled out some jerky instead that he could chew a bit quieter. "If they leave my food alone..I think I'll be good.."

Kucho smiled at him, thrilled that someone would give her tiny companions a try and nodded. "they won't be interested in that..but thank you." She held out her hands in front of them and cupped them, her Kikaichu slipping out from the loose sleeves they liked to cuddle in were her lovely brown striped winged ones, they spread out over the leaves and under them, fanning their wings until they were in a nice half dome, supporting the natural camouflage of the bushes around them to look like fuller plants from a distance. Choji blinked as one of them landed on his finger, but as it wasn't the hand with the jerky he seemed content to just stare at it, though he lowered his voice. "That's..that's really kinda creepy and cool..where'd they all come from? Surely you didn't have them all in your sleeves, they'd get squished!"

Kucho scratched at her ear slightly. "Aburame swarms are held within either our clothing, carried in something with us, or at times in our hair. We also carry them inside of us, most notably in our chakra coils. Seeing as Chakra is energy and not something we can hold or touch without utilizing chakra on ourselves or another, I suppose you could call it a bloodline trait that is unique to our chakra. My Kikaichu exist both inside me and in a place not unlike that which summons come from. There is no end to how many I can store that way as long as they are able to coexist and my body is compatible.." She looked up at Choji then, a tiny blush on her face. "My Kikaichu are considered a little weird by our clan though because we're so close..they're very special to me..I've named my queens and I know their favorite drones. Mine aren't so much attack oriented..so they live a lot longer then the few hours most do. They also react to my emotions, we're very closely bonded.."

Choji grinned at her. "You're kinda cool for a girl.."

Kucho beamed wildly. "And you're nice. I bet you'll be as dangerous as any of your clan when you're older.."

Choji nodded with a fierce expression on his tiny chubby face. "Someday I'll be super powerful and I can get back at everyone who made fun of me about my weight!"

Though Aburame typically didn't touch outsiders much, Kucho reached out to pat Choji's arm. "Any civilians who say such can be ignored, they do not understand your clan. Any ninja child who does probably is projecting their insecurities or fears onto you. You are sitting in my swarm with me, and you aren't being mean to me Choji. I think you're special for that."

Choji blinked and then realized what she meant, though it took a while. You didn't have a Nara as a best friend without picking up on a lot of things. "I promise to never pick on you for your bugs on purpose but..you know..they um..if they startle me.."

Kucho just nodded.

It took Shikamaru and Shino both to locate the two later, they were the last ones to be found so they were considered the winners. It was the first time Choji had won a game and he was ecstatic.

After that, it wasn't unusual in the academy for Kucho to sit by Choji as well as Shino. Once she had permission, Choji even carried a tiny tracking beetle on him though he never could find it, just in case. The Akimichi clan often invited Kucho over to spend time playing with Choji, and eating. When they found out she raised bees they even started a trade agreement for some of her honey when they were in excess. All in all, the years passed easily. She was casual friends with Shikamaru through Choji, mostly because she was entirely capable of sitting there quietly. Shino and Kucho spent most the time sparring and training together, and while Ino and Sakura had given Kucho run for her money in the written and theory portion of exams in the fight for top Kunoichi, Kucho was a Queen. Shino was content to rank middling, studying but not excelling and spending his extra time training or working on his hives. Kucho refused to settle for anything less than her absolute due.

It was expected of an Aburame female.

Kucho was one of only a handful that were born Aburame, most the clan were women the men had brought into the clan by marriage. All of the women were kind and none were looked down on but thy were soldiers and drones to the clan as a whole, queen's only to their family units (hives to them). Kucho, her mother, and two other females that were of age to have families still. There was two more but they were elders, and thus retired queens.

Being a Queen had meant from the moment of birth that Kucho had a head start, Shino was her equal only because he was clan heir and his bloodline was notorious for having the most adaptable Kikaichu. It was this being at odds with Kucho's developing longer lived and specialized Kikaichu that had made the clan decide against betrothing the two.

Shino and Kucho agreed it made things far less awkward that way.

However, because she was a Queen Kucho fought for the top kunoichi spot in the academy with a single devotion that others wouldn't understand. The girls were giggling through their flower arranging and makeup lessons. Kucho understood because she went and asked her teacher, and then her elders and the other females even that had married into the clan why these lessons were necessary. It was her mother though who sat her down, glasses off one evening and in only the formal kimono and over coat that she wore when at home as she explained to her daughter exactly how she'd snared her sire.

Kucho had requested her mother tutor her.

One of the elder grandmother's who had taught her the first of the dances then took her under her wings, buzzing kikaichu keeping time for them as she started to teach her in the other dances. The Queens explained that when she came of age they'd instruct her in other dances as well, that she'd learn to be a black widow, a mantis. She would be the delicate butterfly but hiding her sting. This was a Queen's art. She focused on learning the senbon and curved arm blades when at home. Other learning was kept at the academy.

"She's going to be a man eater.." the elder Queen's would say, approvingly. Her love of beautiful insects was encouraged since it seemed Kucho had the knack for it. The academy only knew her as the friendly, slightly bossy Aburame who would bluntly inform people that they were fools to pick on Choji as he obviously came from a clan predisposed to needing more calories in order to build up the forms for their devastating jutsu's. Kucho was serious some of the time, she'd laugh at Naruto's pranks and jokes, she'd steal top rank for the girls every time it was done, by a large margin. Her performance in Kunoichi class was flawless and yet so very far behind what she was learning at home. Her kunoichi classes were teaching the veneer of sensuality and decorum. Her ones at home were teaching her to be lethal and to be the honey and the web both, until she struck.

Shino knew. Sometimes when she'd down play her strikes because it was just the academy and she didn't need to go all out here, his kikaichu would buzz in his amusement. Her's would do the same when he didn't outclass everyone in the written and theoretical works. Shino was brilliant, he just was a focused brilliant, and it was all on his insects.

Kucho ignored Ino and Sakura because they were petty and childish and didn't seem to realize she was better because they did not strive. Innate talent counted for much, but determination was more. She would still drop off glow worms to Sasuke every so often, when the fireflies would return to her garden near the clan meadows and green houses to procreate before the end of their lives. When she would show up at the clan compound that was so eerily silent, he'd just accept the jar and nod at her once before she'd leave.

Naruto's pranks got more amusing over the years, and her trailing after her kunoichi idols continued.

One day she saw Anko at a dango shop and Konoha shuddered, even as all the Queens in her Aburame Ancestry would have looked down and been proud.

Kucho knew all about Anko. She knew what the woman had been through, her kikaichu had brought her so much in the way of gossip that she should not know. She liked the look of Anko, liked her sassy confidence, liked her loyalty, liked the feel of her. Her Kikaichu did too.

So one day when Anko was at the dango shop, Kucho approached her and waited to be noticed. Her glasses were up so her eyes could actually meet her and she had a sassy grin on her face. "I want to be like you."

"Shut up brat"

Kucho had tilted her head. "I admire you, Anko-san. Who you are now, who you were. I just wanted to tell you."

This repeated several times going up to Kucho's twelfth birthday. Anko had gotten used to her, the little butterflies and moths that would show up on her door sometimes, or the boxes of dango with a butterfly symbol on them.

One day Anko was finishing off a box of the dango and glanced over where she sensed the little baby wannabe ninja hiding..impressively well actually considering and snorted. "What's with the butterflies? I thought your name was beetle?"

Nicely silent, Kucho hopped down and approached with a chuckle. "Okaa-san named me for my skin. But I want to be a butterfly, beautiful..though if I can I want to develop one with a stinger. Preferably a lethal and paralytic.."

Anko blinked then chuckled. "A little hell butterfly?"

Kucho beamed at her and Anko reached out, ruffling her hair, mindful of the ribbons she could see and sense the kikaichu on. "you're weird brat. And you wear wayyy too much."

"To an Aburame I am 'horribly indecently showing my skin.' as the elders say." Kucho ducked into the touch, enjoying it and Anko snorted, taking in the exposed face and top of her neck, even her hands hidden by the long sleeves of the sweat shirt.

"I suppose. We'll work on you once you're a genin.."

Kucho caught the promise and looked up over her glasses, smiling sweetly. "Anything you suggest studying until then?"

"Clever brat!" Anko vaished in a body flicker, but the next night there was a selection of books with a butterfly badly drawn on a piece of paper, pierced through like it was a bug on display at her door. Kucho shuddered at the idea of one of her darling insects being so skewered but could accept that it was the twisted mentality of her newest (hopefully!) mentor and took the books inside.

She tacked the image up on her wall and after having her mother test the senbon for poison, added the very finely crafted weapon to her arsenal. It was far better then any others she already had, after all. Much to her surprise, it was on a subject that was only briefly mentioned in her kunoichi classes and that her elders had no interest in..Tea ceremonies.

The obvious hint pleased Kucho and she started to study them. When she thought she understood, it was clear that only then would she seek out the special jounin. Apparently, tea ceremonies were important to Anko. What was also obvious was the series of information and sheer detail overload that went into them. They'd be a fantastic training method.

'Once I'm genin, indeed..' Kucho sighed as there was no way she'd learn this before graduation.

()()()()

"I surmise we shall not be on the same team. This Is understandable because it would make no sense to have two Aburame on a team, however it is disappointing." Shino stated as they walked towards the academy the day after graduating. They had both passed very easily, and Shino was content to walk with his clan member, both occasionally brushing their hands together, the only sign they were nervous of the people they'd be paired up with. After all, the average person was truly unkind about their use of their kikaichu companions.

"It is, I also cannot see it feasible I shall be on a team with Choji, neither of us with Shikamaru which lessens the pool of those we can tolerate. As I have never heard of a multiple kunoichi team I shall not be placed with Hinata, who is the only tolerable female class mate we have since Ten-ten graduating the prior year.."

"She is..accepting." Which was high praise from Shino, Kucho pretended she didn't hear. After all, only she knew from their class that he found the petite Hyuuga heiress to be adorable. Even if she was senselessly fixated on Naruto yet didn't talk to him. The entire idea of dating at their age, outside of clan arrangement simply did not make sense to the two.

"her name suits her."

"You will take one of my Kikaichu with you, why? Because I will also take one of yours. We shall be able to integrate much more easily with fewer so called 'social faux pas' in such a way. We shall also be able to stave off feeling.." He trailed off, Kucho slipped her hand into his and smiled up at Shino, dark black round glasses met wider rose hued.

"We are Aburame. We are clan. I am Queen with queens and you are Soldier with Queens, and you are heir. Our new teams may be our new hives but we never will be anything but a part of the same hive, Shino."

Shino paused and squeezed her hand strongly. Aburame did not speak of their emotions, they were beings of action. It was still nice to hear sometimes. With that they're hands parted, leaving behind kikaichu with each other as they found their seats.

"There is an odd number of students, though it is peculiar Naruto is here.." Kucho paused, she did not need to vocalize her pleasure that somehow the prankster had passed. She had seen his expression when she left yesterday and had felt bad for him, but did not know him well enough to approach. "It would be impossible even if he were not, to divide into the traditional three person cells.."

"It is feasible some will not be set into teams, but going directly into apprenticeships."

"Ah."

Such a thing had been offered to them both, both had declined on the advice of their clans. Working on a team was the fastest way to grow and test your hives which was Shino's goal, Kucho had always been meant to be a tracker and use stealth. She was not meant for Anbu so the team was truly the only way to go.

The kissing incident with Sasuke had caused a great uproar amongst the Sasuke fans but before they could lay a hand on Naruto, the muffled giggles and humming had penetrated the angry mob's ears. Stunned, the class turned to see Kucho, her glasses off as she was indoors, covering her mouth with her hands in a desperate attempt to hide her laughter. Her shaking shoulders gave it away and at the purely startled expressions of her classmates, and the humming of amusement from Shino, she couldn't help it.

Iruka just watched, fully aware as his young no longer students were not, just how rare it was to see an Aburame laughing fully. Her hands finally dropped to wrap around her stomach as her mismatched eyes closed up, Kucho laughing full out at the drama between the boys and the utter insanity that was Sasuke's fan club.

Despite their heavy blushes, Sasuke and Naruto snickered under their breath as Kucho finally got out "Heee hee..now none of you fan girls can stalk Sasuke to steal his first kiss.."

It was with a bit of horror Naruto turned to look at Sasuke, realizing that maybe he had a smile tiny near smidgen almost not at all there reason to be grumpy all the time.

Sasuke just groaned, not that any one would hear it. Kucho was right though, it would cut down on the stalking and attempts to catch him by a good amount. There was a reason he'd gotten so good at escaping traps after all..

"Well now..settle down.." Iruka started, still highly entertained even as Kucho seemed to flip a switch and go right back to serious. The occasional shake of her shoulder gave it away though, and Shino thrummed with amusement. Her Kikaichu did love it when she was happy after all.

"Team Three is.."

Shino was quite pleased that indeed while he would be paired with Kiba, who was loud and brash at least had canine instincts and could understand much of his own interactions with his insect compaions..there was also Hinata.

That Kucho did not tease him earned his gratitude.

Of course she was still blinking, stupefied as Shino recognized, at her own team assignment. Naruto was exclaiming over how he shouldn't be stuck with the bastard, despite Iruka's explanation to the contrary.

"Look Naruto, Sasuke had the highest scores of the boys, and Kucho of the girls..you had the worst. This is traditional.."

"And what about the worst of the girls? Why isn't she paired up ?" Naruto posing an intelligent question startled a lot of people.

"Because Mei is apprenticed already, as are most of the middle and average scoring students who show promise here. Really Naruto.." Before Iruka could groan more he dismissed them to lunch. This, Kucho was ready for. She had a rare moment of affection displayed openly when she kissed Shino's cheek, who did not visibly blush but his fluttering Kikaichu on her collar told her he was flustered. She was nervous going to see Naruto though since her own hives still were wary of him.

"I will see you back at the compound, Shino-san." She said softly, getting a gentle 'Hai, Kucho-chan.' out of him as she went to join Naruto. She paused first and smiled sweetly at Hinata. "I am glad you are with Shino, Hinata-chan..I know I can trust you to be a wonderful teammate for him, unlike the group that was causing a scene earlier." With that she stepped away, and only Shino got to see the startled and pleased expression on the pretty little Hyuuga. It seemed she needed to be told things that were compliments more often, and he made a note of that.

"Naruto-san..?" She was fully aware Sasuke had made his escape already but smiled anyways. "Shall we go have lunch together?"

"I..ah.." Naruto looked surprised and glanced longingly at Sakura, but Kucho was determined to make this work. She did notice his lack of lunch and clicked her tongue once. She wouldn't be able to stay polite forever.

"I brought enough for all three of us, let's go eat and eventually Sasuke can find his way to us or we can allow our Jounin instructor to collect him should he be so intent on staring into the nothingness with a scowl on his face, ne?"

Naruto stared at her and blinked a good long while before what she said made sense, at which point he laughed. "And here I thought you were usually all serious and stuck up! But you were funny earlier and that was good...okay! Let's go eat..um..you brought extra? Is it Ramen?"

"Ramen?"

"Yeah! The food of the gods!"

"Ah, no. I cannot cook Ramen yet, but if it's your favorite I'll try to learn?" Kucho was surprised when suddenly she had a pair of arms around her and they were squeezing as Naruto cried about how wonderful she is.

"Er..Lunch?..."

"Right Right! And then I'm gonna find that Teme and beat him up and.." Kucho tuned the rest out, but didn't hide her smile as she slipped her glasses back on.

They were going to be one screwed up team..their sensei was doomed.

Chapter Text

AN: Surprised this is being so well received, but pleased. Keep in mind this is AU and while I'll probably follow up to the Sand Invasion arc semi-faithfully all bets are off after that. Which means due to the simple fact that it is an AU characters are likely to go OOC.

()()()()()

"Whoa..this is pretty good..." Naruto was chowing down as he sat outside with his newest teammate, Kucho sat across from him under a tree and eating much more slowly. The large bento box she'd brought had plenty as she had expected to be paired with two boys. "Pity the Teme's missing out."

"Ah.." Kucho paused then chopsticks almost to her mouth and tilted her head, eyes fluttering closed as she drifted to adjust her thoughts towards a wayward insect of hers. Not that he could see it behind her glasses. "I sent a messenger to him."

Sure enough Sasuke had given in and was following the almost glowing dragonfly towards the part of the training yard the duo had settled in. While he was irritated at how the dobe would hold him back, he owed some politeness to Kucho..memories of his mother correcting him on his manners caused him to flinch suddenly especially since she'd been the only one to help without expecting anything of him. It had been so silly, her little glow worms and fire flies. Yet to a suddenly orphaned and isolated clan child who felt the entire village was just demanding even more of him, her thoughtful gifts had been the only solace. She didn't ask how he was, she didn't give false sympathy. She just figured he wouldn't want to be alone in the dark and provided something for him that didn't feel childish and yet soothed her feeling of needing to do something.

She'd never approached him or even to his knowledge, mentioned what she did. Certainly compared to the fangirls and the quiet stuttering mess of a Hyuuga, Kucho was the best kunoichi option. Even if she was weird in every way, from looks, to being part of the bug clan, to her demeanor. At least she had been the top kunoichi of the year beating out his own written scores, and her Taijutsu was pretty decent. No match for the Uchiha standard style of course but then his clan had been military police for a reason.

Yes, he could have done far worse. Either Ino or Sakura, for instance. Biting back a sigh he moved over to where Naruto was scarfing down his food in a rather..disgusting fashion. Kucho was sitting rather properly and looked completely at odds, as usual. Her looks were foreign, the glasses were a mirror like rose hue and entirely out of place. Her hair texture and style was as unruly and bizarre as ever. Then there was of course, her seemingly proper full hakama in that peachy pink tone she liked and the contrast with a sweat shirt of all things, and one clearly too large for her. She looked weird, and for some reason being around her and the orange monstrosity that was Naruto let Sasuke relax ever so slightly. The last Uchiha was almost invisible by contrast.

"Hey Te-" Kucho interrupted Naruto's about to be rant by slipping an onigiri into his mouth, leaving Naruto suddenly very interested in eating his new treat.

"Hello, Sasuke-san. I brought lunch for both of my teammates, I hope you will consider having some. I do not know what you do and do not like..so if it is unsuitable I will not be offended." Kucho set one of the trays beside her, the meal simple and classic. As she said it was nothing of his favorites but he wasn't about to pass up someone else able to cook. Sitting down Sasuke just gave a soft grunt and began to eat. Naruto frowned.

"At least say thanks ya know! You should be nice to Kucho-chan!"

"Ah, Naruto-san, it's fine." Kucho chuckled then. "That Sasuke-san is eating it especially having not first tested for poison or tricks is showing a good deal of trust. That is more then thanks from a ninja, as beginner as we may be."

"Hn."

"Whaaaaa?"

Kucho blinked, her glasses having slipped down her nose a little and she took another bite of her cucumber salad before nodding. She really was going to have to be more verbose than she was used to around them. As the Nara often said..troublesome. "As an Aburame I am expected to observe, constantly. Far more then is considered normal for most ninja. Observation is my strong point, thus I have a basic knowledge of the two of you. Enough to surmise we shall be a very..unusual team." She held up a finger. "You are highly clumsy Naruto-san, struggle to grasp the basics and directly flaunt all the codes of silence, subtlety, and secrecy that is expected of ninja. That said.." Sasuke fought to hide, and failed, his smirk at seeing Naruto's eyes bulge in the way that predated a large verbal explosion.

"That said, you are certainly determined and seem to be very good at pranking. Well, when we were able to witness the effects. This implies you are best in action and from how little additional teaching I observed the teachers providing, you seem to be lacking a good deal in the standard education through no fault of your own. You are the most malleable and flexible of us, in handling surprises."

Naruto was silent for a few minutes before he huffed, sulking. "You aren't saying stuff like that about the teme..but, thanks, I guess? I think you complimented me.."

"I did. If you can learn a decent fighting style and to utilize your creativity you will be the most of value in a sudden fight rather then a planned excursion. You do need to learn volume control and patience but I suppose that shall emerge with experience. We are not competing with each other Naruto-san, we are a team now. The point is to shore up where the other has weaknesses. Since you brought it up, Sasuke-san is unused to having someone truly challenge him and this has held back his potential. While all around highly talented.." Kucho nodded to Sasuke who just nodded back, it wasn't praise or flattery when it was simple truth.

"Sasuke-san has extremely heavy expectations and too many either wish to use him, or make his life 'easier' which for a ninja can get us killed. Sasuke-san is the most currently skilled in a number of areas but currently is stagnant in growth and will be for a while until his age allows his chakra to catch up to the rest of him which means he will struggle to advance even when it seems he should be able to. You seem to have the opposite of Naruto-san's issues..he explained his clone jutsu problem."

"yeah turns out I have way too much chakra so I couldn't do those lower level wimpy jutsu's like you guys! I have to do a lot of clones to make it work!" He had been told to keep what kind of clones, a secret for now by Iruka. And Iruka-sensei did seem to know a lot. Besides, he'd given him the pass into being a genin. Naruto could listen. For now.

"Your chakra control is going to be atrocious then dobe."

"Why I outta.."

"You should realize that means you two are in the perfect place to work with the other on that. Rivalry can be helpful, but do be sympathetic to the fact I wish to listen to the two of you bicker as little as I ever did the fan club.."

Both boys fell silent and nodded once. It wouldn't be easy but with that visual they could provide sympathy and attempt to keep it down.

"What about you?" Sasuke spoke this time, finding the information so far to be on point if rather frustrating. He did not want to think of the dobe as having more chakra than he did, but having it explained as his lack of advancing to kill off Itachi as simply his chakra not catching up to his mind yet? He could tolerate that. That actually made him rather proud.

"The general use of a kunoichi in team placement is for intelligence, support use such as medical or communications. I am the kunoichi of the year but I am also being trained by my clan to learn techniques that require precision and control. Chakra reserves are traditionally far more ..underdeveloped in kunoichi's then you two, to compensate chakra control is generally enhanced exponentially. I will be a much smaller threat but will be learning to use every drop of chakra I have to maximum efficiency making me capable of great damage with far less application of force. As an Aburame my kikaichu insects will help with tracking, infiltration, and observation as well as ..hm..general consensus seems to be..'creepy'. Being Aburame I also tend to approach situations from unique angles and think in ways most do not." For the first time Kucho smirked at the two, and it was a full knowing slightly evil smirk, her glasses slipped down to lock them both with her mis-matched gaze.

"I will spare you the long details but as a born Aburame female I am what is known as a 'Queen' female and view both of you as my soldier's. You will profit from this because it is my duty as Queen to see you both advance to your fullest potential. I will also be keeping you from wasting your time or pointless endangerment and bickering. In turn I will be entrusting the two of you with my life and the lives of my kikaichu which I am far closer to then most of my clan." Kucho placed her glasses back up.

"You are my hive now, Naruto-san, Sasuke-san. I ask your patience as my mind will work very alien to yours but I do not take such things lightly."

"Wait you have bugs ?"

Sasuke frowned, but just hn'd and muttered Dobe, but any snapping that no one controlled or directed him had been tempered by Kucho's comment about seeing to helping him achieve his full potential. He didn't think she could help there rather then hold back, but as she said she didn't think normally. He'd wait and see, there was no way he'd call her Queen though.

"Aburame have a symbiosis.." at Naruto's blank expression Kucho paused, a faint humming sound impossible to detect as laughter emerged and she restarted. "I share my chakra and life force with my Kikaichu. They are both inside of my body and not, and I have four main hives with a queen of each one and many lesser hives that are slowly advancing. My main hive is a rare tracking species that was highly utilized in the previous shinobi wars. You may see them at times I do ask you not kill any insects you find..or that may be on you. My tracker beetles will be able to locate you in case of emergency or just checking up on each other and some are messengers. I.." Kucho paused and then sighed, her voice softer instead of just impassive. "I am much closer to my Kikaichu then is normal. I suffer their loss far worse, yet I feel the gains I have is substantial."

"We should head back." Sasuke may not have been a very nice person but he recognized the sound of someone who had in some way failed their clan, or at least felt they had. He had sounded like that before.. shaking the memory off he stood and handed Kochu back his now completely empty tray; she added Naruto's standing with a nod. Naruto groaned, clutching his head as he followed the other two.

"So much to think on..my head hurts.."

Kochu actually gave a very faint snort. "My insects are my family, Naruto. And a part of me. Just think of it that way."

"Oh, Okay, I can do that! Dattebayo!"

"Dobe."

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

One by one their classmates slunk off to meet with their sensei's until only Team 7 was left. Iruka had looked discomfited to leave them, but while her two team mates brooded in their own way Kucho had piped up.

"Iruka-sensei, what is the name again of our Jounin instructor..and is this, peculiar for him to be so late? If it would be of more convenience to you we could wait outside. Should you desire to lock up and go home." Kucho ignored the sharp looks her two new soldier's were giving her, in time they'd learn to not question her. At least they were being silent.

"Ah..Hatake Kakashi..and yes, I'm sorry but he is known for being tardy. I wouldn't wish to force you to be outside.."

"It is hardly force. We can be doing something useful outside, such as sparring with each other which will allow my two teammates to work out frustration. Indeed, I suspect it to be a far better use of our time then simply waiting inside a classroom. I am assuming being Jounin he will be easily able to find us?"

"Ah..it is a..well no, I'm sure you're right. Let me leave a note on the door. Gather your things."

As Iruka started to pack up his own Naruto finally couldn't keep his outburst in.

"Hey! Kucho-chan! What gives?!"

"Hn."

Kucho sighed, really. Well at least they had waited until she was done speaking. "As I stated, outside we can spar with each other and gain a better feel for our strengths and weaknesses as a whole. You can stop being so restless and I am quite uncomfortable on these classroom seats. I am quite looking forward to not spending time in this classroom again."

The two fell silent, then since he couldn't find a huge fault with her argument, save Sasuke was still convinced he'd do better apprenticing rather then being on a team..he started to pack up. Naruto just shrugged.

"Yeah you're right. An outside I can kick the teme's ass and show you how awesome I am! Dattebayo!"

"A team is comprised of strengths and weaknesses that overlap, Naruto-kun. At our stage none of us can stand alone. That is why it is a jounin assignment to have a team not a chunin one." Kucho had the internal desire to rub her eyes but fought it off. She was attempting to be more obviously open then Aburame tended to be but she doubted showing her irritation was a good selection. Perhaps. She'd have to ask Shino later. All this talking was exhausting.

"Just don't slow me down."

They were walking out of the hallway now and Kucho fought the urge to reprimand her soldier's as they started bickering. Really.

"If the two of you are going to insist on caterwauling like Uchiha fan girls at least broaden your terminology so you sound more intelligent. Teme is hardly accurate, Naruto-Kun.." Kucho didn't even blink at saying the vulgar note and that she did it so impassively made both boys look startled. "And truthfully Sasuke-kun, insulting Naruto's intelligence is hardly a good retort. We are all aware you placed higher in his scores then you did, however he has clearly done something to get his hitai-ate that we did not, outside of the normal ramifications. Why? Generally the shinobi forces require impressive feats to cause such bending of the rules...perhaps when we are outside you can give us the most simple version, Naruto-kun? Indeed consider it a training exercise for when we are on the field. How little words can you use to describe the event? Take your time to compose it." And maybe if she got them used to saying less, she could stop talking so much. At this point she didn't see the need lessening either. Information seemed to be the only thing she could motivate Sasuke with and Naruto was clearly carrying massive gaping holes in his education.

"Training?'' Sasuke muttered but then nodded. "I still do not think you can both help me much. You'll be in my way.."

"Do you not intend to strive for advanced placement, Sasuke-kun? Chunin at least? Perhaps Anbu?" Kochu drew the guess out of the back of her mind, most boys she knew thought that Anbu was 'super cool' while Kochu was likely to be pulled into it just because of her skill set and it rather ran in the clan. Female Aburame's tended to be drafted in for their tracking and infiltration skills. Kochu was being trained to likely involve in seduction and sabotage as well, like her mother.

"...yes."

"Then at the least you need to learn how to work with a team. They will not even consider a chunin advancement without being able to handle leading a team successfully. That means you need to learn how to give and take orders." Kochu shrugged, falling silent. Really. Sasuke was always bragging about being the number one rookie..which he was not. He was the number one male rookie and scored higher then she did in taijutsu and ninjutsu. She had bested him in knowledge and if her taijutsu that was the Aburame female style was permitted she would have likely been a fair challenge. As it was, she was looking forward to a jounin sensei she could spar against. The Aburame standard was dangerous enough but the goal was to get close enough to plant bugs, and then get out of the way. The Aburame female method was more like the infamous insect females of the world. The mantis, the black widow..one did not leave an encounter alive.

Someday she'd be that lethal with it. She was looking forward to that.

Once they had said farewell to Iruka and moved to the practice grounds at the academy, Kucho turned to Naruto and lifted a brow.

"Do you need more time? There is certainly no shame. Telling stories and reports in short terms is considered a highly valuable skill."

"Whatya mean?" Naruto tilted his head and Kucho looked over at Sasuke to see if he wanted to brag.

"Do-" he cut off seeing a flash of Kucho's mismatched eyes from under her glasses and let it go. He'd think of a better insult soon enough. "If the report has to be given in the field, especially if there is enemy ninja around..or no time. The shorter and simpler the better. Pertinent information only or allowing the other party to fill in based on previous code."

"Aaah it's so hard! I don't think I can do it! Kucho-chaaaaan give me an example?" Naruto whined at her, sneaking in a glare at Sasuke. There was no way he would answer him. Stifling a sigh, and nodding at Sasuke in thanks Kucho tilted her head back in thought. Thankfully for the few minutes she selected, and composed the words, Naruto was willing to wait. If impatiently at least quietly.

"It is not unfamiliar to me as Aburame often report such ways..for example I will likely upon asking how today went, inform my mother "Team 7 has one loud. One silent. One watchful." From that alone and the information she already possesses about my classmates she will be able to narrow the field."

"hn. Loud could be Kiba.."

"Ino! Or ..or that annoying fan girl with the funky brown hair that sticks up..not like yours Kucho-chan! The spikes!"

"Oblivious idiot." Sasuke muttered. It was slightly different after all. "There's never more then one kunoichi on a team."

"Um..I know! That Taka dude! The stupid one that was always trying to say you were going down but then couldn't even throw a punch!" Naruto slammed one hand into the other with a grin, and Sasuke had to fight a twitch. It was not a smile! Kucho just nodded, remembering the boy mentioned. He had been a civilian, and like many of their classmates had felt the Uchiha was far too full of himself. Unlike Naruto, who while bold and very loud could at times land a hit or at least force Sasuke to move ..well many couldn't.

"There are a few others, but yes."

"Okay okay so I'm loud..yeah I can get that. I like attention."

"Why, Naruto-kun?" Kucho asked, leaning back against a nearby tree so her kikaichu could scurry about. Two sets of eyes watched her, both startled to see the tiny swarm trailing off her neck and onto the trunk. "Oh, don't mind them. They just want to spread out. I'm sending some to see if they hear anything about our still missing sensei.."

"..that's creepy..but cool..they can hear stuff?"

"Ah. They memorize the vibrations that sound makes, return, and repeat it. I can understand the words even if they do not but their union with me has allowed many to become quite intelligent. I am breeding a few strains of soldier's who will be ideal for information gathering but it is slow. It is a secondary project to my hell butterflies as some have called them.." She was allowing them to get side tracked. Really, she just was trying to get her two new soldier's used to being manipulated into following her orders without their notice. It was going to take a while, but already dangle the carrot of information or improvement and Sasuke would bite..Naruto seemed to just want the attention.

"...cool..okay. Okay so um..one silent..that could be you but you said earlier and just said kinda now that you observe..so you're watchful.."

Sasuke actually was startled. Kucho could tell by the way Sasuke was looking at Naruto without a grimace. Rather he had an expression like he had just bitten a lemon and found it was a strawberry. It just shouldn't be like that. It made her kikaichu hum with her amusement.

"Indeed. Well thought out Naruto."

"Yatta!" Naruto jumped around a few times, coming up with a rather..odd..dance. Kucho shared a grin with Sasuke who had turned to face her, ignoring the boasting and dancing orange menace jumping about the practice area.

"Don't encourage him."

"to the contrary, Sasuke-kun. We should encourage him in behaviors we wish to see more of, it is likely in the end to mean fewer headaches for us."

"We could just tie him up and leave him to miss meeting our sensei.." Sasuke was at least considering keeping Kucho around. Kucho considered this an improvement, she had clearly demonstrated her information and techniques were ones he did not possess, now she just had to get him in line with Naruto. And teach Naruto to listen more. Really, it was a good thing they were starting now, if her new soldier's were any older they'd be hard to mold! She rather hoped Shino was fairing better. Their respective hive leaders (parents) had tried to warn them about how difficult training their new soldiers was going to be.

They had warned her that she would need to do a lot of talking. She just hadn't realized how much.

"Negative. Why?" Kucho ignored the surprised expression on Sasuke's face as she slipped into her clan's 'quirk' again. Really. If he was going to state something so ridiculously false and believe it was potentially true she was forced to point it out to him with the same bland irritation as someone trying to convince her she didn't need to breathe.

"Because the genin operate upon graduation only in the apprenticing format which tends to be focused almost entirely upon medical hopefuls, clerical geniuses, or in wartimes when graduation age is earlier because any and all warm bodies to throw at the enemy buys time for those who are much more skilled. The reason you hear of the 'prodigies' from that time is not because they were particularly brilliant but that they are the only ones who survive and aside from friends and families the dead are forgotten swiftly."

Kucho noticed Sasuke had his full attention on her. Perhaps he'd glossed over this information in school. Oh dear gods she had to keep going? He owed her tea for this. "Outside of that you have the genin corps which never graduate or are promoted save for if they manage to demonstrate significant improvement later on, however, the chunin exams which are the most common for promotion require a three man cell and it is much more logical to pass with one you have spent more time with. Even upon promotion it is very common for shinobi to work in at least part if not all of the missions, especially higher ranking ones, with their genin cell which is always three members. There are cases of only two but only if the jounin sensei has an apprentice already again in the aforementioned wartime scenario. At which time the apprentice becomes a part of the three man cell. There are no functioning lesser cells without members having died off and the most typical placement then is for them to join the genin corps..not advancing." Kucho blinked slowly, fighting a grin as Sasuke practically fell over at the information. Ha, let him stew on that information.

"You mean..if I don't have the..blonde menace.." He had to fight back an answering smirk as that startled a chuckle from Kucho.

"Or myself, you will not be able to advance without a great deal of time and effort that could be spent completing missions."

Sasuke frowned and crossed his arms, glaring over at the still dancing blonde. "How am I going to bring the dead last up to where he's not a hindrance?"

"Well, whenever we learn his story." Kucho shrugged then and glanced over. "If nothing else, his energy means he will distract and wear our any opponents we have. We will be assigned D-ranks which are mostly manual labor, I can think of far worse things than an energetic teammate we can bribe or con into doing more than a fair share.."

Sasuke's black eyes got a positively evil look at that and he nodded, body relaxing. "..Hn. I'll keep him around until those are over at least."

"Progress." Kucho said out loud, she knew Sasuke had no idea of her double meaning as he actually gave a faint laugh, thinking she just meant his tolerating Naruto rather then he was learning to accept her manipulations. Finally.

"Oh! Hey!" Naruto was suddenly infront of them, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "So here's my story!..I learned a forbidden jutsu."

Kucho's eyes were so large the whites could be seen behind her glasses. Sasuke spluttered a little and Naruto just nodded, smugly, arms crossed.

"An that's all I'm saying on it! For now."

Chapter Text

AN: So if you haven't guessed, I'm crazy. Working on another insanely long Ghost and the crazy child chapter that I can't cut short so this updates first. Having a lot of fun messing with the characters and glad you all seem to be liking my bubbly little introverted Aburame. Enjoy.

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By the time their new sensei showed up three hours later, things were actually working out for the new team seven. Naruto had shown he could make shadow clones now. It had explained the forbidden jutsu comment but he wouldn't share the story behind it. While frustrated, both of his new teammates had to admit being impressed the blonde could keep his mouth shut. It was another subtle shift in how Sasuke viewed what he had originally seen as the least useful warm body he would be forced to deal with.

They sparred, and observing this time without his fan girls and fawning admirers to distract him Sasuke came to realize that Naruto did not know the academy style.

"How did you ever manage to even hit me that one time if you don't know the proper forms!?" Had been a pretty funny explosion from Sasuke who was about an inch from probably spitting fire. For real. He did have access to the training before his father died even if it had taken a long time to learn but he wasn't wishing to share his fireball jutsu just yet. Kucho just shook her head and sighed.

"Naruto-kun was often sabotaged or neglected was my observation. It is actually not entirely uncommon, most kunoichi are..and civilian's. As there can only be so many teams, the academy itself seems to cripple or aid those they wish to form into teams the most often. Had you been less capable Sasuke-kun I have no doubt they would have padded your results regardless to attempt to curry favor. Which just makes them all stupid." Before Naruto could start making sense beyond his loud exclaiming of 'what! That is not fair' Kucho had actually groaned. Why did she have to be the sane one and do all the talking? Okay all the talking that made sense, Naruto was very happy to run his mouth on nonsensical remarks.

"We'll help you out. Sasuke-kun, you've a better grasp on taijutsu for a male's form, Please."

"I'm not learning anything from that stupid Teme!" Naruto was pointing directly at Sasuke, furious, but the bright red flush to his face went all the way ear to ear and down his neck. It at least was clearly an outburst of embarrassment and not something to take personally.

"Naruto-kun.." Kucho was fighting the urge to snap at him and had to keep a mental mantra that her new soldier did not know his place. He was a pupae. He wasn't even growing a carapace yet. Silently she gave a subtle direction to her Kikaichu..the resulting effect calming her back down and hopefully the increased pheromones they were putting out in the air would return things to as they had been. Oh, that's right..she had been slightly influencing them from the start having realized upon announcement of her teammates that they'd need a little boost to begin getting along. Taking a deep breath of her own pheromone's from her insects to soothe her nerves Kucho got ready to cajole her soldier into letting their other teammate Sasuke stepped in. Perhaps it was because she had asked him to instruct. Well that and she was standing closer to him, not that human or even canine noses would consciously detect the calming pheromone's that were pumping through their veins for the past few hours.

There were reasons besides self control and logical minds that the Aburame always appeared calm and could mellow their teams as mediators after all. It was just a fairly well kept secret.

"You'll listen. And learn. Because if I am going to be on a team with you, you're at least going to be a decent sparring partner. All that extra chakra and energy doesn't do anything if you can't use it and just throw it around. If you can learn the forms than you'll possibly give me some real workout's ..at least when I am tired." Sasuke frowned at Naruto and sighed. "If you pay attention..just..just tell me if you ever even learned this okay? Freaking hyperactive moron.." The last bit was muttered but Sasuke fell into the first stance he'd learned that was academy standard rather then Uchiha. It was a prime location to jump into attack or defense, a beginning spot.

Sure enough, Sasuke's insight had proven true as Naruto didn't know any of the kata's or forms. He knew to throw a punch and street brawl but didn't actually know how to fight properly. It probably would have made things worse if Kucho hadn't intervened in an Aburame fashion.

"It seems there were some who wanted to see Naruto-kun fail..how rude of them to try and sabotage our team this way." Both boys had stopped bristling so much at each other then and Naruto's eyes had gone dark. It seemed her words were more apt than she had realized. Kucho filed that away to examine later when she had more information, but hearing someone may be slowing him down by messing with his team mate made Sasuke nod. It was after all, very well known that the last was paired with the two best. That meant either someone truly atrocious could have been on their team in Naruto's place, or someone engineered the blonde to be paired with Sasuke. If Kucho hadn't been so determined Ino or Sakura or even Hinata would be in her position.

Kucho wanted to cheer, and hid her reaction deep in the Aburame stoic behavior she was so unassociated with. The last thing she wanted to do was reveal that her words had gotten the boys to be serious! Finally! But did it really need to take such huge amounts of pheromone's to get these two to not argue?!

Sasuke went slowly over each motion, staving off Naruto's complaint by saying if he practiced slow and got it perfect then when he worked on speed it would be more damage. Damage was a good word for Naruto. Sasuke didn't even really rub in his superiority, likely reminding himself that Naruto would be an easy ticket on the D-ranks. Besides, Naruto did learn fast. He was just easily distracted. Once they were going slow it was actually much harder to slow down for Sasuke and Kucho, it required a lot of muscle control and they experimented with sparring at that very slow speed. It was surprisingly difficult. It soon became a game with Naruto to see who could go the slowest in the motions without losing accuracy.

Sasuke was humoring them only because he felt the quivering of his muscles when he grossly slowed his movements, it was forcing a lot more balance on his part and only sent another point to Kucho. She had said she wanted to see them improve. Perhaps her ideas and methods were strange -as she had warned them- but results were what the two boys cared about.

At the end of the two hours when they stopped sparring and attacking the targets with punches and kicks, Naruto was still clumsy. He wouldn't improve overnight after all no matter what his hitai-ate said; but he was already better. It had certainly been a better way to pass two hours then sitting around and bickering.

The three made themselves comfortable on the grass, unspoken none of the new team wanted to see if Naruto's aim was just as bad. No one felt the fragile new truce would take that. Instead, Kucho spoke up once more.

"So, what less..combat oriented ninja skills do we all have?" She tilted her head from one boy to the next. For once, Naruto was first.

"Um..I am good at pranking.."

"That's not a skill Dobe."

"Yeah it is!" Naruto frowned, his hostility had been tempered when Sasuke was helping him because it was something Naruto knew he needed, but he wouldn't have these skills belittled. He seriously doubted the stuck up black haired teammate of his had them! "Look it takes a lot of work. I have to pick a target, know what they are like. I have to then set it up without it being obvious. That usually means I have to pick a lock, disarm and rearm traps so they don't know I was there." He huffed and then noticing the surprised, and impressed (if completely constipated begrudging on Sasuke's part) expressions of his teammates continued. "I have had to steal so I'm good at it. I'm also really good at not being spotted."

"Orange." Kucho pointed out calmly and he just nodded.

"Exactly. I'm in super duper mega bright colors and yet who spots me? Most the time no one. Everyone expects dark colors, they don't pay attention to me as a ninja! I hide in plain sight!"

"That's the most idiotic..." Sasuke trailed off. Leaning back he frowned, thinking. Really it was true, how few times had he ever noticed Naruto in the village unless he heard him first?

"You will dress darker on missions." Kucho stated simply as she looked at Naruto. It was not a question, it was not even a suggestion. There was a steely command that startled the blonde and he locked eyes with her. Naruto was anything -but- complacent and submissive. Much like Sasuke, which was a reason he knew he was such rivals with the dark boy.

"Outside Konoha." Sasuke for once, offered the middle ground. Kucho's words earlier about molding Naruto by encouraging what they wanted was ringing in his ears. If it really was true he had to have a three man team; which he would be looking up to double check. If so, than he was absolutely going to fix a few things about Naruto. Sasuke was fully aware Aburame's were about as talkative as Uchiha, hardly at all. That she'd done as much today was her being the mediator but it seemed Kucho's patience was wearing off. He could play the good guy, besides, it was seriously amusing to see the loudmouthed blonde so off kilter that Sasuke seemed to be sticking up for him. Huh. He may have to do that more often just to scare him.

"..well..yeah. Okay. But I want to wear some orange! Orange is awesome! Dattebayo!"

"boxers."

"Whaaaa? Kucho-chan! So not cute!"

"hn."

Kucho pouted at them both "I am not cute. I am a fearsome caterpillar."

"Caterpillars are fat and squishy. And um. Not scary." Naruto pointed out, giving her a look as if questioning where her intelligence had gone.

Kucho just shoved her glasses back on her nose. "I'm breeding butterflies that will have poisonous stingers, and various powders off their wings that will suffocate, paralyze, cause horrific hallucinations..and be beautiful. It's still at the beginning stages, I haven't gotten the poison to be variable yet and it's just causing nausea and dizziness but the stingers are doing well and not ripping out like how they do on my bee friends, I don't want to kill off my pretty butterflies after all."

"Kucho-chan can be scary.." Naruto muttered, even Sasuke was shivering at the way she said it but then both boys thought about it. At least she was scary in a kunoichi way. Scary but lethal, both of them were going for that after all. Again Sasuke was relieved he had the dark skinned girl on his team, he was pretty certain Ino and Sakura would be squealing his name or talking about their nails or badly disguised dating ideas. Or little baby animals. At least if Kucho was talking about butterflies, they were sounding useful.

"Why do they have to be beautiful?" Sasuke asked, leaning back on the tree. Kucho hadn't seemed to be the shallow type. Bizarre and everything, yes but helpful. Then again she gave him glow worms and had a glowing dragonfly as a messenger.

"No one expects the beauty to be the most dangerous." She shrugged then. "It's just an insect thing." A pause, and then she grinned at them, an out and out cheerful expression. "Besides, I like pretty butterflies so why not?"

"Kucho-chan you're really weird." Naruto said but he was grinning, she wasn't pretty like Sakura but at least Kucho didn't hit him. Heck, even Sasuke had been tolerable so far! "Okay Sasuke-teme..oh right. Um..yeah no I can't think of something that doesn't sound anything but cool..and you're not cool! Um, so anyways, what are your skills? The whole other ninja non combatty stuff."

"I can speak rationally."

"Hey!"

Sasuke smirked at Naruto, but really it was funny that Naruto was complaining anything he'd call him would sound cool. It was nice that aside from a lack of fangirls, he also didn't have the fawning idiots of the boys in their year. Many of them had just wanted prestige from being associated with the last uchiha. "I am well versed in Shinobi literature and strategies. I am a very fast learner, coming from a clan background my taijutsu is far beyond that which is taught at the academy. I have access to many ..methods..when I am of age to utilize them. Most of the clan jutsu's are locked away and held in trust by the hokage but when I come of age he feels I am ready, I will have them."

"I mean real shinobi skills, Sasuke-teme. Okay you learn fast, but what like my being able to steal or open locks? What do you have that will be field useful?"

Sasuke frowned at Naruto. That was actually a well thought out rational question, who knew the dobe had it in him? "I am good at riddles and code. As I stated also strategies, that is not always something you use in the middle of combat." He paused then and shook his head. "I will be more useful..later." When he gained his clan's sharingan.

Both boys turned to Kucho who sighed, looking over her glasses again with a pout and crossed arms so she was absolutely swallowed in her sweat shirt. "you two make me talk too much."

Naruto snickered, and even Sasuke had a smirk with an amused 'hn'.

"Fine. As you know I have my insects which I can spy, track, and communicate with. My tracking skills are the ones I was bred for much as I am breeding my primary hive. I will in time be learning more of the.." She paused then, how to explain to young boys the Aburame Queen traditions that dated back before coming to Konoha? "I will be learning to silent kill and poison and am already on the minor poison's and learning their antidotes. I am able to mimic many civilians especially of higher ranking, I have skills as a kunoichi that seem outlandish to you boys but are female specific so on missions I can hide among civilians in plain sight. I am learning to infiltrate and sabotage which means sleight of hand. Not good at that yet though.."

"Kucho-chan is Scary." Sasuke said to Naruto, completely deadpan.

"And you two make a joke at my expense.." Kucho sighed, but even as Sasuke smirked and Naruto laughed, exclaiming over how 'that was a good joke Sasuke-teme! I didn't know you had a sense of humor!- she felt pleased that they were bonding. Eventually she hoped to have this kind of camaraderie without the aid of the calming pheromones. It seemed though that in their side skills they were a good infiltrate and cause mayhem team in addition to being eventually combat hefty. It was also obvious that Sasuke needed to work on some more ninja non combat skills. Strategies were fantastic, Kucho herself was learning them more and more but her plans tended to the simple. She was a Queen after all...she would need to work on that skill.

Sasuke apparently came to the same conclusion that he had the least to offer out of combat and scowled, before muttering "They made me clan head at eight..I also know my way around a lot of paperwork..so I can write up the mission reports and teach you how..IF you two make it up to me." Naruto seemed eager.

"What you do the boring stuff? Coun me in Teme. Whatcha want?"

"You do more than your share of the D-ranks physical labor."

"Eh. Fine. Lazy Teme."

"And myself?" Kucho arched an eyebrow. He was a young soldier, and she was not an idle Queen. Though if it was something too demeaning..

"...I can't cook. Pack me lunch." Sasuke muttered, a faint blush just at the back of his neck. It seemed he had learned to control his reactions most the way but his hairstyle exposed the back of his neck. She'd have to tell him about that later on, when she had learned his other tells.

Kucho just nodded, relaxing. Traditionally drones would gather food and supply it to the Queen but it wasn't unheard of for providing your soldiers food, especially when training them. Besides for a human girl's often took care of the boy's in their hive's so really it was hardly a demeaning request. This way she could also ensure they ate well. It helped that she liked cooking."Most the time. When we meet up and I am bringing my own..Naruto-kun, that means I will for you as well."

"Ramen?"

"Perhaps we can go out for ramen until I learn to cook it properly? I do not like to share my works in progress..."

"Yatta! Ichiraku's is the best! And you'll have to get over that Kucho-chan, I'm willing to sample experiments! I kinda melted my stove boiling water once for instant ramen."

"You're buying, moron." Sasuke interjected. Naruto looked at him shocked but Sasuke had a feeling from how excited Naruto was that it would otherwise eat up their entire paychecks. "If you do I'll help you with your taijutsu." Sasuke carefully kept his face blank, if he could get his teammates to provide at least a few meals than all the better for him.

"And you won't tell anyone?"

"Hn. Fine."

Kucho smiled as the two boys settled down. This just might work...

"Ah. So here you are..."

Much to their surprise as they looked up at the silver haired shinobi, he simply waved, looking bored and lazy. One visible eye locked onto each, though it almost flinched away when it skirted to near to Naruto. Apparently all of Team seven, including the jounin, had crazy wild hair that refused to be tamed Naruto was amused to note. All they really needed now was a red head..Black for Sasuke, Silver for the old Jounin, Brown and Black and tan stripes..eh..brown..for Kucho, and his own blonde.

"My first impression is you're more work than you are worth. I don't like you. Meet me on the roof."

As fast as he came, he left. Vanishing before him leaving three pairs of wide stunned eyes that the ninja was just..gone.

"wha..what was that supposed to mean!? More work?!" Naruto huffed out, seriously the old guy left them hanging and called them work?

"We weren't in the classroom. Lazy sensei must have had to back track.." Sasuke grumbled, actually talking since it meant being rude about someone who had left them waiting. Apparently he was a stickler for manners when it was towards him. He was above needing manners most the time, but kami help anyone rude to him.

Kucho just sighed as she stood up, calling her wandering Kikaichu back to her. "None of my little ones sensed him..he's good. Crazy as all get out I think but.."

"Jounin are all weird." Naruto piped in, at his confused teammates looks he shrugged, hands up over his head as they started towards the stairs to get on the roof at a sedate pace since they couldn't vanish into smoke and leaves. "Hey I told you have to know my targets before I prank em. Jounin are hard to get but if you can..they're all really nuts. They dress weird, they talk weird, they have really bizarre habits. I think it's like the stronger you get the stranger you are!"

It hadn't taken them long to reach the roof, the last bit shouted as they walked out the door and onto the top of the school itself where they could see the dark clad form of their sensei leaning against the farthest railing.

"If that's true..we're already a group stronger then the hokage. Dobe." Sasuke muttered, smirking as his teammates snickered. It was true though, they were definitely up there in the weird factor.

"Maaaa.. why do I have such uncute students?" Kakashi sighed and watched the three settle down. From what he'd read- and admittedly Hiruzen had a bad habit of pranking his own Jounin instructors by leaving lots of information cut out of their papers- these three should be oil and water and vinegar. Not mixing at all.

Naruto was a complete idiot and knucklehead, nothing like his parents if you didn't pay attention to his looks. It amazed Kakashi just how idiotic most the village was to not put it together, blonde was hardly a really common hair color and the last name should have been a dead giveaway as to the parentage. Why they hadn't stuck Naruto with a completely random last name, he didn't know. Naruto was also holding the very beast of his nightmares but according to the Hokage had managed to learn and perform the dangerous mass Kage Bunshin technique and aware of what he held now. Kakashi didn't doubt there had been a hurried psych eval Naruto had gone through with Inoichi and had been left unaware of what was going on. He was mostly sabotaged on purpose by his instructors to ensure Kakashi would be his teacher. Someday Naruto would figure that out and from the bits of temper he had read about, he did not envy the Hokage trying to explain that one..He'd explored his apartment as was standard to get a feel for the personality. What it had revealed was a lazy personality that just scraped by with little care for comfort or appearances. Or simply someone who had no idea you could fix up holes in the walls, leaking plumbing, or even how to run a washing machine. It had not been a cheerful sight.

Sasuke Uchiha had issues. More than any other Uchiha Kakashi had the displeasure to meet. He was antisocial, egotistical and yet a likely prodigy. The sort formed from trauma as before his clan's massacre he was talented but did not have this much potential. He had expected him to be ignoring or bickering with his team, rather then seeming bemusedly resigned. His home had been sterile, completely impersonal. Sasuke wasn't living in his original home at least, but one of the former houses that had been emptied and not yet filled, waiting for a new family. Kakashi understood why, he'd not wanted to live in the place his own father had died. He'd still been expecting some sort of comfort but it seemed that Sasuke was fully aware of the low funds in his clan's account. Most of the wealth of the clan had been bickered over and torn through by the council or went into restoring the Uchiha district to hide all evidence of what had occurred before they let the precious heir back into the compound. Until Sasuke started on more missions he had to make certain he didn't empty the coffers, land that large took a lot of upkeep even if it was left empty. The boy had only a few things in his fridge and almost all of it was takeout.

Kucho was an Aburame female with very little on her report. Most of it had been cut out, and her appearance was obviously half foreign. Her skin and hair were dark, her pink and blue attire was almost as much an irritation as Naruto's orange..at least her pink was more of a peach hue. Still, hardly ninja wear. The only thing really besides her scores that had stood out was the fact she was the most peculiar when he'd accessed her room. One did not show up among the Aburame uninvited. It was like the Hatake compound had once been, or the Inuzuka's. If you weren't wanted then lethal force could be expected, and when it could be swarms of lethal flesh eating and poisonous insects, or just ones that would devour chakra..he'd walked in the front gate and asked Kucho's mom permission. Her room had been..cluttered. Clothes and half worked on projects everywhere, everything had a place but it was completely a contrast to the traditional austere environment he was used to. Learning she had bees that she kept as a hobby as well as seeing the dance fans displayed proudly on the wall..He'd never heard of a 'girly' Aburame before.

Seriously. What was Hiruzen thinking?

"So. Tell me a little about yourself? Likes, dislikes, dreams of the future?.."

He waited for the inevitable, predicting Naruto would give the demand for an example and looking forward to trolling them by revealing nothing at all. Instead the three paused and Naruto gave his first warning to Kakashi that he would be predictable only in his unpredictability.

"Don't you have like, files on us or something? You have to know who we are to have found us and I know Iruka-sensei leaves notes like a fifty page book report. Considering he didn't walk out with us I think he probably left a lot more than usual."

Kakashi hid a smirk at that. Iruka did indeed leave more than a note, it was a play by play of the student's waiting for him and personal reasons he thought pairing Sasuke and Naruto was a terrible idea. The 'kiss' incident had been mentioned. Now that had been highly amusing and totally worth having to walk outside to track down his little brats. All he had to do was fail at least one of the attention hogs and he'd be done with this mandatory farce all Jounin had to go through. He'd half thought after all the years of Anbu he'd have gotten out of it.

"It's also so you can get to know each other."

The three exchanged a look and then Naruto smirked, nodding with the other two. "All right then...Uchiha Sasuke.." He threw a thumb in the dark haired boy's direction "Head of the Uchiha clan, number one rookie of the year..Male Rookie.." he corrected swiftly at a soft humm that came from the dark girl. "Excels in Ninjutsu and Taijutsu, needs a lot more of a challenge than the academy could provide. Has an issue with cutting his own hair so it doesn't stick up in the back like bed head. Not that I can say much my whole head looks like that and Kucho-chan looks like she has floppy dog ears..anyways! He doesn't like fangirls. Actually I think all three of us can say our dislikes are fan girls and school.." The other two nodded, and Kakashi felt a bead of sweat trail down his temple. What exactly was going on here?

"Sasuke's likes are brooding, literature, being the smartest one in the room er out of the boys that is, avoiding fan girls.." he paused and looked at Sasuke who was highly entertained that so far Naruto had actually been rather flattering. And funny. He gave the blonde a smirk

"Tomatoes."

"Dreams for the future, Sasuke wants to be a super amazing Anbu -I think- and serve under me as the most kick butt helper to the best Hokage ever!Dattebayo!"

Kucho giggled, and Sasuke rolled his eyes but he could live with that statement. He certainly wasn't going to talk about his clan business with someone he didn't know. Talking revenge about a clan traitor would probably have yet another adult cooing at him about how he needed to leave it up to the authorities. Besides, being Anbu would mean he was getting as strong as Itachi..and if he stayed in longer than his brother had he could probably learn a lot more.

"Hey Teme! You do mine now!" Naruto bounced on his feet and Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"Hyperactive blonde menance. you're lowering the intelligence of the area by breathing our oxygen. Fine, Uzumaki Naruto, dead last in every area though recently theorized due to sabotage, prankster. Determined and somehow managed to survive the academy despite no talents in ninjutsu or taijutsu and no written skills.."

"Hey!"

"It's actually amazing you lasted much less graduated dobe. Take it as a compliment." the tone Sasuke used was a hair less than insulting so Naruto just grumbled about how his had been much cooler and see if he did that for the bastard again, letting Sasuke continue. Hey, watching their new sensei twitch from what they were doing was actually a lot of fun. "He likes Ramen and frogs and the color orange. He never shuts up about any of them, wants to be Hokage and has an annoying verbal tic of 'Dattebayo' that needs to be beaten out of him. As stated, dislikes fangirls and being forced to wait. Also has no concept of an inside voice..and not entirely hopeless" Shrugging Sasuke then turned and looked at Kucho.

Kucho pouted visibly then, crossing her arms over her chest and looked from one boy to the next making her upper pigtails flop around. "More talking?"

"Hn." Sasuke smirked and then shrugged. "Aburame Kucho." He looked at Naruto, wondering if they could trade off. Actually this was a fair test of what they had learned about each other in three hours, and again seeing Kakashi twitching as they twisted his comments was funny. Sasuke liked seeing people squirm, especially when it meant messing with their minds when they underestimated him.

"Kucho-chan is really good at cooking and observing, she likes having people not make her talk and helping people out. As long as they listen to her." Naruto trailed off and looked at her, clearly checking. Kucho smiled at Naruto and nodded once, well it was really helping her new team out because they were her soldier's..but it fit.

"She likes bugs. And pretty things, also being very uncute and scary." Sasuke interupted dryly, but at this point Kucho recognized the strange sense of humor for what it was.

"Kucho-chan dislikes the classroom, anyone being mean about her bugs, talking too much...her dream is to breed a special type of butterfly to do her evil bidding!" Naruto grinned and was smug seeing Kucho cover her mouth to hide her laugh.

'What in the Kami did I miss?' Kakashi was puzzled. By no means should these three be getting along, but they seemed to have come to terms with their differences. Sasuke and Naruto were actually teasing each other. How much could three hours really change?

Of course Kakashi didn't know that Kucho's amusement even if she'd avoided Naruto all those years at the academy had let him know she found his humor and pranks funny. Or that she'd had interactions that hadn't driven Sasuke crazy. He certainly had no idea that the three had been working out ways they could shore the other up and making deals. Quite frankly when faced with the coming days of being a genin, Sasuke's lure of making Naruto do most the boring stuff physically and having someone cook for him was a decent trade off. Naruto was pleased to have someone cook and be willing to teach him to fight better, not to mention as much as Sasuke had a stick up his backside he seemed to have a brain. When he wasn't being broody.

Really though, neither boy had a chance because their teammate was an Aburame Queen who had been subtly manipulating them these past few hours to be more amicable.

It took a change of the wind for the slight nearly undetectable pheromones to reach Kakashi and then he blinked. Suddenly things made sense, though he'd almost forgotten Shibi had said in passing all those years ago about a new 'Queen' being born while completely drunk and far less reserved among his former Anbu teammate. When Kakashi had asked the difference it had been a long list, but one of the things was that Queen's could have their Kikaichu manipulate pheromones to calm others far more effectively than male Aburame. It only worked in exceptionally close proximity and took time..but if Kucho had been using it on the boys who at their young age would be easily malleable, lacking their innate hostility to each other they seemed to have found common ground.

One eyebrow raised. It seemed his little team was going to be a challenge. Certainly, interesting. This was going to call for more work to get rid of the three. No wonder Hiruzen seemed so smug handing over Team seven's folder.

Deciding to rush this and test their new found camaraderie Kakashi explained their secondary test and vanished to let them stew. What he really did was hide nearby and clamp down his chakra so he could eavesdrop on their reactions. Now, to see how they reacted when they didn't think they needed to put on a front.

"What!? What was that!?" Sasuke was the one losing his temper and whirled about, furious. Whatever else his reaction was going to be, Naruto beat him to it, turning to the dark girl who till now had the information they needed. He was already learning that if he needed answers she was the one to ask.

"Kucho-chan have you ever heard of this?"

Kucho paused, leaning back and thinking. "No." She sighed and pulled off her glasses, it was getting dark enough she didn't need them anyways. "That none of us has heard of this or seen any of our previous graduating schoolmates return does not mean it is impossible to be true. Rather they could just join the genin corps in general or there is something else going on here..Sasuke-kun, you said you knew strategy..what shall we do? Follow orders?" Kucho waited, she wanted to tell them what to do but also knew as a Queen it was important to build her soldier's confidence. She needed them capable, able to act. She just wanted them to defer to her but if Sasuke was really as good as his likely abilities were..his advice would be solid. If not she would brush up on her own strategic books and theories as much as possible. They did only have each other's word as to how good they were in certain skills, for all they knew the others had lied.

Sasuke frowned, still livid at the idea it may have been for nothing to come this far. He did not for a moment regret the past hours though as it had been a wealth of information and having taught Naruto gave him the idea he could force the hyperactive one into an ideal partner to turn black and blue. Still, as he looked at the blue eyes that lacked any of their former contempt, and Kucho's brown and black ones..he eased up his muscles. Ninja focused on what could be done now. They were looking to him, even as Naruto had just looked to Kucho. They were a team. He would advance faster with them. If this truly was a test..

"If this truly is the real graduation test we need to know. Kucho-chan, send out your kikaichu to gather information about if this has happened before. Naruto, we need to work on your fighting. He said not to eat breakfast so eat very well tonight and bring something small for tomorrow..."

"I will handle that. Both of you come home with me for dinner." Kucho nodded, it was not an offer but a command, yet it was one both boys would bow to rather than fend for themselves in a kitchen. Naruto was tempted to offer Ramen but all things considered he didn't want to have Kucho not invite him over. He'd never been to someone's house for dinner before.

"Fine. Let's go to the training ground now to get a feel for the territory and see if we can even keep pace with each other. I don't want my teammates taking me out on accident if he makes us fight someone else's team." Sasuke had not said holding him back. Naruto wasn't an idiot and he picked up on that with a grin.

"Shouldn't we eat first so we can have time to set traps or something all night?" Naruto asked, which Sasuke, and finally Kucho nodded too.

"follow me."

The three headed off, to find the Aburame compound and Kakashi's eyes were wide.

'I think I need to go have another talk with the Hokage...'

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

Said Hokage was smiling as he observed the group. They were young, but Aburame children matured much faster and without many of the thoughts that their peers would. They tended to be clinical and focused on their goals from the symbiosis with their Kikaichu and it had been his most hopeful wish that Kucho would be able to reel in Naruto and Sasuke. Oh he was certain that they would give her a challenge. The two were young alpha male types, and both had vicious tempers and egos. However, if anything in his experience could train such boys it was an Aburame Queen.

Especially because it wasn't until they were close to sixteen they even considered the physical aspects of things, the Uchiha deserved a teammate who wasn't thinking of dating him the entire time and his favorite blonde troublemaker deserved the same. There was nowhere else he could have placed Kucho unless she had graduated a year earlier. Hiruzen fully understood that she had no rush though, it was indeed a full schedule of training that the girl had outside her school before now.

"Are you content, Gumoko?" he asked looking up at the girl's mother. The woman nodded, face hidden in her large scarf, dark glasses wrapping almost like a visor around her face. Her dark hair was in two buns on her head with two smaller pieces sticking straight up like antennae, on purpose no doubt. She was the clear Aburame, and stood with her hands in her oversized jacket that went almost to her ankles.

"I am quite pleased. Why? Kucho will be forced to extend herself greatly and will provide the container with a reason to be loyal to Konoha that has no ulterior motives. The Uchiha is going to be difficult."

"How so?" Hiruzen folded his hands as he looked at his kunoichi retired from Anbu now. Aburame did have so many strange ideas..

"He has anger issues."

"He's an Uchiha."

There was a humming from Gumoko. She did tend to be amused when he showed humor. "Kucho is going to be forced to increase her number of kikaichu that can secrete the pheromones until her soldier's have learned to obey."

As Hiruzen said nothing in response, Gumoko vanished. Hiruzen just chuckled "Oh I am pretty certain all three will train each other..and break Kakashi out of his isolation while they are at it.." the hokage was satisfied. Only the copy nin and his Sharingan could have a hope to truly train the Uchiha, and if need be, control Naruto's belly dweller.

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

"Affirmative. No secondary graduation requirement has been noted. Rather the other rookie's are being told to prepare to find the specialization they shall be training in." Kucho finally reported just as they walked into the Aburame clan grounds.

"What? Why would Kakashi-baka lie to us?" Naruto huffed, furious.

"Misleading..." Sasuke grumbled. Kucho nodded. Naruto paused and looked from one to the other, trying not to gawk at his surroundings.

"Wait..I'm missing something.."

"...really." Sasuke deadpanned but gave in. He just kept reminding himself that Naruto would save him a lot of boring work in the future.. "Whatever Kakashi-san is planning he wants us not to be aware of. As he pointed out not eating..he doesn't want us at our best. Distracted by our stomachs maybe."

"He also riled us up and made us focused on a worst case scenario. That means he'll likely continue the mental and emotional manipulation." Kucho said and then shook her head. "Let's focus on food for now, and then go check out the training grounds, kay?"

"Hey, Kucho-chan...um..why is everyone like..dressed for snow?" Naruto looked around but everyone was completely covered save a little of their upper faces. Most of them even had full boots rather than shinobi sandals and hoods!

"Aburame always dress like that." Sasuke said and Kucho nodded.

"But Kucho-chan shows her face!"

Kucho blushed, her glasses being off only made her more obviously shy about it. "I'm..just okay with it. I don't like things covering my face."

"What about not wearing glasses? Everyone else is and it's dark.."

"Aburame have really good vision, we wear the glasses to protect how sensitive our eyes are. My sire wasn't Aburame though so my eyes aren't as sensitive to light."

"Sire?"

"Another term for father, Dobe."

"Oh. What's he like?" Naruto asked as they followed her inside the house she stopped at, Kucho blinked over her shoulder, slipping into house slippers after bringing out a few spares that were always tucked under a shelf for guests and shrugged.

"Kaa-san says he was very dark skinned, much more than me, with short curly hair and light brown eyes. He was a master of stealth and assassination..and hard to track."

"Cool! What was his name?"

"I don't know. He was a mission for her, since he was a nuke-nin to another village. Mother just thought his skills may be genetic and so delayed accomplishing the mission until she knew she was pregnant with me. We did want to improve the tracking Kikaichu and it seems so far to have worked." Kucho heard the footsteps behind her stop and turned, tilting her head to one side at the surprised and rather amusingly comic expressions on her teammates. "Aburame? We think different."

"But..you..he...bwaghr?" Naruto spoke pointing in different directions.

"We think of procreation as breeding within the hive much as we do with our insects. Why? Because it has been proven to strengthen our line." Came a low voice as Gumoko stepped out. She nodded once and turned to Kucho. "Report."

Kucho stood up straight, locking eyes with her mother and did exactly as commanded with all the respect one Queen had to another. "Team seven has one loud, one quiet, one watchful."

Gumoko turned amused at the smothered laughter her daughter's teammates had and yet she didn't doubt they were unaware of her smiling below the massive scarf. "Affirmed. Prognosis?"

"Hey Sasuke-teme..why do you think they're talking so..serious. I mean, that's her mom right?"

Sasuke nodded, not responding but he did look from one to the other. The smiling and friendly if petulant over how much she had to speak Kucho was gone. This one was serious, it reminded him of seeing his elder brother report to their father..except there was a feeling of mutual respect between the two females. Some of what Kucho had probably meant about being a Queen made a little more sense.

It appeared the Aburame clan had very strange ways of working. Far more so than he had ever guessed.

"High potential for all around exceptional. Two possessing advanced combat skills and one with chakra already vast. All growth available. Apparent weaknesses overlap for security. Tracking skills, covered. Strategic operations, covered. Covert capabilities of theft, infiltration, code breaking, trap laying and disassembling..covered." Kucho delivered all of it in what was a nigh emotionless tone, but the two boys had spent hours with her and could barely detect the happiness in her voice. Actually, put that way it made their team seem rather impressive.

"Schedule?" Gumoko prompted again and Kucho frowned. Body language betraying to her mother that she wanted the next statement clarified and Gumo's own shifted slightly to wait for analysis.

"Six hundred hours at training ground. Number confidential. Orders to arrive for secondary graduation test with high failure rate, instructions to consume no sustenance prior."

"Objective otherwise. Intended approach?"

Kucho nodded her head to the boys, indicating that it had been a group planning. "Analysis of training ground, testing of compatibility in combat as a whole to prepare for potential adversaries. Extensive nutrient intake at this time and additional small ration to bring as preparation. Intel turned up negative as to a precedent."

"Teme..does any of that make sense?"

"She's repeating what we were up to on the roof."

"Why does she have to make it so complicated?"

"Hn."

Gumoko lifted a brow at Kucho amused as the boys talked in whispers. Apparently they didn't know how good an Aburame's hearing was. Kucho couldn't repress her smile then, lifting her shoulders in a shrug. Her soldier's were brand new after all. "Acceptable. Proceed." Gumoko then turned and nodded to the boys. "Welcome." With that she simply turned and walked back the way she had come.

"Kucho-chan..what..was all that?"

"Hn?"

"No! No using the teme's phrase!" Naruto waved his arms around, startling a snicker from Sasuke as they followed Kucho into the kitchen where she began to pull items out to make dinner.

"Oh, my mother is the senior Queen in residence so I report to her, just facts. Opinions without a reason and conjecture is often thought of as a waste of time.."

"Why don't you always talk like that then?" Sasuke asked, blinking as he realized he had just been handed vegetables and the tools to cut them. Shrugging he just set to work, she was going to cook for them after all. At least he hadn't been set to washing the rice and setting it to start in the rice cooker, thankfully Naruto had said he did know how to do that much.

"Well..um. I'm just ..they've always said I was a happy little beetle...though mind I don't usually talk anywhere near as much as I've had to today. It's exhausting."

"Hn."

"Ahhh knock that off!"

Kucho and Sasuke exchanged an amused look. Of course they'd both do that more now..they were kids still, after all. Dinner was a simple stir fry with plenty of meat in the boys' portions. There was miso soup and rice to fill up on as well, and Kucho set to making Onigiri with the leftovers as she got full long before either growing boy did. When she pointed out that Aburame's tended to make each meal fresh and so the less they left over the better..well there was very little effort in washing the dishes when everything was done. Handing each of them a bag of Onigiri for either a late snack or breakfast if they chose, Kucho assured them she would bring something for everyone to snack on tomorrow. They were just getting ready to head out to training ground three when Kucho stopped before putting her shoes back on. Fidgeting. Looking down and silent the two boys observed as she wiggled her toes, shifting about nervously before large mismatched eyes locked onto them both. Her teeth were currently wreaking havoc on her lip and then Kucho sighed.

"Before we go..I ..well I shouldn't tell you something..but I want to..um.." She licked her lips, the most nervous either boy had ever seen her. "I've kinda..well.." sighing Kucho ran a hand through a single pigtail, making the curls bounce and fluff up in a mess. "So, one of the things my Kikaichu can do is release pheromone's to track..that's normal but Queen's hold more hives in them then usual and they can let off pheromone's that calm people down..I've..I've been using it since our team announcement.."

"...what?" It was a sharp, vicious and cold tone to Sasuke's voice. Black eyes narrowed at her in fury at the idea he had been manipulated.

"What do you mean..calm down, Kucho?" There was no affectionate chan added on this time from Naruto.

Kucho sighed and gestured "That's why I'm telling you. Before we have a second test, before we're out in the open..it really only calms us down. It takes affect on me too..I figured all things as they are, and with the rivalry you two have the ability to think rationally would only help us..I would have eased off it later on but..there's a reason Aburame are usually mediators.."

"You said Queens do it. That renders your last statement false.." Sasuke said, still livid.

"They can but it's a lot less effective. And it doesn't completely force you to be calm..as you should be aware since you're clearly mad at me right now."

"Who else can tell us? Besides an Aburame? I want to know you're really telling the truth Kucho..and why tell us now ?" Naruto sounded so very serious that it was an unusual change for the two darker haired children to hear. Kucho didn't flinch away though.

"Because we've already seen our Jounin-sensei is weird and we suspect emotional and mental manipulation. I did not wish to risk his revealing it and making it sound like I could control you. I promise it just calms the edge, you're both brilliant if in different ways and I figured if you didn't have the anger from how we all acted in the academy, which is a front all three of us put up..that you may be able to get along." Kucho shifted, noticing the aura from her teammates had only slightly let up.

"Hokage-sama knows about it...it's um..it's really kind of a clan secret, but..I didn't want you two to not trust me..."

"Let's go to the training grounds. Teme, I'm good with jiji, I'll go ask him. Take my clone with you to set up the grounds. If this really is a secret lets not talk about it..if..if everything is what you said and I clear it with Jiji, I'll forgive you Kucho. But even if you meant it for a good reason I don't like being controlled.."

"It's not control!" Kucho actually raised her voice and stamped a foot, passionate enough about it to set the two at ease. Sasuke could appreciate that she was telling all of this so soon, she was right though. If it had come out in any other way he'd have never forgiven her. "It affects me too, and all it does in larger amounts slowly over time is keep you more rational and calm outbursts. It fades if you get serious enough increases in that or adrenaline if you didn't notice..I just..I told you, I want the best for you both as you're my soldiers. That means trying to help you beyond actively fighting each other for no reason.." Kucho trailed off, and her body language, was screaming her sincerity. "Please I..I just..."

"Go find out if it's true, Dobe. We'll meet you at three." Sasuke turned then, not waiting for Kucho to follow. When she did, flanked by Sasuke and the silent clone of Naruto there were no words exchanged. The entire way to the training ground was silent.

Naruto wasted no time rushing to the Hokage tower and sneaking in through a window. Much to his relief, the old man was alone.

"Jiji..I need to ask you something.."

"Naruto? Of course.." Hiruzen turned, surprised at the serious expression on the blonde's face. "What's the matter?"

"Kucho mentioned something just now to Sasuke and me about her insects tricking us to be calm.."

"She actually told you?" Hiruzen raised an eyebrow and leaned back slowly, lighting his pipe. "It's no trick even if it is a secret among her clan, Naruto. Think of it like my pipe. When I smoke it relaxes me. It lets my mind think a little clearer, my muscles to be less stressed. It cannot force you to do anything, that she told you is a very large sign of trust..it takes hours to really take effect and even at the highest doses by the elder Queen's it can't make you do anything. Rather, it just allows crowds and the council especially to calm down and try to be rational. I wish I could mimic it to be honest.."

"you swear she wasn't forcing us to get along? Sasuke-teme and I never did anything but fight before.."

"Maybe you just needed a reason. Give your teammates a chance, Naruto. You and Sasuke are very different, but very similar. He lost his family and while the village crowds him in kindness it's a smothering sort. He's always watched and judged..it's no way for a child to live."

"...anymore than my life was..."

"Exactly."

"You swear though Jiji? Really really? Because if it's a lie..I mean..the person today..I think I could like that version of the bastard.."

"I swear on my office as Hokage."

"Thanks old man!" Naruto vanished without waiting, rushing at full speed to the training ground where he found the still cold and glaring Uchiha wandering about the grounds, apart from Kucho, both looking for existing traps. He was glad Sasuke was alone, and curiously seeing him so mad only drove home the truth. Kucho could make them calm down but she couldn't force them to stay that way.

"Hey Teme. Old man Hokage said she was telling the truth.."

"...hn." Sasuke did visibly relax though, his anger slipping away. Really, now that he knew it couldn't control him more than a slight influence..it was a useful skill. "There are worse things than assistance to keeping a rational mind. Especially around you."

"hey!" Naruto huffed but then paused. "Do we tell her to stop?" Sasuke shook his head, walking over so Kucho was paying attention to them before responding, he did not wish to repeat himself.

"Let's get through tomorrow. I think in light of the secondary test we will wait to demand a day you don't impose that on us. We may need every advantage tomorrow."

Kucho nodded, subdued, and once more shifting her body weight. It was clear she was convinced they were upset with her and Naruto sighed.

"Look, Kucho-chan.." Her head whipped up hearing the suffix again and Naruto realized that his opinion really meant a lot to the dark girl. It made him smile a bit, feeling warm. It was nice having someone care what he thought for once. "...It's gonna take time to wrap my head around but..thank you. For telling us right away I mean.."

Kucho nodded, still silent and Sasuke chuffed. "Che. Look, this ground is mostly trees..my only real ninjutsu would torch it.."

"My shadow clones would get all confused with them.."

"My insects would be fine, but I'm not as hard of a hitter as you two are."

The two boys preened a little at the admission and Sasuke looked around, eyes narrowing as he observed the location. "Let's set up something to not just keep someone out of the trees but flush them out if someone takes cover in them..that will give us an advantage."

"You really think we'll be fighting someone, Sasuke-kun?" Kucho asked, tilting her head. With one pigtail fluffy from the earlier attention it looked rather hilarious.

"Ah. I do."

The other two just nodded, and set to work following Sasuke's instructions. Several of Naruto's clones were sent off, henged, for supplies. Kucho had her insects tracking down likely spots to set traps and string explosive wire that Sasuke could channel a fireball down. All in all, it was going to be a long night.

Any lingering mistrust or worries about Kucho's earlier confession had faded the first time Naruto and Sasuke cringed at going through the slime of the river to also trap the water, and shucking off her hakama and sweat shirt to reveal her turtleneck with long sleeves and capri pants, muttering about boys getting her out of her comfort zone with talking and showing skin.. dove in the water.

Sasuke and Naruto exchanged a look.

"Hey teme, what did she mean by showing skin? She still wears more then Sakura-chan or Ino-chan.."

"Aburame are weird. "

"Dattebayo."

Watching the re wrapped up form of Kucho with her soaking wet curls pulled into a tight bun, still trailing water and with mud on her shoes did keep the two from feeling any lingering hard feelings. Sure she may have used her insects to calm them down but she'd also just gone into cold water, at night, in their place. They could call it even.

They never did get additional sparring done.

"Man I'm beat..that's a lot of work!"

"Thankfully we had swarms of your moronic clones to work with..that would be still being all set up otherwise." Sasuke admitted, wiping his forehead off. Kucho just nodded, rubbing her eyes sleepily. The best part was the training grounds looked untouched save for a few traps that had been left barely visible to offset suspicion.

"Meeting here first thing. we better all go home and get some sleep!" Naruto said, nodding proudly at their invisible work.

"Hn." Sasuke paused, then shoved a rice ball at her "So you don't need to cook again tonight."

Kucho just beamed at him, Naruto had already lost his onigiri to some of his clones partly through the trapping of training ground three. "See you in the morning."

The three set off to their own homes.

Kakashi had no idea what he was in for, currently more interested in exchanging horror stories over sake with his fellow roped into the job jounin instructors. Gai had a lot of bizarre stories to share after all. Surely though, no team could be that difficult...

Chapter Text

AN: Sorry for the delays, glad you all continue to enjoy. My dog passed away the other day and the days leading up to it..well..just haven't felt like writing. I lost my job then essentially.I'm back.

I hope this continues to amuse you. I'm really trying to take this in a direction of the same wonder and excitement I felt from the first time I watched the Naruto series, and focus more on ninja and less on crazy world domination arcs. I try to bring in more civilian's and behind the scenes in Ghost so keeping this a very different story as much as I can! This is going to get progressively AU as the characters grow but I do not yet know what I will and will not be incorporating. I think the biggest changes are honestly going to be Team 7 itself. It's amazing what life can do with just little tweaks...and Kucho being uncute has become something of an amusement..

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"Sit. Eat. I will put up your hair." Gumoko was waiting for Kucho when she shuffled out sleepily. The light had yet to rise which was messing with her circadian rhythm. Her Kikaichu were used to awakening with the first light and buzzing around inside her chakra coils and their connections, waking her. Manually using a clock was..hard. Gumoko had anticipated this, and after having heard the talk the evening before when Team 7 had gone to training ground three, was quite impressed with her child. It wasn't easy to tell people you were manipulating them, as it seemed those outside of the Aburame clan jumped to rapid conclusions before allowing logic to be set down before them. Kucho had arrived late, taken a shower and all but collapsed in bed.

Gumoko was pleased. Kucho hadn't scented to her insects of distress so obviously her teammates were willing to forgive and perhaps even see the pheromones as the benefit many Aburame teammates came to enjoy. It was an unspoken rule to not discuss this though, Gumoko figured young Shino would take far longer to explain it to his teammates. Inuzuka's did react very heatedly to finding out their noses weren't sensitive enough to pick up on it, and by the time they could were often too used to the slightly sweet scent to understand what it was.

"Thank you, Okaa-san." Kuco said as she sat down, beginning the light meal of rice and miso with a little steamed vegetables and tofu. Very easy food to digest swiftly. Three small packages were also out, wrapped up tightly in waterproof material to protect them in case they were carried during spars. They were the Aburame standard rations, honey and fruit and grains with nuts, baked to a hard consistency and fantastic for supplying excess calories to help feed the Kikaichu. It was a better idea than the one Kochu had of preparing fruits, but as they were considered something of an Aburame specialty with the exact properties of the bars being carefully manipulated crops enhanced by a specific breed of Kikaichu that only the non shinobi Aburame were prone to carrying..permission was usually needed to share them with any non clan members.

"Mmm." Gumoko began with carefully fingering Kucho's impossible dark hair, coarser by far than her own black silken locks. While Aburame hair tended towards the bushy and wild it was more because they weren't as meticulous about maintaining it as most would be. Kucho's hair was definitely as much a product of her sire as her beautiful dark skin and required special tending. Rather than a brush she simply fingered the unruly mishmash of curls and waves with the frizzing behavior, removing knots before beginning intricately braiding it into a plait that went from one side of her head to the next. It was a tight affair, elegantly intricate and impossible to replicate on oneself. It would however prevent her long hair from being used against her. Gumoko knew of course, what was likely to happen in the test but would not give the information to her offspring. As Aburame the fact she had provided this assistance would inform Kucho that they would be fighting at some point.

It wasn't precisely the most traditional of secondary tests, but Kakashi was clearly irritated at the idea of a team and would try to eliminate them swiftly. From the interactions that Gumoko had observed it was far more likely that Team 7 would stun him. After all, they had an Aburame Queen who wanted to see the best for her soldier's, and already trusted the two boys. Which did make her curious..

"You trust loud and silent already." It was said deadpan but if one knew Aburame, they would have detected the highly amused thrumm of her kikaichu at using the words of Kucho's report the night before.

"Aa. Naruto-kun is..has always made me laugh and smile. My kikaichu dislike his chakra but.." Kucho paused, it was useless information and she swallowed a bit of tea. "Apologies, my mind is not properly awake." Kucho spoke softly, blushing vibrantly at the emotional rather than logical explanation she gave.

"Continue. I do not mind."

Kucho gave the tiniest tremor, and Gumoko smiled faintly. It was nice to see that her little Queen's instincts were latching onto her new soldier's. Such a strong bond was a good sign in a team.

"They are alone. I always enjoyed how Naruto-kun made me laugh, realizing he did as well as he did without the right understanding or help..I believe the boy is barely literate or if he is, certainly lacks comprehension. He has a great deal of potential. Sasuke-kun." Kucho paused, politely eating a little more before continuing. "When his hive was obliterated I gave him one of my hobby swarm's offspring..glow worms. I've continued to do so. He may not have ever held them in high regard but they kept him company. I think he enjoyed them. He never missed showing up at the entrance to his compound to receive the new ones."

Gumoko lifted a brow, glad Kucho's back was to her. It was interesting that she had never picked up on this. So while the three had no interactions that were necessarily large and obvious, nothing so clear cut as friendship there had been firm established beginnings. At least for the two boys to the tiny queen. "They will swiftly outdo you in Chakra."

"Affirmative. I plan to ask Nee-chan one and two to begin producing drones that will absorb and store chakra as well as feeding upon it. With their ample stores it will be hardly missed and ideally transferable to me through my Nee-chan's hive."

"This will take significant time away from developing your butterflies.." Gumoko prompted gently, she knew that Kucho's butterflies were her favorite new project, and had been for many years. She was used to the affection that Kucho had for her four main queen's and the curiously strong bond she had to them. Usually Kikaichu died out over hours, constantly adapting and respawning. Kucho's were different, the four queens were wound up in her chakra so tightly that they were an extension of Kucho herself now and she usually called them Nee-chan one through four. Kucho had actual names for them, but despite Gumoko being her mother, Kucho kept that information a secret. It was one of the many curiosities of her happy beetle.

"I know. However, these boys are my soldier's now. I will not falter, I will not abandon them when they are no longer pupae and ready for hives of their own. Many years from now I will still be their Queen.." Kucho spoke simply, regally decisive and Gumoko shook her head. Oh, the Hokage would be surprised. Someday. After all Kucho still had no idea about the Kyuubi. Still, if she could manage to draw off and feed /share from the chakra of the Uchiha and Uzumaki? It would be quite the feat, definitely worthy of a Queen.

Her decision to bring in the blood of the nuke-nin that had been Kucho's father always proved a better choice than she had realized with each growth her daughter showed.

"I think it is a very valuable goal but should be kept entirely secret, even from the clan."

"All of the clan?"

"All of the clan unless I specifically say otherwise, and even so I shall make any needed inquiries hidden in other dances of our Kikaichu, my little wasp. I want none to know you bite as well as sting."

"..." Kucho was verbally silent, but her body language and the scents her Kikaichu gave off betrayed how moved she was by her mothers words. Gumoko smiled and stood, patting her daughter's shoulder, bare in her sleeping shirt to leave the sleeves off.

"Go change, dark. Fitting. Movement and stealth may be most advantageous, and then depart. It is the early webs that catch the fly, dew on the strands lure in the insects drawn only to the dappling light's gleam."

"I like that one, Okaa-san." Kucho smiled at her, a beaming joyful expression as her eyes crinkled shut before she slipped off to change, leaving Gumoko to nod.

"I thought you might."

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Sasuke arrived first, looking around as soft pinks and blues began to shimmer into the sky heralding the dawn. He was a good half hour earlier than they were told to be there for a good reason. He wanted to wander, seemingly impatient. In truth he was silently and very covertly checking that none of the traps had been disturbed. It had the advantage that unless their jounin instructor had been observing them all or part of the early evening the night before, he would think the slightly obvious traps had just been set.

Content, he leaned against a tree to wait for his peculiar teammates. While originally when the announcement was made the Uchiha had been furious to be on a team that was guaranteed to hold him back; in light of all that had been learned yesterday he was reevaluating it all. Sleep had only helped with his decision. Naruto was still brash and irritating but he wasn't an Uchiha, he was an orphan much as many of the useless civilian born hopefuls and had no idea about the silent and secretive culture of shinobi life. He hadn't been raised as Sasuke had the benefit of, at least the first eight years of his life. Besides, it did seem that if Naruto really was a chakra monster that sparring with him would only improve Sasuke that much faster. Once he learned the lessons he should have already in the academy. The one benefit to that was it would be Kakashi's job to ensure that he did so, Sasuke could just goad and prod him into learning skills he needed.

As his father had once quoted him, the best swordsman in the world doesn't fear the second best but the worst for he is unpredictable. That suited Naruto to a T, by training with someone who had no idea what they were doing it would help Sasuke learn to handle the unpredictable. It would only help him someday handle Itachi...

Kucho was a pleasant surprise. Even if she was definitely uncute and frankly as strange as could be, even for an Aburame. At least she was honest and upfront with the two of them. Once his fury and simmering anger through the night that she'd dared to try and manipulate him had died down his rational mind had fully processed what it had only started to the evening before. There were far, far, worse things that something that made you calm down and focus. As long as it could be proven to not impeded their reaction times he would actually be willing to have her continue to do so. Perhaps it was part of why the dobe was so tolerable lately. And she'd cook for him. Without being a creepy fan girl during it.

All around, Sasuke dared to hope he had gotten a good team.

Kucho arrived shortly after, and the Uchiha tilted his head to one side. Having her hair up, rose glasses already in place, and her usual sweat shirt was interesting. He also noted that she was wearing loose but fitted dark gray slacks, boots that covered her feet rather than sandals, and her turtleneck appeared to be the same shade as her slacks. There was a kunai pouch at her hip, another on her leg, and she was carrying a rucksack of some sort.

"hn."

"Prefer to not be visible. In case." Kucho answered with a nod. Sasuke was pleased she didn't go through any of the pointless good morning drivel and nodded back at her.

"Bring something for the orange menace?"

"Food. Attire I am afraid we shall have to beat into him. Think his garment is flammable?"

Sasuke smirked. "We can find out..."

Kucho chuckled and pulled out a small package for him, handing it over. "Put that in your pocket or pouch for later. It's a ration bar with four times the daily caloric needs. Aburame use them to help fuel our Kikaichu."

Sasuke's eyebrows skyrocketed and he nodded, grateful for the offering before making it vanish. Kucho leaned against the same tree but left space between them, taking out a rice ball to bite and offering one. Sasuke took it gratefully, pleased she wasn't trying to snack on sweets. It had a faint bitterness, likely from the pickled plum, but it didn't detract from it's appeal.

Not long after a still bright orange Naruto slunk towards them with a mighty yawn. Kucho handed him a package and a few rice balls as well and the sleepy boy slumped on the ground by them after a muffled 'Thanks Kucho-chan. Lo broody."

"Hn."

They proceeded to wait.

"If our jounin-sensei makes us wait three hours again..." Sasuke trailed off, Kucho just chuckled and shrugged.

"We can nap in shifts? Practice for keeping watch. One sleeps, the other two can talk softly and keep aware..or just be here."

"I like that idea. Agree to the idea broody-teme and lemmee sleep. I didn't even have Ramen.." Naruto whined. Sasuke rolled his eyes.

"Sleep then, spare me your noise."

Naruto didn't even argue, just snuggled into his jumpsuit more and rolled onto his side out like a light with the bulb gone.

Sitting against the tree Kucho and Sasuke were content to just be in silence. Occasionally Kucho would open her hand, one of her insects flying off or coming back but the twirling patterns they would make meant nothing to the dark eyed Uchiha. Kucho would nod or frown, sometimes snort a laugh and so finally he lifted a brow, jerking his chin at the circling Kikaichu on her palm and let out a soft 'hn?'

"Insects use dance and body language to tell things. Scent as well but I'm not skilled enough yet to pick that up..it is mostly gossip or keeping tabs on those I have an interest in following."

"Like?" Sasuke sounded uninterested but the mere fact he was asking was clear enough. Kucho was delighted to talk about her insects and decided to expand on it.

"Anko-san is one of the kunoichi I admire, she's crazy but terribly strong and brilliant. Part of the Torture and Interrogations unit. I've been trying to get her to teach me a few things for over a year now. She's currently at her favorite dango shop, she's being trailed by a chunin she worked with on a mission who now thinks himself in love with her. I'm just waiting for her to spring whatever trap she's been laying the last few weeks and so I keep getting updates."

"Trap?"

"Uh huh. Anko-san likes messing with minds. She'll make elaborate schemes and seem to botch them up or be unaware on purpose. This chunin likely doesn't realize he's been noted since he first started. So far she's gotten him to think she's susceptible to date offers if someone buys her dango or tea supplies. The truth is Anko-san is highly paranoid and only ever gets dango from one place because it is Akimichi run and only on days her trusted former teammates are there serving. One of them had to retire, lost a hand in a mission. The other days she's just picking up extras she bought in advance and are sealed in scrolls for her that only open to her chakra. She also never lets anyone else buy tea ceremony tools feeling one has to have a connection to the items and buy them for yourself, or be given them by a fellow aficionado. She isn't above testing this chunin, she's dated from the genin corps and even a few civilian's. If he can figure out her requirements she'll give him a chance. If he's not observant though and just buys dango, especially sub par dango, or any tea items without knowledge of it she'll find a way to humiliate him to no end. Either way I want to see the result, at least through my Kikaichu!" Kucho paused then and looked down shyly "Ah..sorry. Didn't mean to ramble."

"Hn." Sasuke tilted his head, amused that Kucho didn't even complain over talking so much. "Too much trouble for one date."

"Nope." Kucho shook her head, trying fervently to keep her admiration for Anko to a mellow level. "She weeds out the creepy fan boys that way."

"..." Sasuke gave her a look that set Kucho laughing. He was now interested. Maybe some techniques could be used on fan girls.

"By giving elaborate schemes?"

Kucho nodded. "Specific ones. Ones to see if they see her or just her reputation."

Sasuke paused, his mind going over what sort of tests he would set if he did the same.

"Could always tell if someone gave him sweets more n once. Broody Duck doesn't like sweets.." Naruto piped up, sitting up as he rubbed his eyes. The blonde did look better. Sasuke just blinked at him and Naruto chuckled. "Even I noticed you always binned the chocolates and stuff the girls gave you..and sneered at things like that on your birthday."

Kucho smiled then and tilted her head. "What do you like, Naruto-kun?"

Naruto smiled, shrugging. "Wanna nap either of you? I can be quiet! Promise!"

Both darker haired children shook their head and Naruto nodded, thinking.

"I like..I like being acknowledged. I was just one of too many orphans yanno?..and.." Naruto quietly spoke about toads and frogs and why he liked them, blinking seeing Kucho shiver.

"Kucho-chan?"

"th..they eat..bugs.." Kucho managed with the tiniest little whine either had ever heard out of the Aburame. It was so surprising and..

"...cute.." Naruto said with his eyes wide, even Sasuke seemed surprised as Kucho pouted at them, her blush going all the way to her ears. With her darker skin it wasn't as noticeable but it was still there as she was more toasted mochi color than pale as most Konoha natives. "Aww Kucho-chan you're scared of frogs and toads?" While he was teasing, Naruto was also very worried. He was finally getting along with someone his age and the idea she would have an aversion to his favorite creatures was not okay. Inwardly he was having a sort of mental breakdown picturing her leaving off being his teammate just because he had his frog wallet.

"I...no..I.." she visibly shivered before straightening her spine, shoulders back but it was the most obviously faked brave front either had seen on her. "Just..keep them away from me and my kikaichu? Please, Naru-kun?"

Naruto looked away to hide a laugh but nodded. It was weird seeing scary and uncute Kucho-chan actually looking like a girl! "Yeah I wouldn't let them hurt your kikaichu anyways! You're my teammate an they're part of you so they're my team too, right?"

"hn."

"...well. Curious aren't you my cute little students?" came a voice from the tree above them. The trio looked up surprised and whatever Kucho's reaction to her teammates reassurance was, vanished back into her Aburame observational silence.

However, Naruto apparently couldn't resist and leapt up screeching "You're Late!"

For some reason their sensei just laughed and then proceeded to explain the bell test. Kucho's eyes narrowed and she had a faint buzzing sound around her that caught the attention of the males there. Her mismatched eyes were visible and the Aburame looked livid.

"No."

"I don't think you understand.." Kakashi began but Kucho's hands reached out and latched on tightly to Naruto and Sasuke with a grip that startled both. It was more the slight chakra shock as she did so though than the action, and they only moved to return the hold.

Naruto's blue eyes were serious but he nodded. Kucho's words about no other precedence of a lack of three man cell's and her mother's vague implication of something else floated around his head. Plus all the talk of mental and emotional manipulation. That Kucho was so furious that she couldn't even begin to form her words as to the reasoning why in light of the sheer amount of unusual speech that had been displayed the previous day; it was understandable that she simply had zero patience left for their errant and rather complicated sensei.

Kakashi watched inwardly surprised as both boys seemed to move closer, defensive but not to the point of viewing their female teammate as in need of their protection. Rather, he half suspected if Naruto had been in the middle or Sasuke, the bolstering would have been the same. This was entirely unexpected, but he sighed. "Now I know you three all seem to be buddy buddy but the simple fact is that you can't all pass.."

Kucho's fingers unknowingly transmitted tiny bursts of chakra to her two teammates, as if they were Aburame. She lost her self control then and when she spoke again it was harsh and cold, the Queen fuly present. " These are my teammates. This is my hive." Kucho's eyes gleamed behind her glasses as she struggled for the words over her faint buzzing of her Kikaichu.

It was surprisingly, Sasuke who spoke next. "Hn. Whomever else was tasked to replace the hyperactive menace or Kochu is likely not tolerable. Perhaps we need to look into requesting a competent sensei who can handle three students."

Naruto whipped his head to stare at his dark haired teammates and then grinned ferally as he looked forward, his own voice rough with emotion. He hadn't been stood up for like this. Ever. "You hear that, late sensei? We're a team!''

Kakashi was startled but all he did was swiftly change tactics. Sure, they were speaking of being a team but he needed to see if they had the potential to build upon or if at the first sign of conflict they would fall apart. Instead he sighed.

"Fine. If you can get both bells..you can all pass. I'll find a way to clear it.."

Kucho tilted her head "One. Together."

Sasuke smirked "Surely a jounin such as yourself can handle that?"

"Or are you a scaredy cat?" Naruto finished, cottoning on to the plan swiftly. He didn't really think this sensei of theirs could hold up against him, much less with Sasuke and Kucho on his side but if they wanted to play it safe, sure why not. At least it seemed they were only going to be up against one man rather then another entire team as they had prepared the training grounds for. The cunning fox brain of his began working furiously noting that not a single trap had been exposed they hadn't planned for.

Kakashi sighed, giving them all a dead pan look but shrugged, as if bored. "Why not. You'll all fail anyways and then I don't have to deal with such uncute students.."

"What is it with everyone calling me uncute?" Kucho huffed under her breath. Sasuke heard her though and snorted amused, Naruto giving a faint chuckle. Kakashi of course, pretending he hadn't heard a thing.

"Sorry Kucho-chan but you're kinda..weird."

Kucho huffed, Kakashi staying silent to see if this was going to rip apart the solidarity so soon. Kucho however, was an Aburame and there was no such risk. "I'm still a caterpillar, remember, Naruto-kun? Just wait. I don't need to be cute, I'll be fearsome and beautiful and lethal just like my mother and elder Queen's." It was said with a slightly haughty little sniff and the budding tension in the two boys over if she'd suddenly go 'girly' and upset on them broke with faint chuckles.

"Weird." Sasuke said with an amused smirk, but then the three were focused on Kakashi again and the silver haired jounin found three pairs of confident smirks in his direction.

'What was the Hokage thinking with this group?'

()()()()()

Neither Kucho nor Sasuke held Naruto back as with very little additional ribbing, the blonde rushed their reluctant sensei. Both dark forms watched with vicious attention at the careful use of movement displayed and a single shared glance confirmed what the top two rookie's of their year saw. They were the mouse and Kakashi was a tiger batting them around for amusement. They would need every bit of prep and teamwork to pull this off.

"Naruto!" Kucho yelled as she darted off to the side, flinging several senbon accurately towards Kakashi's eyes. "To Sasuke!" Both boys approved of the lack of suffix when she had fallen into kunoichi mode. There was no time to waste with additional words. Kakashi let the three fall back, curious, he leaned his weight on his leading foot and opened his book. He'd give them a few minutes before beginning to test them. Besides, really, he wanted to finish the chapter first.

Naruto landed in a clumsy skid in the bushes besides Sasuke, Kucho there just a moment later. "So, we gonna drive him to the traps?"

"Hn. Need to keep it from being obvious though..so we need an obvious plan believable we came up with.."

Kucho ran her tongue over her teeth and nodded. "I sent my swarm out when we ran. If Naruto can create a swarm of himself I can put my tracker beetles on your clones..we get some on Kakashi, we can then at least always know where he is."

"That I can do! Dattebayo! How many you want?"

"How many can you make, dobe?" Sasuke slipped into his old insult, there was time to worry about that later.

"Lots! Like seriously..wayyyy lots."

Sasuke grunted, making a mental note to force someone to improve the blonde's vocabulary. "Ten?"

"Easily."

"hn. Make ten, try to surround him and don't wait for each to attack. Go for legs, arms, torso, feet. Try to hold him still under the mass. Kucho your aim was good, think you can hit the bell ties?"

"Absolutely. Going to hit with your wire and fire?"

"Heh that rhymes!" Naruto piped up. despite inwardly groaning, Sasuke didn't respond to the idiocy.

"Yes. I'm going to aim right after your clones attack so you stay out of it Naruto so I don't have to avoid you. I want to keep him from going for the bells long enough for Kucho to knock one free..if you can without getting burned try to go straight for the bell. Kucho and I are going to try and draw his attention long enough to keep him away from retrieving it. If that doesn't work, or it does, we try to push him towards the traps."

"I am not the only one who wants to see us with both bells and a crispy, preferably frustrated, sensei for his assessment?"

Both boys nodded, smirking.

Revenge for hurt pride, all three could get behind this.

Kakashi had just turned a page when there were ten Naruto's coming at him, forcing him to free one hand to bat them away. "Well, lesson one..Taijutsu.." at the sight of three Naruto clones not even getting in grasping range Naruto tripled the amount, switching where he was hiding. Not that it was that helpful since he was still in 'kill me' orange. Still, it showed some sense for a genin and Kakashi noted it with his senses even as he twisted, only his lower half contained because the clones weren't grasping for the bells so he permitted it for now. The flurry of senbon aiming for his throat and eyes though did get a little eyebrow twitch from the older man. It seemed the little Aburame girl didn't believe in half measures. Each one if he had not moved or grabbed them out of the air would have pierced his eyes, his throat, and one had even been going for his heart.

"Well, at least you did come at me with intent to kill..rather then just holding on.." The faintest movement however as Kakashi dodged registered. One, just one senbon had been aiming for his waist. The bell tie. He dodged without thinking but the reason behind the clones started to make sense. "hmmm..."

"-utsu!"

It was just the tail end verbalized but Kakashi was startled yet again 'he knows that one already?' It was the wires that had apparently been fastened to the senbon, and Sasuke knowing his teammate had utilized them enough to carry his fireball that finally made Kakashi break free using a substitution jutsu. His mental evaluation of the three ticked higher. As far as he was concerned with what he had just witnessed they passed. However, Kakashi wanted to see how far they would go. Kakashi wanted to see if he had real talent here or just determination. The Uchiha he had expected, but from all the files Naruto was hopeless and no one really knew much about the Aburame.

That they had pulled that plan together as fast as they had..and pulled it off. He was fully aware any chunin would have fallen for two or so stages of it and been injured if not killed. It seemed the two brunettes could be lethal, it remained to be seen if Naruto had that capability. Like his father..shaking his head mentally away from that area Kakashi wanted to pull the three apart to test them properly on things but it seemed the three were going to stick together. Suppressing his chakra he crept forward to eavesdrop.

"Kucho?" Naruto had copied the other two and was dropping the honorific's for the time being, adrenaline rushing through him at the moment left him feeling better than he could remember.

"They are on. Two made it. Next stage?"

"Hn." Sasuke frowned but nodded before pausing. "I need to learn that shadow clone technique.."

"Old man Hokage said it takes a lot of chakra, you can get the theory way better than me prolly but Kucho did say your chakra needs to catch up to your mind.."

She had? Kakashi blinked. 'Interesting.' Even more so since Sasuke just nodded. He approved of their constantly looking around and keeping voices down.

"There are other forms of solid clones you can learn, Sasuke. I know of earth ones but not how to do so. Aburame have kikaichu clones we learn.." She paused then and whirled, flinging another senbon in Kakashi's general direction. The two boys didn't even ask they just started launching clones and fire respectively. Kakashi's response as he dodged was to fling a genjutsu at the three. While the Uchiha would eventually be immune if he gained the sharingan, he wasn't now.

*(*(*(*(

"Despite that pathetic display..I'll pass one of you." Kakashi said as he landed infront of them. Naruto started to rant about how it wasn't fair, and Kucho remained silent. The tension was obvious even as Kakashi shoved his hands into his pockets and sighed. "Well, Uchiha..since we won't have a three man cell I guess I'll take you on as my apprentice.."

Sasuke blinked, startled and then caught himself. This wasn't right. 'Kai!'

He snorted as he easily stepped out of the genjustu. He'd been under far more powerful ones after all.

*(*(*(*(*(*(*(*(

Kucho felt the genjutsu start to take hold but before the images and sounds could fully form the buzzing of her main queen rose to a furor in her system and slipped her back out. Kucho fought a giggle, mentally imagining her beautiful stripped queen Kikaichu Nee-chan one the same size as she was and wiggling her forelegs to clean her maw of chakra residue. 'hope you liked your meal, Nee-chan one!'

()(!(!(!(!(!(!(!(!(!(!)

"What.." Naruto whirled, frowning. "Where'd everyone go?.." He heard a gasping sound then and ran off towards it only to see Sasuke clutching at his throat, gurgling as blood seeped beyond his fingers.

"lp..ruto..'' Sasuke wheezed as he started to collapse, leaving Naruto wide eyed as he ran to help hold the dark haired boy up.

" ! Sasuke what..what happened?"

The noises Sasuke made weren't legible, as if someone had all but severed his vocal cords. It was a miracle he was still breathing even if the gurgling wheezing couldn't be anything less than fatal. "Shit this has gone too far..where's Kucho, Sasuke? We gotta get you to the hospital! I can carry you I think but.."

"..." whatever came out of Sasuke wasn't legible as he pointed with the hand not holding his throat together, dark eyes pained and full of worry. He didn't need words to express what he wanted and Naruto nodded, pulling out his ration from Kucho and dumping the bar back in his pocket. The wrap it had been in he pressed to Sasuke's hands. "Keep pressure on that, Teme, I'll get her and we'll rush you to get fixed up. Just stay put and hang on!"

Darting off in the direction that his teammate had shown Naruto came upon an even worse sight.

Kucho wasn't..much there anymore...

"N..no..."

Sudden sharp pain made Naruto flinch and instead of staring into glassy lifeless eyes and bloodbloodsomuchblood the rose glasses were looking back at him notbrokennotshatteredintopiecesallaroundher as Kucho nodded once.

"Genjutsu, Naruto.." Kucho said, her voice soft as she lowered her hand from where she'd pinched him hard.

"K..ku..Sas.." Naruto choked out as he turned, seeing Sasuke's sneer. It was a welcome sight though after seeing him probably dying.

"We got out of it quickly, you didn't show any sign of it abating. Didn't you recognize the genjutsu, dobe?"

"No.."

Kucho inclined her head. "You didn't? Next time look for anything out of place. If your mind realizes it isn't real you should break it sooner." Logic not comfort, was the general Aburame way. In this case it worked and Naruto took another shaky breath before snarling.

"Where is the silver haired asshole? Now I realllly wanna make him eat dirt.."

"Hn." Sasuke smirked, an approving sort even as he nodded. "Still avoiding us. And just ..reading.."

"I think it is time." Kucho said, her haughty sniff forcing a chuckle to sneak out of Naruto as she gave the command, more than allowing their input. All three were in agreement however.

"All right lets.."

BRrrrrrrrING! BrrrrrIIIIING!

"damnit." Sasuke muttered as the three turned towards the posts and the suddenly looming sensei.

"Well you three failed. However, you can eat lunch..but one of you will be tied up while the other two eat what I brought. I'll let you all have another try after we eat."

Kucho crossed her arms and huffed. "I refuse your offer."

"As do I." Sasuke nodded.

"Yeah! What they said!" Naruto didn't even wait to pull out the ration Kucho had given him and began chomping down on it. "We are gonna so get you after we eat!" Naruto sprayed flecks of the bar as he said so, pointing at Kakashi furiously. "Just you wait!"

Again, Kakashi found himself surprised as the three began to eat the food they had clearly provided for themselves, not relying on him. Another mental checkmark went into place even as he leaned against a post waiting for them to finish. So far, his team was doing nothing as he had planned. They had refused his bait, they planned and worked together if sloppily. They were taking this seriously. They planned ahead and didn't trust him implicitly rather looking underneath his meanings. It was quite possible that aside from the ever lazy Nara, Kakashi had the only genin who seemed to embody what ninja were meant to be when the village was founded, rather then what they had developed into as of late. More the ideal of ninja.

More like what his own father had originally inspired him to be.

Kakashi shied away again mentally from the line of thought as he watched the three eat the bars. Surely it wasn't enough food? If they were all doing that foolish dieting thing that had gotten so trendy lately he was going to hit them. Instead Kucho finished hers first, used to the tough nourishment and well aware to sip from her waterbottle every so often to help it go down faster. Sasuke and Naruto were struggling but it would digest easily and not upset their systems just sitting like a rock in their bellies the minute they resumed activity.

"All right my wannabe genin's...shall we try again?" Kakashi gave them a little smile with his eyes, but as he hadn't clearly stated 'begin' it really shouldn't have surprised him that the three attacked instantly.

Really, by now it was starting to sink in these were not your average graduates.

Again the brawler clones of Naruto's lunged for him, interspersed with fireballs and shurikens, kunai and senbon as Kakashi easily dodged. The growing intensity of their concentration faces amused him to the point he was having fun irritating them as he went back another step at a time, reading while he did so.

Until only his instincts alerted him and he had to subsitute himself rapidly as the area he had been went up in explosives. Where he had gone to wasn't any better though as he was in the trees and the newly formed -if unaware of passing- team seven stood still and smirked as they watched the display.

A silver haired jounin jumping and darting about, logs flying and smoke clouds everywhere as he tried to avoid the traps. Explosives, mud, wires, spikes, all manner of traps they had been able to think of and no few of them lethal, kept the jounin on his toes.

Another mental check went to his new student's favor as Kakashi dodged yet again and realized this was the work of hours. Many hours by three students who had no idea what he was going to make them do, and again they showed they could plan ahead. It was..it made the lethal capable shinobi inside him, the one hidden by the mannerisms he had adopted to try and interact with others, thrilled. The faint ringing sound startled him and as he dodged ...was that paint?..he turned seeing a bell fall. He didn't rush to reclaim it as there was another trap to dodge and he could see his students at the perimeter just waiting..

except suddenly a rock that had been a henged clone popped back into Naruto, and tossed it forward. There was an epic game of henged objects turning into yellow headed clones who would then suicidally fling themselves into a trap that hadn't yet gone off to distract Kakashi and keep him from going to retrieve his bell. Just as he was throwing a kunai to dispel the clone about to catch it, a large kikaichu grasped onto the trailing leather tie and flew it to drop in Sasuke's waiting hand before the beetle crawled onto Kucho's shoulder.

Three matching smirks..and in Naruto's case a giant leer, met him.

They'd actually done it.

On their own merit.

Kakashi shushined to land before them, arms crossed and chuckled openly. "The object of this whole exercise was to show me teamwork. You passed in the beginning but I wanted to see how far you three would go..I will admit to being impressed...come here team seven..I want to show you something.."

The three obediently padded off after him to the memorial stone, laughing and happy whoops of joy from Naruto making something in Kakashi ease. Naruto was spinning Kucho around and the happy girl was laughing openly, Sasuke was being pulled into a three way hug and despite his pretended irritation there was a lightness about him that spoke of how proud he was of his performance, so similar to Kakashi's own younger self.

"That was AWESOME! All the colors and the explosions and the..hey hey hey next time I pull off a huge prank you two have to help me! I wanna get the Chunin lounge next time."

"Hn. Could be a good test.." Sasuke actually agreed, and Kochu let out a light laugh.

Kakashi almost hated to bring the mood down but he needed to let them see it was serious and explained the purpose of the stone, the reasons behind it. Then he shared the lesson he had to experience loss to learn, about friendship.

It was encouraging that all three took his words to heart, even the stoic Uchiha nodded once, glancing at the other two.

"Tomorrow we shall meet for our first mission, and again..I'm very pleased with how well you did. How long were you setting up traps anyways?"

"Not telling." Kucho spoke up with a smirk, the boys looking at her curiously. "You'll just have to train us well enough to figure it out, sensei.."

"Maaa...so uncute.."

Naruto spluttered a laugh as even Sasuke snorted at Kucho's sigh.

Chapter Text

AN A reminder I am going to happily veer entirely away from canon at regular intervals. This is a compatible team and it will change events leading up to wave arc. Mimosa Evans I appreciate your thought provoking reviews and so I do want to mention that I have no intention of gender bending any characters. Messing with them in other ways, absolutely. This chapter is more to explore relationships and growth before the next action segment..but watch me decide to throw it in anyways.

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

The D rank's were proving highly useful. Kucho had gone to her mother and asked for assistance in manipulating her jounin sensei to train them properly rather then the typical flinging of the team at missions as was usual. Gumoko had buzzed in amusement and added that part of Kucho's training instead of waiting a few years but had assured her little beetle that any team that showed promise did get training. It was only those that seemed a poor match that simply were tossed at missions nonstop to hopefully force them to work together. With great effort the dark skinned Aburame had been keeping her Queen nature at bay, trying not to order the boys to do things. She was letting them fall into place on their own to a degree. It helped that after they had passed, both Sasuke and Naruto asked her to continue providing the calming pheromones as clearly it had not impacted their fighting and reaction times.

The advantage was this also made them more likely to listen to her over time, although that little side effect she had kept entirely to herself. She was a Queen, and giving information to protect ones soldier's loyalty was one thing, but she had no reason to tell them everything. The first thing that had also happened was Naruto managing to voice his envy that Sasuke actually had an attack based ninjutsu.

Kucho had promptly sent him to the library at the academy where all genin were permitted to return. It wasn't like they wanted to keep most ninja scrolls in a place civilian's could access them. Once Naruto had read the basics he had approached Iruka with questions and was learning a long range attack that relied on his weapons to actually deliver a bolt of chakra. It created only a small effect, like a mild explosive tag, but it was effective. At this point however, Naruto just tended to singe his fingers.

Not to mention laugh maniacally.

Keeping in mind how proven to work it was to not belittle Naruto on things they wanted improved, Sasuke would look away so his silent laughter wasn't as obvious when the blonde would have it blow up on him again. Though many days when they trained with small things, that Kakashi set them to before he arrived, Naruto would be covered in soot and dark of hair as they were as a result.

Sasuke had been working on his genjutsu and practiced throwing both of his teammates under it at random times. He was a very creative and sick individual and seemed rather smug at getting the blonde to lose his lunch once, more because he made him queasy before they ate. Even Sasuke had his limits and he had no intention of disrespecting the food that was made for him. The last Uchiha had no interest in returning to a life of takeout. Kucho would do the same and toss the boys into a genjutsu that tended to be alien more than anything as she could draw off the ideas her kikaichu gave her, most of which didn't make sense to the human mind and were many times more disorienting. This was a regular occurrence, and Kakashi would lazily stick them in one so they'd go in circles for minutes at a time until all team members were broken free; it was good practice to not just get yourself out of it but those you were paired with.

Naruto they all decided was hopeless with genjutsu and instead Kucho said she'd work on getting one of her nonlethal stinging beetles to evolve so it could get accustomed to his chakra. The idea for the future was he could keep the tiny insect on him at all times and if it detected a genjutsu messing with his chakra, it would sting him. Like a tiny pinch. Kucho kept to herself the issue was her kikaichu didn't want to go near the blonde's chakra and they had expressed concern over exploding like his weapons tended to these days if he overloaded them. It seemed she had to continue developing her chakra storers first. Nee-chan five was new, still growing and not of egg laying time yet so Kucho had time to figure out what sort of soldier would be the best consort beetle for Nee-chan five to produce the desired outcome. If she did figure out Kikaichu that could follow along hidden to break out a ninja from genjutsu it could be enormous as a battlefield advantage so she had sworn her two teammates to secrecy. Not even Kakashi knew what she was going to figure out for their loud teammate's sake.

The fourth day was when Kucho finally sparred with Sasuke using Aburame Queen's style. She had taken that long observing Sasuke's Uchiha forms rather than the academy ones to ensure he was going to be a challenge. Kakashi had ended up needing to interfere. Thanks to the Uchiha's pride it was nearly the end of all of team seven's progress right then and there.

Kucho brought to mind a number of biting and stinging insects as she dove and moved about, her feet never holding still save for a pivoting motion when needed. Kicks and punches and elbow strikes would lash out rapidly, then flow into fluid movements that would tug and grasp Sasuke's own strikes to use his momentum and force against him. Kucho's fingers would tap vital areas, or they'd use special dulled weapons for the spars as Kucho had insisted on them. Sasuke had sneered at her the first time she'd brought out the dull practice weapons most grew out of when they attended the academy the first day.

Kucho had proceeded to thrash Sasuke in such a fashion that if they had not been blunt he would have been severely injured. It had greatly destroyed his pride and Kakashi had needed to step in.

"clearly the Uchiha style which emphasizes fast and hard hits, meant to then gain distance and throw your clans signature fire techniques is a poor opponent for Kucho-chan's..what do you call that?"

"They are Aburame Standard and Aburame Queen's strikes..the flowing ones are the Queen strikes..we only ever use sharp weapons in training for those against other Born Queens." Kucho had responded simply. Kakashi and Sasuke had paused.

"Why?" Sasuke demanded, his pride smarting and glaring furiously at Kucho for the first time since they had become a team.

Kucho inclined her head "Our Kikaichu can stem bleeding for a time, mostly it is because Kikaichu can also warn of many movements when in sync. The more connected, the more dangerous we are. It is like having extra eyes."

"You don't trust me to get out of the way." Sasuke growled, and Kucho sighed, lifting a brow. Normally she'd back off a little and her kikaichu would leak more pheromone's. This time she matched his eyes with hers, not bothering to lower her glasses as it seemed her teammates had gotten good enough at reading her that it didn't even occur to them she had a barrier anymore.

"I think I have just proven our styles are very different. If I was of age to have learned the mantis claw techniques I would have thin chakra blades curving from my fingers and every time I touched you they would have severed flesh and muscle down to bone. Were my dulled weapons proper ones you would have numerous arteries leaking blood and be crippled at best. Our techniques are entirely different, Sasuke." Kucho left off the kun and tilted her chin up slightly, her voice even despite her heavy breathing from the exertion. She was going to ensure that he learned not to throw a temper tantrum because she advanced. Kucho refused to hold herself back, not even for one of her hives first soldier's. "It is much like sparring with Naruto, there is advantages to doing so against someone whose technique is so utterly opposing that your own is weak against it."

"This isn't a matter of one being better, Sasuke, she's right." Kakashi said, his book away for once yet tone lazy as ever. "Your ninjutsu is lethal to her insects and so she can't employ them against a fire user. Kucho's best bet against you is exactly what she's doing, get in close and disable you. Your best bet is to learn how to keep someone at bay who can get close enough to strike and who is either using an entirely unmatched skill set..or a weapon that you have to be wary of. It'll only strengthen both of you in the end. Now.."

Kucho watched Sasuke silently, not moving since she ceased her speaking. Ever so slowly, though clearly still smarting and furious that where he had been certain he was far beyond her in Taijutsu, it appeared that in this way Aburame was superior to Uchiha. If his clan had been alive they'd be frothing at the mouth. Instead the niggling idea..if he couldn't fight it..

"I want to learn it."

Kucho tilted her head, her dismissal careful. Uchiha were very tricky in their pride after all, she'd been warned by her mother of that may times. "It is a Queen's art. Only a Born Queen to my clan is permitted to use it. However, after we have gotten to be more familiar with how the other fights if you have not found ways on your own I shall teach you acceptable methods to keep a Queen at bay temporarily..though such is rarely ever done for outside the clan's Soldiers..you are mine so I can make an exception." She smirked then, baiting him even further, though she'd noticed the fury in his eyes had abated with her comment implying she thought him capable of figuring out ways to deflect her on his own. "You'll need to ensure Naruto-kun can be taught it at the same time..so perhaps we should focus on helping him catch up? I won't be demonstrating more than I must after all.."

In the end Sasuke had gone and pulverized Naruto, who was quite happy for the brutal lessons. It always made both feel better to get black and blue and throw childish insults. Sasuke would usually show Naruto a stance or a kata, demonstrate a maneuver, and then proceed to thrash him until by using what he had just been taught Naruto would evade or counter. If he descended just into brawling Kucho would toss tiny pebbles and hit Naruto on one of his joints or hand to remind him of what they were up to. At the end of 'training', Sasuke felt better and Naruto had improved.

Kakashi had just watched bemused. Only four days of being a team and his self righteous egotistical little Uchiha was taking orders and didn't even realize it. Naruto had been far more aware that Kucho was placing herself in the Queen role she had warned them of on the first day. The difference was, Naruto had been so neglected by friends and peers that he could easily recognize Kucho keeping her word and honestly doing her best to ensure he was improving because she saw it as part of her duty as his Queen.

It helped she cooked really well, and to stave off having their food stolen usually brought a smaller lunch for Kakashi also.

The first true day of missions Kakashi had made off with about half of all their bentos, and no one wanted a repeat of that.

00))))00000)))))

They had just finished the second 'mission' for the D-ranks of the day and were sitting down to lunch nursing hurt egos. After morning training they had painted three houses in a neighborhood -it had been a clerical error but the embarrassed clerk at the Hokage's tower gave them increased pay and marked it as an extra mission for the inconvenience. The second mission had been fixing up a large garden. Sighing, Kucho had taken control of that before the boys could mess up. She'd set Naruto to -clone less- gathering fertilizer and other tools that were scattered about in the shed and yard. Then he was shown how to properly mix it with the rest of the soil before adding while she did the actual weeding. Sasuke she had shown how to prune the plants and remove the dead parts. When Naruto and Sasuke had finished she waved the two over to her and showed them each plant and described them, and their uses.

Both boys had been startled that many weeds were useful and edible. That they grew abundantly around Konoha and could therefore when recognized be used to supplement rations on missions was also pointed out by their silver haired jounin sensei.

"How did you learn about that, Kucho-chan?" Kakashi asked as it seemed both his male students were too busy looking dazed. Kucho had chuckled and not looking up from patting soil around a little plant that had needed to be moved for space, replied

"My bees are rather picky on what they like to gather nectar from for honey. I had a lot of help from some of the civilian Aburame's on taking care of the ones they did enjoy the most."

"Kucho-chan, you have bees in your clothes too?" Naruto asked and Sasuke just sighed, helping to spread the fertilizer and soil mix now that it was the simple part. Even Naruto could do it, as long as he stayed calm.

"No! Silly.." Kucho shook her head, puppy ear looking pigtails flying in the motion. "I keep a few hives at my house. They get along nicely with my Kikaichu and if I make sure they have excess, they let me take some of the honey. I don't use much of it even then, so I usually trade it with the Akimichi for cooking lessons."

"Is that why your food is so good? Aren't they like the super foodie group of Konoha? Hey we had one in the class with us right? The really big guy always eating in class and leaving crumbs and.."

"Yes. Dobe."

"Hey!"

"Chouji-kun's mother and father often teach me to cook with him. In exchange if I have honey or something else from the Aburame grounds I bring it. They've been helping teach me for years now."

"Why?" Sasuke asked succintly, he knew that when it came to food the Akimichi would give what they had, but recipes and techniques were guarded fiercely. Seeing as it had made them some of the most profitable locations to dine when an Akimichi ran an eatery, it was understandable.

"Ah..." Kucho paused, tapping her cheek in thought and unaware she was smudging the rich black soil onto her cheek and nose in the process. Or if she knew, not caring.

"So uncute.." Naruto muttered under his breath. Really. Kucho-chan never seemed to do any of the adorable things like the girls in movies or he even remembered Sakura-chan doing!

"When we were little we played hide and seek. Chouji was nice about my bugs, and I started to visit. I think I was eight when Chouza offered to teach me to make yakisoba because I was staying for dinner and it was cooking night for Chouji."

"That's..it?" Sasuke blinked, startled. Kucho actually laughed and gave them one of her smiles. Her bubbly personality was showing more around them with every day as she became used to her new hive and they didn't tire her emotions out so much. Even if she had to talk a lot more than she liked. Sharing information was fine, it wasn't like either boy ignored what she had to tell and they didn't tease her about it either.

"Pretty much. I keep spending time with Chouji and we have two days a week I go over for dinner and cooking lessons. Once a month I spend the day there for baking." Kucho smiled down and stroked a little lady bug away from the plant she was tending to. Her eyes behind rose glasses soft. "Chouji is very special. He's got a heart big enough to fit all of Konoha inside but he's always so sensitive to people judging him. I am going there tonight actually to make sure he knows even with our being on seperate teams he'll always be part of my hive."

"I thought you were part of OUR hive!" Naruto grumped, pulling out a rock from the soil and flinging it with a bit much in the way of enthusiasm. His scowl was adorably pinched as he thought of Kucho having ties to others. It wasn't that he didn't want her to have friends but the concept of having real friends, espeically ones that took time to take care of him and were his own age, was unusual. "You aren't..yanno..crushing on Chouji right?"

"..." Sasuke's expression was best described as fighting to not look constipated as Kucho chuckled.

"He's more my drone than a soldier."

"...explain." Sasuke deadpanned, still it was saying something that the Uchiha talked on a regular basis.

"Ah..." Kucho pulled her glasses off to wipe her face with her sleeve, and then huffed softly as she replaced them, her eyes having been closed the entire time as the noon sun was too bright. "The role of soldier's is to protect the queen, to fight for her and in Aburame society beside her. The soldier's, especially her first ones, are trusted beyond anything else. Even when grown and with her own familial hive, the soldier's are ..they are closer than siblings I suppose you could say. Drones are part of the hive but they are not intrinsically as important. Chouji is my drone, was one of my very first hive additions so he is very special. I would say he is the head of all my future drone forces.."

"He's a ninja aint he? Why isn't he a soldier?" Naruto asked and paused, squatting beside Kucho to look at her.

Kucho pursed her lips and her hands paused in motion as she thought. "It's..I do not know that I can explain it..but he doesn't feel like a soldier. He is capable, certainly. However, Chouji's nature is in nurturing and supporting. That he can bite and sting and fight is a given but his role is to strengthen in other ways than the front line."

"You sound like you have a crush on him, Kucho-chan." Naruto grumbled, disliking the idea of his teammate going fan girl, even if she was rather uncute.

"I'm a Born Queen, Naruto..." She paused then and chuckled. "Really until after puberty I will have no interest as such in potential mates. I think I mentioned that at some point. It is beyond my biological understanding at this point. I may note someone as being pleasing aesthetically but I do not have an interest in securing a mating union. The only exception is if Shino and I had compatible Kikaichu we would have been betrothed as I am the only Born Queen to this generation. We are not however which alleviates the stress as neither of us is ready to seek out a life partner yet."

"Whaaaaa?"

"She's not interested in anyone. Moron."

"Whats that ainsathetic?"

"I am capable of seeing people as pretty just as I am admiring the sunset and sunrise."

"Like whom?"

"I think you and Sasuke are both quite striking in separate ways." Kucho said it so relaxed and offhanded as she went back to her work that her two male teammates fell over nearly, in shock. Kakashi's shoulders quivered at their reaction as it was said so simply and without any of the girlish appreciation that he didn't doubt the compliment stung the boys pride more than anything.

"So um..chouji he.." Naruto said later on as they walked for the Hokage tower, covered in dirt as they were. Kucho paused and then tilted her head, though her experience in emotional displays was far less than many, common as it was for one of the original noble clans of Konoha as the Aburame were; Kucho could recognize that her fragile blonde teammate was only speaking out of fear of losing her. It was a moot point, it wasn't even a consideration and Kucho sighed softly, taking the moment as they waited to enter the Hokage tower -waiting on their sensei who had been sidetracked at a book store of all things- to rest her hand on Naruto's arm.

"Naruto-kun.." Kucho's voice was soft but earnest. "you and Sasuke are my first soldier's. You in time, will likely be dearer to me than if you were born as my siblings. No one shall supersede that relationship in time. For now however, I ask you not begrudge my keeping my bonds to those precious to me."

naruto visibly relaxed, curiously Sasuke did as well. The boys didn't speak up after that.

*()*()*()*()

"You are content." Shino's monotone voice drifted over Kucho even as she went to step out of the clan's compound. Not taking that final step Kucho hummed her agreement. She didn't turn to see Shino, even as he approached her from the side. They were not close, not truly. Shino had always gotten along better with their other year mates as they were also boys.

"I will walk you to the Akimichi compound." There was no explaining of his statement. One Aburame to the other, and Shino had become finally confident in his heirship to know he did not need to explain to a fellow Queen's host. To the boys in their generation, perhaps. But Kucho understood on a level Shino was unique on as heir and host to multiple Queen Kikaichu.

"Affirmative." Kucho started to walk, her bag of items she was bringing, mostly honey and assorted edible flowers that Chouji and his family had been fond of, was taken from her by her clan's heir. It was a gallant gesture, one of respect. "Appreciated.."

"It is light."

"The company."

Kucho smiled at his silence, Shino's chakra thrumming against her in such close proximity even as his Kikaichu buzzed happily. "they fit in nicely."

"Yours as well."

They were speaking of the Kikaichu they had exchanged when five days ago the team announcements had come. Since then even if they did not get a chance to meet up and explain what they had found in their baffling respective teammates, the Kikai would pass on the most important of the information to the other. It was a comfortable silent walk across Konoha, the humm of their insects keeping them company as they passed beyond the Nara forest, taking the long scenic route so their swarms could be out and playing as they followed them. Though they had entirely different approaches to their insects, they balanced each other.

"I regret lost time." Kucho finally spoke softly, and felt the tremor go through Shino near her. It was a small thing, but his free hand brushed fingers against hers. Chakra pulsed between them, an intimate fond play of energies between two outwardly composed clan mates. They were two sovereign nations meeting and assuring of a treace peaty, an alliance.

Friendship.

"I am grateful for now." Shino replied and his very chakra thrummed in truth. They were always distant if polite before now, finding their own ground as kingdoms within a single body. Only now were they both mature enough to reach beyond their borders so to speak, and Kucho interlaced her fingers with Shino's feeling his palm press against hers in comfort. There was nothing romantic in their moment. Rather, it was so effervescent and fond that it was almost like they had found the sibling both had always sought and never realized they desired.

"...I won't forget." Kucho promised softly, and felt her fingers squeezed in response.

It was amazing how much they could pass on with chakra and silence. Though the walk to the akimichi compound only took twenty minutes, in that time Kucho and Shino went from friendly acquaintances to heart siblings.

"I will be by in the morning." Shino said and slipped away as if he and his kikaichu never were with her, the bag back in her hand and only the small beetle cuddling against the back of her right ear a sign of his presence a moment before. It was their way, after all. Closing her eyes for just a moment to savor it, the sweet lightness in her heart at her newfound brother. Kucho felt her lips curve in delight that she felt echoed a thousand times by her many Kikaichu. It was nice, this opening up and learning to love so freely. Her hive was growing.

With that delightful thought she all but skipped to the front door and called out with a laugh. "Chouji-kun! I'm home!"

It was Chouza who appeared and scooped up the tiny happy beetle of the Aburame clan however, spinning her around and fussing over her 'starved' appearance before cooing over the gifts she brought, still with Kucho's frame perched on his hip and in the well muscled arm. Chouza was a solid large man, but he radiated a serenity much like the trees around Konoha. Chouji came running not long after and chouza happily deposited the still giggling brown haired girl into his son's arms. It was something of a ritual, the Akimichi were a loving and open family, prone to hugs and cuddles and affection given whole heartedly. Kucho basked in the attention, and since they had been the first to shower her in such, she always made certain to double her efforts to return it to Chouji.

Chouji took off, surprisingly fast for his size, still carrying her in his arms and whooping as they ran around the formal layout, chanting 'Fooood foood fooooooooOOoooood!" which Kucho gave over into joining right away. She'd learned in the years it was just best to allow herself to be swept up into it. It hadn't taken long for Kucho to resign herself to the reality as a little girl that despite being almost the same height Chouji -could- carry her while running. It was by no means comfortable, but she had no intention of telling her gentle friend that.

The other beautiful thing was the Akimichi was such a loving clan but they kept to their family groups most the time. So while she would be quite honestly 'handed' over from Chouza to Chouji and even Choka- Chouji's grandmother who was also a large woman with a heart that could probably fit the entire elemental nations- she never felt overwhelmed. If Chouji's mother was there and not on missions- Anbu but anything further was never spoken of- it was a grand total of four people she had to socialize with. Four people who would happily talk with each other without ever making Kucho feel left out, so if she needed to just bask in the company without joining in they would let her.

They never even felt slighted if she had to go hide out in the garden or another room for just a little quiet either. It was no wonder Kucho held fiercely close to her friendship with the family of her first non Aburame friend.

"What are we making tonight? Any requests?" Chouza asked, getting out the crazy bright red apron with what could be butterflies (if you tilted your head and went cross eyed) and badly drawn snacks Chouji and Kucho had given him one year for his birthday when they were smaller. Kucho giggled from Chouji's arms, knowing soon he'd set her down so he could eat one handed.

"Well if Chouji-kun hasn't any objection, I need to learn to make Ramen.."

"Ramen?" Chouza looked over amused. "Well that's something I do love to make, never get enough chances either..it's got a million and one ways to customize it so we could spend a good month learning it in and out..why is that though, little firefly?" Every person seemed to have their own nickname for Kucho. Chouji had dubbed her with firefly though one year, saying she'd been one of the lights of his childhood since they had met playing hide and seek. His family had all adopted it. Many people in Konoha called her the 'Happy beetle' and she just enjoyed all the nicknames.

Except the 'uncute' Naruto and Sasuke seemed to give her lately.

"My teammate's favorite food..I can handle the other one, he just likes tomatoes but I've never made Ramen.."

"Oh." Chouza's smile took up most his face and Chouji chuckled, sitting down in the booth like table they'd end up prepping the vegetables at with Kucho firmly tucked against his side even as he found a bag of chips. She took one of course, food was literally love to Akimichi. You never refused food, even if not hungry you at least took a bite. It meant something serious to the clan as the constant eating was needed to build up their frames for the clan jutsu's, so to offer food was essentially sharing some of their power, the very thing that would potentially save their lives on a mission. It was sacred, and Kucho had never once refused something or hesitated to offer her own since Chouji had explained it. With help from Choka of course.

"That's nice firefly, Chouji's got that lazy nara who doesn't care what we feed him as long as it's easy to eat, trust me his dad practically lived off soup since he could just drink it for years.. and that Ino-chan..fool girl is on a diet.."

"What?" Kucho spluttered, her eyes wide as she had taken off her sunglasses back at the compound. It had been dark enough and Kucho didn't like to wear them after night fell. "How is she going to get the energy to get through training, much less missions? Or to fuel her jutsu's or.."

"That's what I tried to tell her." Chouji huffed, it was quiet though and Kucho turned to look at her friend, eyes serious as Chouji shoved another chip in his mouth clumsily. He only ate badly when nervous or upset, the rest of the time he savored his food. "She said some..things."

Chouza and Chouji looked over with grateful eyes at the loud buzzing that came from Kucho as she scowled. The frown was tiny, but both knew her well enough to know that it was in her kikaichu that Kucho's real emotions were shown. The buzzing was loud, Chouji could even feel the vibrations from her thousands of kikai in her chakra coils that were manifested, where their arms touched.

"Thanks, Kucho-chan." Chouji said. He began to slow and enjoy his snack again, his smile growing as Kucho initiated further contact, an Akimichi not an Aburame thing to show affection and support; as her head rested suddenly against his shoulder. Even if it was barely, the tickling of her fluffy unruly hair against his neck and chin was soothing.

"So who are your teammates, firefly?" Chouza said, going about to gather items to teach the first form of Ramen, butter and salt with the kids set to chop vegetables and meat to add to their own respective dishes.

"Uzumaki Naruto and Uchiha Sasuke." Kucho said, sneaking a chip from Chouji and smiling at him when he mock scowled at her. It was play, and she did love the vinegar and salt flavored ones.

No coincidence that Chouji had figured that out and started eating them lots of the time, only sticking to his favorite BBQ flavor when she wasn't around. It just wasn't her thing.

"Strange combination..working out okay?"

"I doubt it, Sasuke-san and Naruto-san were always fighting in the academy..And Sasuke-san..he's a jerk.."

Kucho paused, tilting her head and shrugged. "They are my soldiers..but no one told me how much work they were going to be!"

Chouza laughed at that. "I bet. Well if anyone can get them in shape, you can little probably have them half trained already and it's not been a week yet, don't you? Ah..I see you blushing there little miss toasted mochi skin!" Chouza reached out and tapped her nose with a smile. "Good girl. You teach them firefly. I wouldn't have minded you on a team with Chouji but Ino-Shika-Cho is just an all around good match. I did tell him you wouldn't forget him though.."

"Tou-san!" Chouji said in a yelp, blushing bright red but it was worth it when Kucho wordlessly hugged him. Chouji visibly relaxed, smiling. "Yeah..I know..silly..but I figured Uchiha is so cool and everyone fawns over him..why'd you want to hang out with me?..I heard you. He's a soldier an I am just your drone and.."

"You're not *just * anything, Chouji." Kucho said fervently and with smiles, the males changed the subject.

It took a few tries before Chouji, and later Kucho got the ramen to cook properly but when done both had to agree it was good. Neither thought it was better than many other items, but Chouza packaged the better of Kucho's attempts for her anyway to bring to her teammate. Chouji had most the pot of salt, where Chouza stuck to the butter Ramen. Kucho, much to their amusement, proceeded to just enjoy the vegetables in the broth and omit the noodles as she said she'd really had enough noodles after the second bowl.

Hours later Chouji was dragging out the extra futon into the living room so they could have a sleepover as usual. They'd done this since they were small, and since Choka's room was nearby no one ever bothered to say anything as the kids got older. Giggling the two children would lay on their stomachs on the futons and chat until they fell asleep in the wee morning hours. Choka had mande a few jokes the first few times about how Chouji was the 'best girl friend' to a pretty girl, but it didn't take much to see the two were really just best friends. They were the healthy sort of friends too, neither needed to always spend time with the other. Chouji was more outgoing than Kucho even if it didn't seem like it at first glance. Kucho would retreat for a few days to enjoy stillness and silence and Chouji would go seek out other people to be around.

When they were together though, they took care of the other. Or as Choka had nodded once, hearing it from a very young Chouji with no grasp of what he was saying 'Kucho-chan is a Queen an I gotta take care of her!'

It was also clear, as the children fell asleep with Chouji's hand in Kucho's long unbound hair and her own clasping one of his arms, the boy not at all awoken by the few scurrying beetles crawling for crumbs; that it was a very good strong friendship.

()*()*()*()

There was a number of screams and yowls coming from the direction of a nearby alley which had all of team seven, and many other genin in the area -actually even jounin- wincing in sympathy. It was the unmistakeable sound of Tora Catching.

"Better them than us." Sasuke stated calmly, and while it was undoubtedly cruel to agree, Naruto and Kucho nodded. Even Kakashi was nodding and he didn't bother to hide how much he loved seeing Team Seven suffer. Tora was something no one wished on even an enemy.

"Ne, Kakashi-sensei, what about our missions today?" Naruto asked. His volume was still loud but at a much better level. It had been two weeks now and despite a few missions almost going bad -somehow Sasuke had managed to point out with the dog walking one that asking the Inuzuka for advice was not so far off from gathering intel on a larger scale mission that otherwise Kucho was certain would have ended up with Naruto walking the biggest dog in the group- they had been quite successful.

Sadly, the same couldn't be said for the almost comical attempts at this point to deal with Naruto's attire. Kakashi had gotten to the point he was showing up on time just to not miss the way that during morning spars Kucho and Sasuke were not even hiding they were aiming for the orange monstrosity. Naruto had figured it out fast and seemed to be purposefully washing his attire nightly just so it was extra bright. The rapid improvement he was showing in his fighting skills across the board was fantastic, so Kakashi didn't bother to step in.

The funniest one had to be when Naruto had in sing song, from fifty clones, pointed out to his teammates they weren't out of the village so he could wear whatever he wanted..and the stunned expressions on the boys faces when Kucho had stomped her foot and crossed her arms, pouting. Being entirely the twelve year old girl she was.

It had been utterly precious considering her glasses had slipped down her nose and at some point her pigtails had fallen out, or been pulled out by one of the boys who did seem to love the crackled by electricity her hair would look like if unrestrained. The botton half may be more on the wavy and curly side but the top half of her hair was undeniably usually closer to frizzing mess of wildness. When it was down, especially after sparring, she looked like an electrocuted poodle lion crossbreed.

Of course, as was their habits by now, both boys had called Kucho uncute.

Kakashi almost had warned them as he saw 'that look' enter Kucho's eyes...a look he knew from every capable kunoichi in the field. But what sort of sensei would he be if he sheltered them from the pain he had gone through?

Kucho had gotten very skilled with throwing her senbon and chakra wire at the two boys. Where Sasuke was elegant in his evasive maneuvers he was rigid and Naruto was unpredictability personified combined with swiftness. Still, they both had their tells. Kucho hadn't managed to catch either, but it hadn't been the point. Both boys were learning the first important lesson as 'adults' now that they were genin. Teasing women tended to bite you back.

In just a few weeks the D ranks had done their work. Team seven was getting close, they trusted each other, they moved like a well oiled unit. For children they had an uncanny ability to look beyond. Two were orphans and didn't trust easily -even if Naruto often hid it behind his sunny demeanor- and Kucho was clearly an Adult crammed into a body. It was confusing. The two brunettes had striven hard to bring Naruto up to speed and while he had a long ways to go, he excelled in being the muscle of the trio. Sasuke had proven his own talented genius aspect that was so long overshadowed by Itachi. He'd managed to find ways to counter Kucho's seemingly unstoppable Aburame Standard style. He was still working on how to counter the Queen forms, but the taijutsu fights between the two rookies of the year was far more even.

It hadn't taken him long, Kakashi had to admit being proud of that. Sasuke had swiftly realized that while his blows were all about power and angles, devastating blitz attacks, Kucho's were flowing and using his very forms against him. If he backed off to a less lethal form, her attacks in nature also did. Whatever he put out she redirected, but he could counter it by staggering his pattern. It was helping her as well, and Naruto kept everyone on their toes. In all ways.

Like when he showed up for practice in an orange sundress..luckily henged into his 'sexy jutsu' but still..

The fact Kucho had simply asked if he 'liked his kiss with Sasuke-kun then" had thrown Naruto out of his henge had also been pretty funny. Sasuke had pummled the blonde mercilessly and this resulted in the biggest victoy to team seven..even if Naruto disagreed.

The jumpsuit -finally- burned.

Naruto had shot glares at his teammates the whole time, even as they treated him to Ramen. The old man running the stand hadn't recognized Naruto at first in the dark blue garb with black pants they'd found at the first open shop they'd darted the singed and still vaguely smoking Naruto into. Before the meal was over, it seemed the five bowls of Ramen had done wonders for Naruto's mood and he sighed, giving in to the inevitable.

"I'm gonna get orange shirts at least to wear under my jackets..Orange is awesome yanno.."

Kucho had patted Naruto on the head with a smile. "Okay."

"Hn."

In the end Naruto did feel much more grown up in his dark colors, but he gained revenge.

"Hey, Broody.." It had become his new favorite insult for Sasuke, who now was looking for a phrase besides Orange Menance or Dobe for his rival. Instead he just allowed a single black eyebrow to lift up and declare his paying half attention to his teammate.

"Okay so you guys got ridda my orange because it was an eyesore and gonna get me killed riiiight?"

"hn."

"We have a problem then. We gotta fix Kucho-chan."

"...Hn?"

"Pink, Broody Duck, pink."

"Kucho-chan is a girl."

"Yeah an uncute one that can't pull pink off like Sakura-chan but that's not the point. You made me lose the orange, she has to lose the pink. Even if it's not pink pink."

"..."

"What's that look for?"

"..."

"...she's right behind me?" Naruto turned, but no one was there. Sasuke sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, he'd long since given up fighting the urge to do so when around Naruto. The headaches alone were not worth it.

"She wears peach."

"Huh?"

"It's not really pink. It's peach. Like skin."

"It looks pink."

"Skin tone."

"...Say what now?"

Sasuke gave Naruto a look, as if he was debating slowly pulling each of his toenails off before force feeding them back. It was a common expression these days, really. "Peach isn't a pink. It looks pink because Kucho-chan is dark."

"yeah weird that isn't it? I mean I'm dark for people round here an I still look.."

"..."

"I'm rambling?"

Sasuke just nodded, intensely grateful someone had gotten through to Naruto on the rambling even if it didn't entirely lessen the insanity. It helped.

"My point is if I lost my beautiful orange I think Kucho-chan should lose her pink."

"Hn." Sasuke gave the patented smirk and turned, walking over to Kucho. He ignored the sounds of Naruto waving his arms and in general freaking out behind him. Approaching his dark teammate he grunted once, and when rose glasses met his eyes he nodded. "Pink and peach is too eye catching."

Kucho tilted her head once and paused. "Glasses are the only ones I have suitable for intense training. Attire can be changed."

"Hn." Sasuke softened it but nodded once, and Kucho smiled at him.

"If we're all doing things properly, your shorts have to go darker Sasuke-kun. Shoot me now white isn't better than orange."

Sasuke lifted a brow, and then slowly shrugged but nodded. Like Kucho he wasn't going to throw a fit over his attire when someone provided a good reason. He really just wore the white because he had a lot of them and could remember no one in his clan wearing them before. Still, it had been long enough he didn't mind changing back into dark slacks.

"that's IT!?" Sasuke shared a quiet hidden smirk with Kucho as Naruto began to rant. It wasn't like everyone was obsessed with wearing the same thing day in and day out.

Sasuke had switched to black shorts and Kucho had changed to dark gray hakama's, swapping her shirt under the sweatshirt for the soft peachy pink she loved. Naruto couldn't even argue that as he was doing the same with bright orange. Kakashi tended to observe the proceedings with a highly entertained aura, half the time his book didn't even make an appearance. After all, his little genin would barely bat an eye at carrying groceries or handling manual labor. They trained with such fierce determination he was even seriously offering them tips and advice, stepping in to correct them where at this stage of things he had fully expected to be ignoring his team. The shinobi deep inside, the one that clung to Anbu and all that he had once been before losing his own team and the carefree persona he made to honor their memory..

That Kakashi approved of his team with an almost dark ferocity. He saw soldiers, he saw potential and weapons that could be sharpened to such a point it would slice through flesh and sinew with barely a sound. He didn't always hide that side of him well. Sometimes, right after they snapped out of a genjutsu, the various eyes would latch onto him.

It was eerie really.

Blue electricity in Naruto would be tempered and wild at the same time, like a chidori out of control. He hid behind smiles and refusing to see the worst, but Naruto was a realist of the most dangerous sort. Because he had determination and drive, and knowledge of what terrible burden lay within his belly while keeping it a secret from his teammates for now. Naruto also had hope and knew the only way to go was up, those were the sorts who would burn the world to grasp the hands of those they wanted to save. It was a fine line to madness..and one Kakashi knew well.

Sasuke's eyes were almost a mirror. It was amazing how utterly unlike his older brother the last of the Uchiha was. Where Itachi had been cold and clinical, a lethal blade. Sasuke was raging fire smoldering like a volcano. He would bank his flames only to lash out and cause mass destruction. Determination of a darker, twisted sort drove Sasuke. Somehow though his team had only made it a finer more dangerous weapon as Sasuke was learning how to direct that wicked ferocity by using his team.

They were joined by the mismatched eyes of his only female student. Kucho was an Aburame aberration. She was joyful and bubbly, yet within a moment it would fall away to exactly what she reminded them of verbally so often. Kucho was a Queen. She was mentally far ahead of her teammates, who knew what the Aburame put their children though but even if he'd killed far younger than his students; there was something inherently dangerous about Kucho's way of seeing things that made Kakashi fiercely relieved for her loyalty that went so deep. It also made him wonder, if all the Born Queen's were like her? Because he didn't doubt that for those she deemed important, Kucho would all but throw protocol and rules away. Her thinking was alien, influenced by her insects.

It kept him up some nights, preparing plans for the eventual. Kakashi, the feared copy nin, had somehow gotten perhaps the only team of genin in Konoha that he could remember that were in spades ruthless, talented, determined, and cooperative.

If they kept up like this...

He had no intention of taking a team again. Team Seven had already ruined him, just a few weeks in. He could never view any other students as anything but severely lacking after his trio of misfits.

He still needed to talk to the hokage..

"kakashiii senseeeiiii" Naruto whined snapping the silver haired Jounin out of his thoughts.

"You'll find out when we get there."

"Yeah but usually they tell us at the tower, why did you just pick one..?"

"You will not always have the luxury of going to meet someone for your mission. Sometimes you will have just a little information." Kakashi said, in his usual way giving away absolutely nothing. There was a method here though. Traditionally it took two to three months before a team was even remotely ready to consider for a C rank. Most Jounin instructors waited until after four when their team would show some initiative and throw a fit about their wasted time. Kakashi wasn't going to waste his team's potential. This would be a sort of test to see if despite just a few weeks in, they were ready for certainly trained hard enough to have somehow crammed into one month, what most teams did in several. They were brilliant how they staggered their studies so it wasn't all physical, and he chuckled, looking forward to how they reacted to this one.

"What information can we know?" Sasuke asked, walking with his hands in his pockets as usual. Another surprise, though brief and only when needed..the Uchiha talked to his team.

"It's a D rank in the village and we were specifically requested."

"We usually are. Because we're awesome." Naruto answered with a smirk, hands behind his head. It wasn't exactly a boast either. Team Seven had a reputation for being respectful and very efficient. Those who had wanted a genin team for some hard work they weren't up to, or as often was the case just to boss around ninja when they actually could- swiftly found that if they were so lucky as to get team seven things just worked out.

The hokage had actually treated Kakashi to a weekend off additional missions, paid, for his joy at how Naruto was being received. There was quiet talk of needing to put a team seven box on the mission request forms at this rate as the army of shadow clones, the mind and ingenuity of Sasuke, and Kucho being a small force of nature herself..things just got done.

"May we know any particular information that will prove beneficial?" Kucho asked, then followed with a sign that made both her boys shiver. The Aburame 'tick' showed itself. That only happened when she was frustrated and hiding it very well. "Why? Because it is something we would have if we were indeed on a short notice emergency mission."

"Ah well.."

"Beetle Brat!" Came the holler and the males of team seven were treated to the sight of Kucho freezing..and then giving a tiny squeak before she -bounced- on her toes.

"Anko-san!"

"C'mere you!"

"Hai!"

Anko was her usual abrasive and scantily clad self, grinning around a stick of dango. Kakashi still had one foot in the air, blinking his eye and Naruto and Sasuke were twitching with stunned expressions as Kucho...fan girled.

Practically skipping over Kucho bounced on her toes in front of Anko after bowing, a huge smile on the Aburame's face and a soft humming of her kikaichu reacting to her joy. "Anko-san you're back! I hope you terrified people properly?"

"Both the client and my opponents!" Anko chuckled and ruffled Kucho's unruly pigtails, able to see just enough behind her rose colored glasses to see the Aburame child's eyes close in delight. Anko was still used to being avoided, mistrusted as her own sensei had been so callous to her. It had torn her apart that when she needed the other shinobi most, only Torture and Interrogations trusted her. After heavy first hand experience of their methods of course. However, this little nut kept seeking Anko out and she'd even seen her at her favorite tea shop asking for clarifications from the book she'd loaned her. Anko was certain that Kucho was well and ready to observe her first ceremony and appreciate the art behind it, but she was waiting for the Aburame to come to the conclusion and approach her. That she took it so seriously was all the evidence Anko had needed to start showing her favor. The fact that Kucho seemed entirely unaware of how badly her male teammates were twitching only made the sadist in Anko grin more.

Kakashi looked seriously creeped out. Lovely.

"You ready to return my book yet, beetle brat?"

"Yes, Anko-san. I'll bring it by tonight if Kakashi-sensei let's us out at a decent hour. It's been wonderful, I am ordering my own copy." She beamed up at Anko, and the snake mistress just nodded, smirking.

"Good. By the way..I think I have a new friend for you..a little local snake, eats mice not insects. Brown with lighter stripes that reminded me of you. He can live with me of course until I know you can take care of him but even though he's not a summons ..."

Kucho had never considered owning a pet snake before, but she recognized it as the awkward attempt to be sweet that it was and smiled up at Anko. "Thank you. Will your snakes be able to find him easily?"

"Bingo, brat."

Kucho bowed again, then bit her lower lip with a -giggle- (Naruto and Sasuke were exchanging looks, as if trying to assure each other that serious if playful Kucho was acting like a -girl- and it was the most alarming thing ever) "Pardon me Anko-san, I'd love to visit longer but Kakashi-sensei is busy not telling us what D rank he has accepted. I think he's trying to get revenge because we genjutsued his book to look like it had water damage.."

"HA! Wait till I tell Ibiki that one! Good job brats!" Anko ruffled Kucho's hair, handed her a dango stick and walked off.

Shunning Kakashi with not even a wave as Anko left, and Kucho walked back leisurely, nibbling on her treat unaware of the chaos.

"Apologies for the delay, shall we continue?"

"Who was-" "hn.." "You are close to her, Kucho-chan?" Kakashi didn't call Anko by her name but didn't feel like using the formality of her last name either. He was a little perturbed, and confused. For just a second it had been like watching any normal girls who were friends conversing, never mind the age gap or that one was a twisted abandonment issues sadist and the other was an insect Queen with no interest in anything he had seen 'girlish' outside of her room.

"Yes. I started following her before we graduated, she is.." Kucho trailed off with a smile. "Someone who has overcome extreme adversity and is a very worthy mentor..I am honored she spends her time with me when she does."

"So what has she taught you?"

"Overtly? Nothing yet. Covertly.." Kucho smiled and gave a sideways glance and a coy smile -one Kakashi idly noted was suited for a much older woman and would be devastating when she grew into it- "Well that would be telling.."

"...how uncute.."

"idiot."

"What!?"

"She just was acting like the girls you fawn over." Sasuke pointed out, half amused, half still wary now of Kucho. He hadn't even known she could fan girl. And why over that strange woman talking about snakes and insulting her and not him? It didn't make sense.

"Well yeah but..but.."

"So.." Kakashi interrupted though the teasing of how 'uncute' Kucho was had become traditional at this point. Really, with the dance fans and many books he'd seen that first day in Kucho's room..someday they were going to realize how girly she was and it was a gobsmaked set of expressions he hoped to see. "Where are we, and what is the likely mission?"

"...training ground eight, no sign of struggle or damage.." Sasuke answered, looking around. Perhaps not so surprisingly it was Naruto who figured it out.

"We're renovating it aren't we?"

"Nice word usage!" Kakashi praised. "And yes, we are to add lots of changes to the terrain in preparation for the academy first years to do their annual obstacle course. The actual set up will be done later, but we have to prepare the grounds. So.." Kakashi unsealed shovels, picks, and an assortment of other items and grinned wickedly. "Let's get started"

"..." Sasuke and Kucho looked at Kakashi, then Naruto who was crossing his arms and sighing. Every so often their sensei tried to startle them or get them to react as if they weren't so capable.

"You're such a troll Sensei." Naruto said and then shrugged. "you got a plan showing what is to be done?"

Kakashi sulked behind his mask that they didn't fall for it and start to complain, even as his darker Anbu mind reared it's head. He really needed to get them started on some other tasks..hmm..

"Well to fell the trees I want to see you do it by hand. With axes.." He did however, lay out the map showing what needed to go where. "If you can get it done all three of you, not just Naruto army style, than I shall teach you tree walking.."

"We know it." Sasuke said.

Kakashi paused.

He blinked.

And then he actually said it "What?"

"Broody Bastard had a few chakra control scrolls he found in the compound, he's been teaching them to Kucho an me an Kucho then asked her mum an Gumoko-san taught us how to do it on water though every time we fell in we had to do laps round the Aburame compound.."

"Okaa-san likes to provide genuine incentive." Kucho said with a nod.

"You already know..tree climbing, and water walking?" Kakashi said slowly. All three nodded and he paused.

"Prove it."

Kucho was the last one to rush the trees, the boys always competing but sure enough each of them went up the tree, back down, and then strolled over the long way. Which meant walking over the top of the tiny pond. Kakashi tilted his head and then sighed, giving in. Oh who was he kidding he wanted to honor their potential as his father had done for him, and then Minato-sensei after.

"All right..take turns. Naruto and Kucho, you are first up with axes on the five trees to the north. Sasuke you stay and we are going to run through every jutsu you know. Then when I say you'll go help Kucho and Naruto will come and do the same, the last will be Kucho. You're all far ahead of where I expected so now I need to see what to do on the jutsu side.." He paused, and his eye crinkled in mock happiness, but it was far less threatening then a serious expression as he contemplated what an asset he could make this team.

"You've all done well in figurng out how to handle Genjutsu as a team, and your taijutsu is coming along well..so we'll start with the others. Sasuke..start."

In addition to the academy ones, there was the fire ball jutsu, an advanced fireball, two seemingly useless outside of survival spark and small flame jutsu's, and one that Sasuke just told him about, as he hadn't figured out the physical aspect. "Supposedly there is a way to coat weapons in fire .."

"You need chakra conducting material for that, it's what is holding you back. Very good Sasuke..you may relieve Naruto."

Naruto had the clones of course, the sexy and sexy harem jutsu's..which Kakashi had to recover from and he could hear Kucho and Sasuke laughing in their quiet way over seeing the events. He'd also at some point mastered the exploding chakra that would mimic explosive tags.

"Good start, since you figured out your chakra bombs and how to carry them on your projectile weapons I think we need to see your element before I teach you anything specialized..you've not used chakra paper have you?"

"Ah! Yeah Broody duck and I got some from the old man Hokage, he's fire of course, an a bit of lightning. I'm wind. And Kucho..well.."

"Hmm?"

"She didn't have an affinity. It just stayed put."

"Really?" Kakashi blinked but nodded. "It just means if she used say, a fire attack, it would not be any weaker or stronger. It is interesting though..almost everyone has an affiliation..I would have pegged her for earth or water.."

"Because of her bugs?"

"Mmhmm. Clever that you see I didn't say wind.."

"Naw. Her insects don't all fly after all. So, it won't be a bad thing that she hasn't an affinity, right?"

"No, it won't help her any but it will not be a problem either, Naruto."

"Well that's a relief. So you know any wind jutsu?"

"I don't, well none of a level that would help you grow your 'chakra muscles' so to speak. You want those to improve so when you do use a technique it is devastating rather then just flashy."

"Anything for a last minute issue? I don't need to pull it out often but if something ever goes wrong..I need something for a tight spot."

"An escape style Jutsu..." Kakashi trailed off in thought and nodded. "Let me think on it tonight and I'll come up with something. Nice job thinking ahead."

Kucho was surprisingly the most behind in this area. For some reason Kakashi hadn't expected that.

She had the usual academy levels, and a few Aburame specific ones, such as her clones, calling other insects, and the actual use of her specialized insects themselves. Kakashi shook his head then, frowning in thought.

"I see..I admit I'm dissapointed Kucho-chan..with everything else I expected far more of you as you seem ahead in other areas.."

"Apologies.."

"what is it you've been studying instead? And Naruto already explained your lack of affiliation so we'll have to pick just a few at random to teach you.."

"If I can request ones that my teammates do not already know or will not be learning from you directly? We can always teach each other at least the minor ones after all.." Kucho sighed then and looked up. "I am learning advanced Queen lessons though they won't pay off for a few years.." She shrugged then, such a strangely normal movement that it seemed faked in contrast to her serious words. "Also..poison."

"Poison?"

"Yes. Okaa-san wishes me to be a poison mistress for assasination style missions and that also means learning the antidotes."

"Have you learned sign language and morse code for missions yet?"

"Aburame are taught both along with speech."

"...didn't know that..." Kakashi muttered but nodded. "All right. What element or style of Jutsu are you wishing for?"

"Signaling, distress, reinforcement. Protection."

"...very specific..." Kakashi gave her one of his rare serious gazes, and Kucho looked away first.

"Have you met my teammates, Kakashi-sensei? I imagine all of those will be needed at some time..just because of what my soldier's are like."

Kakashi chuckled and nodded "Very true..all right..let's see about teaching you a flare jutsu for signaling you need help. There's two versions of this, one that sets out a flare from where you are, and one that you set and control to set off later..it can also be used to mislead an opponent but requires careful thought. I imagine your Kikaichu will help with it..in the end, and perhaps again you will have an advantage..you can leave a 'marker' somewhere within your range and set it off. For instance within a few miles of a checkpoint if you need to then go help an injured teammate but want someone to know you were there."

"You invented it sensei?"

"No, but there were times I wish I knew it. So this is what you do..

Chapter Text

AN: Yeah I have no idea or plan for this chapter. Kucho just has issues with being ignored. I'm on a writer's block on Ghost and I'll be honest, I have about eight long potential story one shots going all un related so we'll see...and since it has been asked, no I have no updating schedule. My life is hectic and stressful to the point I live with near constant headaches and I write when it wants out. Usually I write a LOT when that happens just rarely on the same story.

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Naruto was slowly reading the scroll Sasuke had set aside for him, at the Uchiha compound. They had taken to gathering in one of the old houses that hadn't been used much so that there were no negative memories for Sasuke. Apparently it had belonged to a cousin he hadn't really known, and was now 'Team Seven's Study of Epicness' as Naruto had dubbed it. It was really saying a great deal that Sasuke had just rolled his eyes but not said anything upon the title being announced.

Or even twitched at the clumsy sign that had appeared a day later. The banner had been treated to a quick katon jutsu though, but the sign was permitted to remain.

Kucho was nearby, her glasses off and all of them were just in their shirts, respective jackets and over shirts hanging by the door as it was so hot. Both of her teammates had come to realize that what was perfectly normal skin exposure for them was a scandal for Kucho. That she so often was willing to disrobe to a degree around them spoke of her trust in them. Even if Sasuke had needed to quietly explain it to Naruto one night when Kucho wasn't around.

"Look you hyperactive moron...I can't believe I have to even tell you this..Aburame's don't show skin. Ever. It's not just about their bugs but has to do with their culture from before the settling of Konoha."

"But Broody duck, Kucho took off her jacket that first night when we set traps for Kakashi-sensei!"

"Doing so was a huge deal. It's -not done-."

"Can't be that big.." Naruto had mumbled and Sasuke, resisting the urge to punch his often oblivious to everything teammate resorted to the only thing that ever penetrated the blonde's weird skull.

"It's as big as if you didn't eat Ramen while everyone around you had it."

"Oh..Oh!" Naruto gasped then, and proceeded to go teary eyed and wailing and dramatic. Sasuke had dropped his shirt and turned away, knowing eventually Naruto would snap out of it.

Ever since then Naruto had been sporting a silly smile whenever Kucho would just be in her shirt and not her oversized sweatshirt around them. It was something that privately highly amused Sasuke as one could mistake it as Naruto having a crush on their female teammate, rather then the appreciation and sign of trust it was.

He worked with an idiot. Yet, that Naruto was a veritable useful powerhouse could not be denied so Sasuke could put up with it. At least he wasn't always impossible, and he was learning the fine art of blonde hyperactive idiot wrangling.

Kucho looked over from her scroll and smiled. "Soldiers?"

Both the boys snapped their eyes to her, despite her smile Kucho only slipped and called them such directly if it was a big deal as they'd come to realize. They had also somehow figured out separately that allowing Kucho to tell them what she wanted instead of asking questions was the best way to get the most information out of their beetle partner.

"I think I just found a truly...devastating..attack. It would focus on wind and lightning and sheer force and cause damage on a massive scale..a sliding scale. That means we could use it on smaller measures in closer combat as a trio or to absolute destruction if a situation called for it..."

That was another thing, having Naruto around was replacing the general 'why' tick for straight out information since she would have to explain it to him anyways. Sasuke was very pleased at the idea of a massively devastating attack but...

"While it would use the affinity of myself and the blonde menace, how would you be utilized?"

"You misunderstand her Sasuke." Naruto piped up, chin propped on his hand as his blue eyes narrowed in thought, tracing the regal bearing of their Queen teammate. There was none of Kucho the playful girl there right now and it was always starting to tug a serious Naruto to the surface in response. It was certainly not something Sasuke minded.

He was entirely unaware of how he was also falling into the behavior though, when the other two were serious. That he talked more he shoved to the back of his mind with the reminder it was just to his teammates and through his team came the swifter path to his goals.

"Indeed. I would be providing the wind jutsu, and if we can harness Naruto-san's ability for exploding a wave of chakra rather than a tag like effect we would have a three person ultimate that would frankly be capable of damage to such a point that it would be our trump card. Eventually."

"Obviously we can't practice with it at full scale.." Sasuke said, leaning back with his arms crossed. The other two stayed quiet, this was also something they'd begun to do, circle in planning. They were a team, for all that Kucho called herself Queen and them soldier's, a few months in as they were and the team seven was learning that all that meant is they were as close to her equals as they could be in Aburame society. Sasuke had a niggling suspicious notion that it had something to do with why he and Naruto were always treated with the same respect and reverence usually reserved for elders when in the Aburame compound.

He had also gone through the military police records that his father had kept at home. There had been many interesting files -ones he had burned in front of Kucho after he did so telling her what they had contained so as to not risk someone thinking it was more than his father's ledgers- detailing when the usual guards granted to widows and widowers, and the children of ninja, had turned down the aid. Indeed there was a note that each of those individual's who insisted they had provisions were to be taken care of 'by their Aburame Hive'.

He'd asked Kucho after and she'd just shifted a bit, before Naruto pulled them into a sort of group hug, dozens of his clones going to run around the place and create enough noise no one would overhear. It did mean Sasuke and Kucho had to put up with a hug, but they didn't really protest. Softly just barely loud enough for the two Kucho had explained that taking on a hive, much as her soldier's were for her, meant that the Aburame teammate would always feel responsible for them. The queen beetle's would even influence drone level Aburame so that they would still shelter the 'hives' of their teammates. Or in the case of the fox, the wars, and similar mission disasters, it was the Aburame teammate's pride and duty to ensure their teammates partners and family always remained cared for. Kucho even mentioned when she was little, before Gumoko's last genin teammate's child had gotten himself killed on a infiltration mission, that she had often gone with her mother to bring over food and rent monies. It was part of the role of Queen.

Sasuke had stared at her, and his voice rough with repressed emotion had asked what that meant if they had families in the future. Kucho had just blinked at them, mismatched eyes not grasping why it wasn't obvious. "I'd take care of them as much as if they were my own, of course. Your mates in the future will be my siblings, your children as my own fosterlings and any offspring I have will regard you both as their family as much as if you had been born as Aburame instead."

For the two orphans, Kucho's simple and completely guileless explanation had twisted something inside them. The boys would never again speak of how Kucho's shoulders had been wet with tears after, though the entirely panicked and confused expression on their little brown teammate's face was rather priceless. She'd been utterly flummoxed and as close to sheer terror and indecision as was likely they'd ever seen again.

Luckily it had given them a good laugh, and Kucho's continued confusion and almost wary glances at them for a week had provided much entertainment.

"So, we have to learn a three part jutsu that can do pretty impressive damage.." Naruto grinned. "I love our little side projects. Any luck on your jutsu's with Kakashi-sensei, Kucho-chan?"

Kucho pouted and nodded. She wasn't talking on that topic which both boys had come to learn meant 'I'm learning, but I am struggling and really don't have anything new to tell you.'

It wasn't that hard to learn to speak stoic Aburame, or rather no harder then learning Uchiha 'Hn' speech, or Naruto random fantasy weirdness.

"Well I think I almost have my new one down.." Naruto grumbled, arms folded. "Really though it feels..silly. It's of all things just to make an air pocket. Doesn't do much but freshen the air."

Sasuke shrugged. "How? More oxygen or moving the previous?"

"More."

"Hn." Sasuke frowned, less of his usual scowl and more of a thoughtful expression before nodding. "Useful. High elevations, locations that may be contaminated.."

"Faster to light things on fire." Kucho piped up with a grin. She loved the look that came next. Both boys sat up completely straight, jaws slightly open and eyes ever so wide. Naruto made it obvious, Sasuke if you hadn't been seeing how he was before the faint change in expression would have been missed. Anytime Kucho suggested a potential prank item, even though to be honest it was exactly what they needed for the jutsu she had just found..darn it. She'd have to learn yet -another- from Naruto eventually. With her having the smallest Chakra reserves too on the team!

"...boom..." Sasuke said, ever so tiny. It was faint enough a loud sneeze would have drowned it out. Instead Naruto heard, and nodded, leering foxy grin in place as he faced Sasuke.

"Or a really fast flame..or putting one out..heeyyywonder If I can reverse it and make people pass out.." Naruto tapped his lips and Sasuke smirked.

"Don't mention that one. Be useful though." It was Sasuke speak for 'brilliant idea. Don't share it because I think that'd work in our secret arsenal of tricks. Maybe we'll use it on Kakashi-sensei if he's really irritating with more of these missions he is picking for us that are D ranks.' Truly, learning Sasuke speech was proving to be hilarious to Naruto. The blonde would never say it for risk of hurting his black eyed teammate's feelings, but it was starting to make Naruto think if the rest of the Uchiha had been this funny..it was really a pity they were gone.

"...you're hiding something." The tone was soft, gentle.

Both boys had their hands up suddenly and shaking their heads. You did not want a girl to have that tone of voice. They had learned the lesson back when Kucho had gone crazy senbon lady on them that one time and all Kakashi kept calling out was 'now you know not to upset a kunoichi!''

"Just we were talking before you got here Kucho-chan, that maybe it's time we demand a C rank! That's all Kucho-chan! I promise!" Naruto had false tears falling down his cheeks and Sasuke bit inside his cheek to keep from laughing. Really, at some point the idiocy had honestly become amusing.

Kucho pouted at them both for a moment before nodding. "I think he's waiting for us to demand something of the sort..but since Kakashi-sensei has been working with us I wasn't too upset to have simple tasks the rest of the time. Taking a stronger mission means most likely being outside of the village which will greatly hamper our training."

"We need real world experience too. Not just training grounds." Sasuke countered. Kucho tilted her head, regarding the fellow brunette. There was a long silence, and where once Naruto would have snapped out and thrown a fit, now he just waited and watched.

Finally, regally, Kucho inclined her head and folded her hands like a demure little lady. If you ignored the fluff that was her unbound and currently entirely misbehaving hair. "I will approach Sensei on our behalf."

"We." Naruto interjected, sprawling back on his side with a smile. "Team Kucho, hive."

it was a rare sight but Naruto was treated to the flush against Kucho's darker skin as she yielded. That was also something that Naruto had noticed, more often she would listen to Sasuke but yield to Naruto if an idea was presented. They were still finding their feet but Team seven was truly comfortable with each other. "Yes."

"I'm hungry." Sasuke stated and stood, brushing his pants off. The other two got up to follow him back into Sasuke's home, leaving behind the meeting area in the compound. Sasuke often thought how strange it was to have others there with him. Yet, there was no better place. He could let his guard down more here, and making new memories with his utterly insane teammate's was replacing some of the bloodied heartbreaking ones he held the rest of the time.

"Hey Kucho, whatcha carrying in your jacket?" Naruto asked. He'd stood to help her into her oversized sweatshirt and Kucho didn't even seem phased at Naruto's fox like sticky fingers. It was a skill rather that Sasuke and Kucho were doing their best to encourage, it would only prove beneficial to them in the end when out in the field.

"That's one of my dance fans. See the pattern is on both sides."

"Oh, is it for someone?"

"It's mine."

"It's not that hot out to need one yet." Sasuke observed, curious in spite of himself.

Kucho closed her eyes behind her glasses and almost told them.

Memories of how her two soldier's teased her though, calling her uncute, and Kucho slipped on a tiny smile. "I just like how it looks."

They'd find out in time.

Chapter Text

AN: Holy cow guys I'm sorry I thought I posted this last month! Anyways, Yep. I derailed it again. Haha..

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It was very easy to get the C Rank. Team Seven showed up on time for their meeting with Kakashi. They were each in their respective darker and more 'serious' respective uniforms and gear in preparation or to prove they were taking this request as the submissive tactic to their superior that it was. Kucho's hair was in it's usual style but that was rather forgivable, it wasn't like she kept her hair in some ridiculous length that would provide easier handholds and there were several dozen kikaichu latched onto the black ribbons he saw dangling from her hair. One who didn't know better, wouldn't realize that was a weapon in and of itself. Even Naruto had his dark bandanna he'd throw over his noticeable whisker marks and another for his hair (so he didn't need to rely on a henge ) looped around his belt. To complete the effect they radiated calm and all three bowed and asked rather nicely.

"We feel we are ready for an upgrade in mission ranks, Kakashi-sensei" Naruto said first taking care to keep his voice 'soft', or at normal levels for the rest of the world.

Sasuke immediately followed up with "It would do us good to get some real experience outside of Konoha." Kakashi fought a twitch of surprise every time the last Uchiha actually spoke willingly and without it entailing an insult.

Kucho however was the final one though Kakashi's eye was glinting darkly as he observed the still bowed forms of his team. The darker, the truly Anbu prodigy ninja within was exultant that his skilled genin were being respectful and even attempting to offer him reasons. This was good, it showed initiative and drive, cohesion in the uniform decision of the three. Best of all? Kakashi would love to see what they did in a true fight..

"We are ready to spread our wings under your direction, Kakashi-sensei." Kucho paused then and her tone twisted, regal and dangerous. On such a little girl it was still more cute but it held promise of what a nightmare she'd be as an adult. "It would be most unfortunate for those we interact with regularly if we started to feel...hindered..in our progress." though it was a too subtle hint Kakshi caught her suggestion that she would involve Anko and had to admit it was too lightly handled, but a good maneuver.

"Maaa...maa...I suppose..so an assassination? Sabotage?" He was teasing in tone but his eye watched carefully. Curious. They managed to all -save for Naruto- not react. Naruto flinched but it was much better then he had feared. It helped he could tell the flinch was from holding an outburst in too. Really, the blonde loudmouthed brat had come a long way. Apparently regularly sparring with his teammates and being encouraged to think wore him out, gave him an outlet for all that energy.

"You are the jounin-sensei." Kucho answered with a tiny wrist movement, Queen deferring to her elder and Kakashi chuckled.

"alright, come on my little genin..." Kakashi was pleased. He was of course fully aware of what the available missions would be, having perused them out of habit late the prior evening. His team was correct to ask for it; though their training was astounding they needed to be properly battle tested and scared to grow further before they learned to be too relaxed from spars rather then dangerous fights. Too many ninja focused entirely on 'safe' fights and then never developed the edge that would be necessary later on. Everyone froze to some degree on missions to start with, while Kakashi was fairly certain he knew precisely where each of the three under his command would falter he needed to be certain that he was there to push them beyond it. Only forcing them to rapidly scale past their issues during truly dangerous situations would turn them from having vast potential into being truly the potential soldiers he saw them as. Even just a little, in the back of their reptilian ancestral brains they felt secure here in the expanse of Konoha. They would not force themselves beyond that, to confront the primal instincts that would turn them from pulling a killing strike at the last minute to dispatching it efficiently and moving to the next. There was safety here, a hospital, many people around them. They had not seen the horrors of war and battle and despite all the incredible changes all three were still children playing ninja to him. Oh, certainly, Naruto had fought a traitor once upon the learning of his sacrificial role.

Even then however, he had held back and merely overwhelmed in large numbers with the finesse of a toddler swatting a child that had upset them. There had been no intent to kill, merely to stop.

Pacifistic tendencies were admirable, but like the many ANBU he knew who held such personal views, it only meant one needed to become more deadly so that you caused precisely the amount of destruction as needed and no more. Only the best could afford to be merciful. Sadly in a world of ninja, that often meant those souls twisted and corrupted at the horrors they were exposed to. Perhaps it was why Kakashi had always been so cold, he'd seen what had happened to his father on his many missions before the one.

He'd seen it etch into 'Yamato' and Itachi as well.

There had been a dozen more over the years.

Obito...

Rin.

At least he was there to remember them. So many, were never remembered. That was only from their own generation.

He would not see such potential crippled in the three, whether Naruto would show signs of being another of the pacifistic souls did not mean he was to be the weak link. If need be Kakashi would force upon the blonde what he could not upon his own teammates, that being 'merciful' could very well cost you the life of someone precious to you.

He would not stifle their drive, if they were truly coming to him and asking that he push them emotionally and mentally as well as physically (and he was so blasted proud of them for that)...

There was one C rank..that was just perfect. Most C ranks were escort missions but while Kakashi had little doubt his team would do fine, he wanted to satisfy the darker nature of his inner ninja..he wanted not an all round or battlefield front line team..he wanted true shinobi. Exceptional. Ones that were as his father had trained him. He wanted to make them Hattake level. Ones that had never been a huge clan because they only kept to the best of their group. It whittled you down fast.

They had such promise though..

As their captain, their Jounin-sensei and mentor, Kakashi refused to hold them back.

"Yo. Team Seven requesting C rank mission Albatross." Kakashi stated calmly, fully slouched but his eye never left Sarutobi. The Hokage glanced at him, fully aware that Kakashi had suggested he may be training them to be the first ever from genin to specialized team..like Anbu only more. It was a project Sarutobi had scrapped because they'd never found a third member for Kakashi..and while Itachi had been promising he had been too much a pacifist (and truthfully to wrapped up in crazy clan politics that had no business in a real shinobi's life) to truly do what was needed. Sarutobi needed an ANBU level team that would be able to operate almost outside the Hokage's influence while still loyal enough to report. A team that would be able to find and destroy any poisonous rot on the grand tree of Konoha and prune the branches as well as operate as a lethal mission team. Kakashi had a chance..he wanted to see if they could became the team that Konoha needed but would never know. It was not a path of glory, it was one of extreme danger.

Shadows in the Shadows.

"Albatross!?" Iruka blurted out. "They're not ready for such a mission yet, they've not been out of the academy long and.."

"They are my soldiers." Kakashi said lazily but there was a tone to his voice and a glint to his eye that made Iruka, and many others there pale. A few even took a step back. Some of the other ninja noticed that Team Seven was not even blinking or surprised to hear the Killing Intent laced sound, soft as it was, from their sensei. If anything when he said soldiers Team seven had moved subconsciously into poses of 'rest' that any long serving ninja would recognize. Feet braced, apart. Hands relaxed but fingers softly curled by their weapons pouches. The three were in front of Kakashi but ever so slightly spread apart for ease of moving into proper formation. It was so entirely relaxed and natural to the three that it was clearly not intentional. It was the pose of a team that trusted each other and their sensei.

They were comfortable in the danger that their sensei exuded. So much so that even though the faint Killing Intent being leaked in his voice hadn't even made the three children flinch but had if anything soothed them. They not only subconsciously trusted each other but that if lethal force came up from Kakashi it would be in their best interest. It was..promising. Sarutobi took very careful note of it. Most genin never reached that point, most chunin at best would be jumpy and wary. It took rare individual's who were comfortable with danger at their backs. The only one he could state at that point that was likely to be there was Naruto, only because despite having the life he had and the fox sealed into him it seemed the blonde was always determined to see the best in everything. Kucho should have been terrified because she simply hadn't the chakra to handle such a dangerous threat even at that low level and the Uchiha should have bristled at the idea of another having such control over him.

What was happening was honestly far beyond the comprehension of the paper pushers and mid to low level chunin around the third Hokage at the moment. Kakashi was very subtly doing a show and tell. He was proving that team seven was as far from the best possible situation that had been expected as they could be. In the best way. He was underneath the underneath the deepest levels of code and half forgotten conversations with a young teen who had not yet learned his beloved sensei would die in a few days time leaving behind an orphaned son. Conversations on what could be done if they ever found themselves so blessed as to stumble upon a group. What the original idea behind Root was to be before it vanished.

Right there...the seeds were showing their shoots pushing above the earth. Ever so subtly, Sarutobi Hiruzen adjusted his hat to Kakashi. He saw. Oh...he saw.

"If Kakashi-sensei says we are ready for something, we are." Naruto stated. His arms were uncrossed and he did not yell or make a scene. That as much as the change in his attire had Iruka blink several times and then gaping at them still and making sounds as he was, Kucho had to interject.

"Should you not close your mouth Iruka-san, I cannot guarantee one of my kikaichu will not fly in."

"Hn."

Naruto barely kept his smirk to match Sasuke's expression off his own face. He could understand Uchiha to hear 'I hope he would choke on it, underestimating us..'

Yeah, Naruto spent way too much time around his hive.

And clearly Kucho.

Hive.

Team. TEAM!...Ah who was he kidding..he remembered how seriously she had all but stated they were family and always would be, completely not understanding why they made such a fuss over it. It was just logic and fact to the Aburame, which allowed him to believe her.

"Very well, Albatross is yours." Sarutobi handed the scroll to Kakashi after the silence stretched on, impressed that no further remarks had come from Team Seven. They were being shockingly mature about the situation. "Debrief them outside the borders. No packs or anything beyond what is already on you."

The team impressed quite a few as though the three children wanted to ask questions, obviously, they refrained. Instead bowing respectfully and following Kakashi out the door.

Not leading. And they moved as one, not one of the three children took point.

It made the next squabbling team that came in (a year older even!) seem...lacking.

"Kakashi-sensei?" Kucho asked when they were outside.

"This will be quick. We cannot bring anything additional for plausible deniability. You are all prepared enough I hope?" Kakashi would otherwise get something to tide them over, but Albatross was a week long mission that would hardly be comfortable. May take almost two weeks. It was a speed mission while also due to deception being unable to proceed at the usual run, as well as one with scheduled 'training' stops to mimic being out to learn the land. It was to be merely on 'accident' they would reach a small village a few days travel from Konoha and if they were heavily loaded down with items it wouldn't seem right. It wasn't unheard of for parents of civilian children who had dropped out to humor their offspring and hire a ninja (usually a chunin) to take them on a camping trip in the wild with few supplies. It was meant to scare off any remaining interest and get the children to settle into lifetimes of their non shinobi careers.

"Tags, kunai, water bottle, couple of bars just to be safe. Money of course and the usual debris in my pockets." Naruto rattled off.

"Shuriken, Kunai, wire, water, bars and extra bandages." Sasuke confirmed as they walked. All of team seven had taken to carrying water bottles and the Aburame bars daily in case Kucho couldn't bring them proper meals in quantities to keep up with teenage boys expending insane amounts of energy. As they had expected a C rank they had not prepared bentos. Okay they had known Kucho wasn't going to make them and neither was Gumoko-san.

"Water, bars, soldier pills and nutritional pills to make up for my having the weakest chakra, senbon, and extra cord to tie up my hair that can be used to also restrain and tie other things.."

"Nothing can restrain your hair Kucho-chan." Naruto said with a cheeky grin, Sasuke just smirked.

"Perfect." Kakashi said and nodded. They were not bringing their identification papers and as they walked out towards the gate, Kakashi began to explain the details. Such a good team, just following him like they did.

His sensei would have been so jealous.

"There's been a suspicious chakra pattern at a village a few days from here. You know about the 'falling Leaf trips?'" Kakashi said after a few more minutes of walking. His orange book was out as usual, but not held at quite the same height as when he was at ease. It was part of how his genin knew he was using it to pretend they weren't on anything more than a D rank for any eyes that may be following them.

Both boys glanced towards Kucho who thought for a minute; the faint buzzing of her insects communicating not even phasing the two walking nearly arm to arm with her. "The ones that those who drop out of the academy are permitted to take once or twice a year with a small group? Basically to mimic 'missions' and get the excitement out of their systems. It is considered something of a rite to take them, often meant to be more uncomfortable then actual missions tend to be so that they can leave with a feeling of having escaped a career they were unsuited for?"

"So it's for losers to whine over how lucky they are to not be ninja." Sasuke said with a bit of disgust. Naruto just nodded in agreement.

"Sound pathetic. Basically they were too lazy to really work on being ninja, or didn't want to put out the effort. The fact I passed showed it doesn't take much to pass, so you have to really not show any desire to do so or an entire lack of regard for authority and no talent. Since we started working together it's obviously a lot of the fact that yanno, I am capable of pranking shinobi way above my level that showcased I had potential, just not in the class room. For someone to not show any potential, or even book wise as some of the dorks we graduated with didn't even manage the exams..wasn't there that Lee kid a year ahead of us?" At the twin nods of his brunette teammates Naruto continued. He was the most talkative one on the team after all.

"Yeah. So anyways, really the only true requirement to graduate is that you really want to be a ninja and you have some sort of a smidgen of use. Even the idiots who can't do much can do the paperwork basics so you have to be lazy, physically suck at anything, no chakra control, and no skills in paperwork..um..means they would be pretty lousy at anything really even in civilian jobs huh?"

Kucho and Sasuke shared a look over their blonde teammate's head, mismatched gaze behind rose glasses and dark eyes that hid most everything clearly agreed. Somehow the blonde must not need to breathe when he rambled.

"Exactly. When they have two or more a chunin usually shows up and just all but kidnaps them. They aren't allowed to pack and making do with what they have on, and usually a single kunai which to be honest usually has to be given to them..keeps the civilian's happy they are just that. It seems to cut down on frustrations for those who didn't make the cut. The goal is to make them miserable so they don't want to be ninja after they are kicked out. That way they don't hold their failures against the shinobi they run into beyond hiring us for menial labor, which as you three have learned is useful for establishing teamwork. Even the unorthodox sort you have."

"that's why we aren't packed. Because, it is more believable if we forget things, we are going to go at a slightly faster than average civilian's pace and otherwise not show any capable jutsu or talents.." Kucho mumbled to herself.

"No awesomeness?" Naruto pouted but Sasuke nodded, eyes narrowing.

"Someone has attacked one of the groups before?"

"Ahh..no. But there is no reason to go where we are otherwise."

"Danger assessment of the surroundings on the way to location?" Kucho piped up, eyes flickering behind her glasses from Naruto to Sasuke, amused to see how put out they were that the C rank was going to be pretending they were not ninja. The dark Aburame Queen was right there with them, however. Going slow and not enhancing their muscles or speed with chakra was entirely the opposite of what they were used to attempting. Her Kikaichu would even have to hide entirely which was..well it never happened.

Poor little beetles, they wouldn't get to ride on her ribbons to feel what flying would be like. Nee-chan three's hive would be so disappointed about that. They weren't winged and so it was something of a delight for her third hive's members to be able to take turns riding on her ribbons. The kikaichu of that hive even had a rotation worked out so that everyone got fairly regular chances. She'd have to make it up to them..

"Low. Potential for random bandits and the like but really this is a good test for you to try to not act like ninja. It's a highly needed skill to blend in, and not to forget how to move and act like a civilian often throws off suspicions of you."

"that is part of why you slouch?" Kucho asked and Kakashi nodded.

"Also why I learned to have a book out often, usually the assumption is I am not paying attention and thus people underestimate me. Deception and misdirection are not to be underestimated. Unless in battle and I give permission there is to be no jutsu permitted. If it is a low level battle, should we be attacked, you are permitted taijutsu and your weapons only. No Kikaichu, no chakra. Keep your chakra calm and it will register as low level if at all there."

Kucho pouted, and it was a true sad one rather then just a huffy expression. None of the boys on her team wanted to comment on it, but finally, Naruto fidgeted.

"Um Kucho-chan...? You...aren't happy we got a C-rank?"

"My poor Nee-chan three's hive won't get to ride on my hair ribbons..."

It really was saying something that none of the boys around her reacted to that. Kucho's adoration of her kikaichu was right up there with Naruto's ramen obsession and Sasuke's ..well..pick an issue really.

"Hmmmm..on second thought..you three look too much like capable little ducklings..Change of plans!"

None of the kids looked amused at hearing that. Truly, their sensei was insane.

Chapter Text

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.."

"Hn."

"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.

"Hm."

"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."

"Or ash."

"Or rocks."

"Or twigs."

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.."

"Hn."

"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..

"thank you."

"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."

"Kids.."

"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?"

"hm?"

"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.."

"After that.."

"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.

Whatever worked.

Seriously that was going to become the team motto..

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.

Chapter Text

AN: I have written and rewritten this a number of times. I have a number of partial chapters for WAY in the future written up and awaiting use. A huge inspiration however was the wonderful Mimosa Evans who has created fan art of Kucho! It's my first fan art and I am ridiculously happy over it. Especially as I've rewritten and scrapped this chapter a number of times. I think my beta was starting to get annoyed at me! Poor sister..

ap3x-phantom DOT deviantart then DOT com and then /gallery/59983473/Queen

Or be lazy like I am and do a search for ap3x-phantom Deviantart Kucho. My personal favorites are Natural Queen and Kimono Kucho. I love them endlessly! I do have to say I've written a few future interludes based off a few of the works and I hope to get far enough along to share them soon.

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

There was laughter.

It was the sound of children on the cusp of becoming teenagers. Lilting and barked out, rolling from one shrill peak into the next tone. The barely audible sound of stamping feet of ninja trying not to act like ninja was the only percussion to go along with the lighthearted music of innocence not yet tarnished. Kakashi paused, one foot in mid air, hands in his pockets as he just looked.

Team seven was still dressed like civilian's though a little more casually as they were on their way back. Kucho was racing along trying to tag Naruto while Sasuke would periodically rush in and try to trip Naruto or grasp Kucho and swing her around. Even the usually silent Uchiha had a smirk that was teasing it's way into a smile and his eyes were aglow as they should be. As if all the nightmares and horrors of his past were temporarily shunted aside. It was just before sunrise and the light not yet strong enough to hurt Kucho's eyes as she raced along playing. They were actually playing.

There was a sharp pain in his side and Kakashi felt misty eyed for a moment. Three of his students, two steeped in tragedy and all too old too soon could still momentarily cast it all aside to act like their age as if there was no war.

If nothing else, Mission Albatross was a success for this. Carefully Kakashi shoved up his headband to allow the sharingan to lock the sight into his memories for all time.

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

"Oh! Kucho-chan get over here fast!" Naruto hollered and waved an arm frantically. Without a moments hesitation both of his brunette charges scampered over at full civilian speed and Kakashi meandered after. It was a pity they didn't trip but you could only downplay your reactions so far.

"What did you..o..ohhh..." Kuco's voice trailed off with something like hushed wonder as she knelt carefully besides her blonde teammate. Sasuke looked from the object of her suddenly rapt attention to the blonde menace, and then finally up at Kakashi.

Kakashi who wished he had his sharingan still uncovered because the bewildered little boy expression on Sasuke's face was beyond priceless. He needed to remember to take them on a few more civilian missions that took time because being away from everything had done wonders for the three.

"It's a butterfly." Kakashi provided helpfully in his best emotionless voice.

"An Orange butterfly dattebayo!" Naruto nodded, exceptionally pleased with his findings.

"It's an aberration.." Kucho said reverently and suddenly mismatched eyes were locked onto Kakashi with a variation of puppy dog eye jutsu that he'd never been witness to before. It took him a moment but Kakashi was still a genius, even if he liked to rot his brain with a certain infamous orange book so his mind was distracted from over thinking everything. There was clearly more to this than just the fact that Naruto had been the one to find an insect. He did not know how it worked for the Aburame but wisps of memories when he found each of his nin dogs reminded him that sometimes chakra would let you know along with instincts when you found a good match. The very fact that despite whatever pull she felt towards the small winged creature was being resisted for his permission though, and he did have all three watching him to ensure it was given; made him feel especially lenient.

"Go ahead Kucho-chan, but do try to be subtle?"

The way her face lit up was..well the funny looks she was getting from her teammate's was pretty priceless. For all they always muttered about her being uncute it seemed this was the first time they seemed to remember that Kucho despite all her practicality and love of insects was still very much a girl and yes she was going to coo over a pretty butterfly.

Kakashi watched curious if he could grasp any of the details as Aburame were more secretive than even most ninja when it came to their methods. The lack of concern that any of the three were observing was rather gratifying. Kucho's fingers splayed out, tiny webs of chakra flowing from her in a strange sticky consistency that could be sensed not seen and ever so softly, almost just below even his enhanced hearing level, she seemed to be making a humming sound that undulated in pitch and tone as if her vocal cords were layered in a way that defied biology.

Tan fingers danced, flickering and the butterfly alighted softly. The gentle oranges shifted as it did so, blooming a soft pink closer to the body and edging into almost a vibrant peacock feather blue along it's larger lower wing segment outlining the brilliant orange of the main wing. If Kakashi and the boys hadn't been watching they would have missed the ever so faint bloom to her eyes of peach before Kucho shivered in delight and cradled the butterfly to her.

"Hello..."

Nothing more was said and though the three males felt a little awkward, none of them tried to get her to move along. While they didn't understand what was happening, the emergence of a few kikaichu with her trademark variated carapaces greeting the butterfly in her hands was sign enough that it was significant. Kucho carefully settled the butterfly in the end against her ear, it nestling into her hair with a few more of the kikaichu and she looked at her teammate's with the most..content expression they had ever seen.

"Okay."

It seemed wrong to question her just then.

Of course a few hours later when the dopey smile left her face and the butterfly seemed to have just vanished, Naruto finally brought it up.

"So why did you call it an aberration?" He was quite pleased to not have stumbled over the word and Kucho nodded.

"Because it was. It wasn't supposed to be that color, it should have had darker markings and been more brown than bright orange. It's unique before it consented to join my hive and now even more so. Hopefully he will breed with some of the butterflies I've been trying to evolve and they will get that coloration, if not it will stay long lived and in symbiosis with me."

"Is that why the color changed?" Sasuke asked, actually asking about butterflies..who would have thought?

"Yes because of my chakra. It always makes them look a little different."

"Your eyes went sorta pinky." Naruto chimed in and Kucho tilted her head.

"That I have no answer for..I've never really witnessed the bonding before, we do wear glasses usually after all."

And wasn't that just fuel for thought?

"So..is this going to be part of the 'hell butterflies' I have heard you mention then, Kucho-chan?" Kakashi's tone was mild to hide his actual curiosity.

"Oh I hope so!"

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

Konoha's gates never looked so welcoming. They cannot seem to get to the tower fast enough, not a one recognizable as themselves. Indeed if not for the whiskers upon Naruto's cheeks and the coloring of Kucho it is doubtful that any of the three dirty and dusty would be thought of as more than just rambunctious if slightly respectful brats. Their attire is tattered and showing the downsides to being one of only two items they wore for the trip, all are caked in sweat and dirt that never fully washes off with just the stream and harsh soap and there are mats in their hair and creases in their garments. All three are tied for the biggest mess on the top of their heads and it is almost a pity that of them all only Kucho has someone to assist her in removing the chaos the trip afflicted upon their crowns.

They do not shift though, but report before a startled Iruka and other aides to the Hokage. There is not a headband in sight, and Kucho is still keeping her eyes closed rather than pull out her glasses. Sasuke is too tired to feel noble and Naruto is even tired out.

They do not in the least resemble the three who set out a little more than a week ago for their first C rank.

Hiruzen's draws upon his pipe are tellingly long as his eyes seem to convey the sheer amusement at the sight of ninja children that were before tiny adults being so clearly..not.

Kakashi has not instructed them, again it's a test everything in the world of ninja is a test to see what they omit and how they disclose information they are not aware if it should be shared with so many present. Kakashi is not in the slightest surprised -pride may be in his body language but none could prove that- to hear them give only the most tiny of details. Not a word of what they found, what they did. Indeed it could well be an entirely different mission for all that is left out it makes for a tale of arduous pitfalls playing civilian, looking around the city, and then when told they were departing taking off like well trained goslings to the papa goose.

The children are sent off with a hand motion from their team leader who instructs them that he shall make the more detailed report and they will all do the paperwork tomorrow but first they are to go and become themselves again.

It is not quite a dash out the tower, but it is close as they leave the silver member of their team behind. A quick exchange of smiles, a promise to have lunch tomorrow and train because oh do they need to get back to training..and they separate with speed that has been withheld until then.

Sasuke does not slow down, nearly falling several times as he pushes himself to go faster and faster ricocheting off nearby walls and leaping over fences simply because he can and he's forgotten almost the sheer exultation in not holding back. He sheds clothing and gear from the door to his bathroom without a care, no one else is anywhere near the Uchiha compound after all and if he takes a number of showers and promptly curls up to sleep in his sheets no one is there to say a word.

Naruto skips the shower and heads straight for his bed. He'll need to do laundry anyways and may as well do all of it at once tomorrow. But he has not seen a mattress since the inn and that wasn't even as good as the ratty one he had in his apartment. Besides, there is a scent, a feel that permeates this as his home. He tries not to think too deeply on why it is that his home, his den is where he feels best and the raw primal satisfaction of being back in it.

Kucho finally pauses long enough to rip a seam of her destroyed yukata and ditches the shoes for just her tabi altogether, breath coming in frantic gasps as she finally feels the transition from Konoha into Aburame territory. The thousands of hives buzzing along her peripheral senses sends Kucho to her knees and her hands are grasping deep into the soft soil just inside the walls. She's hyperventilating and she knows this, was even warned of the likelihood as all her kin are but the separation from Hive and Kin and territory is something she was not focusing on and the sudden snapping of the too taut strain..

Kucho is barely aware of the many sets of hands pulling her up and passing her along gently, as if she was the curves of a dragonflies wings. She just trembles and her eyes are not focusing because they are clamped shut tight.

There is a sound, a pulsing, a thudding and chimes. Humming and buzzing that seems to create a musical orchestra all around her and through here chakra network as every touch of the different sets of helping hands sends the chakra pulses that the Aburame use to communicate more than words crackling along her nerves. They are so tiny, miniscule that she would have thought less of them before now than moving hair from her face. In the absence and repression of her chakra, lack of full and constant contact with her Kikaichu though it is dissonance and she craves it frantically.

She'd never really understood why it was Aburame were so careful around the born Queen's until now. Until she's unconsciously clinging and grasping at all around her. She knows she's secreting pheromones frantically and there's no few kikaichu that are not her hive skittering across her skin to try and let them know how she is there. Even the unbonded insects nearby are frenetically welcoming her.

The tumultuous din is however not what she needs. She needs to be grounded she needs those she already has a bond to but she needs the clamor of so many around her at the same time. Otherwise she would have been able to stay with her team, to go seek out Choji. That she has done this well and lasted this long is a striking testament to the bond she has formed with her soldier's but it just was not enough!

"Calm." It is one word, felt more than spoken and Kucho's face is tugged into a thick jacket that smells of dog and sweat and smoke and earth and..

A queen's chakra permeates everything else. It is what she needs more than anything because a Queen is to protect her hives as they protect her and for all the Aburame around her mean well and would do near anything for a Queen especially a born one, it is not enough. There's a depth of their chakra that they cannot reach and the complimentary pheromones cannot seep out and into her skin. It is subtle, a gulp of water when she needs gallons, but it is enough to slake her to the point some semblance of awareness to reassert.

"We are going to your Okaa-san now."

Unspoken the words are transmitted in Aburame chakra code through the hand splayed across her back as they do a sort of shuffle, Kucho never taking her face from his jacket. I'm here.

It blunts the edges and Kucho can think again. She stays as she is though because the sheer terror of feeling lost in the midst of such an immense hive is going to haunt her memories. She barely manages to kick off her tabi with deft fingers and stepping on her heels but passes to feel the warmth of the floor that she knows is her home..a step up into the house proper and then there's a …

All the swarms her mother holds are out.

They cover the walls and the windows, they shift along the ceiling wings and legs and chirps and cries drowning out anything beyond the room.

Gumoko's eyes meet the form of her daughter, filthy and huddled against one of the few who holds a full fleet of Queen quality Kikaichu and managed to get her there in better shape than it could have been. It was sheer misfortune that had no decent aged Queen's who could otherwise assist but the elders would not be up to the task. Gumoko knew she needed to be here, to have fortified their home so that Kucho could safely fall to pieces and then put herself back together. It was inevitable for the Queen's after a long mission and the first was always the worst. They were practical, able to shove it entirely to the back of their minds but it clawed at them like a mantis devouring the head of her mate. Inevitable.

"Thank you." Gumoko was clad just in comfortable pants and a tank top, this was one case when skin to skin contact was necessary and she would be peeling Kucho out of her yukata, knowing at least that she wore garments below it to help. It was visible in how the fabric clung as she moved. It was in her thanks, also a dismissal.

"No." Kucho looked up then, from where she was clinging still and the mismatched eyes were so full of anger and pain and loss and frustration and confusion that Gumoko well remembered her first time home after a few days away and suppression of her chakra. The fear and reorientation of the hive after the loss would never cease to haunt an Aburame..to some degree they would always experience it and Kucho was far closer to her kikaichu than most.

"You are in too many layers." Gumoko gave as an explanation, it wasn't as though Kucho could think very well right now. No, Aburame felt too much and too deeply and it was why they barricaded themselves in logic and rationale. There were theories that perhaps with the way that their insects were so tied to the world and chakra in general it made them more in touch with what they thought and felt..but none knew for certain.

Kucho paused, her eyes widening and then steel overlaid her spine and she looked up into the dark glasses above her head. There were no words, but several pulses of chakra softly passed back and forth between them.

Slowly the hand moved from her back and he inclined his head.

He needn't use the words. There was no questioning another Aburame, the very thought was foolish. If she asked, and he agreed then it was decided. Gumoko held out her arms and braced for the impact of her dusky hued child, helping to remove the waist tie and yukata giving only the faintest look at her mess of curls that would be a long time in working through matted into the style she'd originally given her. Folded jacket and glasses set by his shoes Shino then moved to sit by them. Just waiting as Gumoko held Kucho to her. His hand resting lightly upon Kucho's forearm nearest him in chakra laden reassurance she was not alone.

Then, with a shuddering breath Kucho unleashed her swarms.

Shino looked around in awe.

Gumoko's Kikaichu were like his, small and dark and nothing truly spectacular. They were Kikaichu as Aburame knew them, there were sometimes other strains but overall they were always like this. Subtle, forgettable and in that truly was the comparison to their human hosts for it was those overlooked who could make such a difference when brought together.

But Gumoko had bred Kucho as one did their prized strain.

Kucho's kikaichu, her signature strain were dazzling to the young Aburame heir. Tan on brown with glossy carapace and translucent wings they twisted and cavorted through the air like glistening streams in comparison to the dark brown and black or charcoal grays of the traditional hues. There were so many others though! Shino had no idea that Kucho was holding so many non traditional sort in her chakra channels..indeed he did not doubt that his parents knew and the other Queens, perhaps even the elders.

There were glowing dragonflies and fireflies that had no purpose other than what they simply were. He could sense that. There were numerous flightless kikaichu whose purpose he couldn't even divine crawling along their skin and seeming to taste his chakra before exploring. There were variations of butterflies!

The last he must have said aloud because all the hives there hummed in that laughter that kikaichu did and sent his nerves roiling in a ticklish sensation because there were so many queens in the combined hives. He couldn't have stopped his two Queen's and the four lesser queens from emerging if he had wanted to. The softening of Kucho's shoulder's though made him glad for that. It seemed she was taking comfort in the millions of tiny forms around the three of them, all with an underlaying of familiar chakra from their hosts.

"Butterflies.." He repeated in wonder and was rewarded by Kucho's humm of agreement.

"I've always wanted..butterflies as lethal as a scorpion, as beautiful as our kikaichu feel."

Shino understood, but he also didn't understand at the same time. It was..curious. Instead he just watched the flickering prism's along the vast scape of dark bodies. They were obviously beautiful with their wings showcasing a multitude of the rainbow but Shino rather thought her glowing dragonflies were much more suiting of the born Queen.

At some point Kucho fell asleep and Gumoko simply lifted a brow at Shino. Since he was not in contact with her, and certainly was not about to initiate such a gaffe he nodded. "Before she left we..came to an understanding."

An alliance of queens and there was that tiny pin prick of the other's chakra from hosting a beetle of the other Aburame's from that day at the academy that bore out his tale. Gumoko merely let her eyebrow drop, the matter settled. Also why Kucho was willing for Shino to stay.

"Will it always be so bad?" For her, for him, he did not know.

Gumoko did not answer. After all, she had no way of knowing the future.

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

"Once again Kakashi, Welcome back. Anything else to report?" The Hokage slowly let smoke flicker past his lips as he regarded Kakashi evenly. The quick debrief had occurred earlier, with team seven being relieved without incident. Truly, seeing them had been entertaining. Watching shinobi play civilian was a personal hobby of Hiruzen, they were terrible at it. As usual he did a proper debriefing of the Jounin instructor later on, Kakashi having shown up many hours past when he was supposed to.

"Hm.." Kakashi's book was nowhere in sight, the lazily slouched posture absent. "Team Seven ran into no..complications. They took their roles and ran them through flawlessly save for a concern that the Aburame may be far more symbiotic with their kikaichu than I was previously led to believe. Lack of interaction actually caused my kunoichi some levels of distress." Kakashi let that sink in before he continued. He wouldn't play games, not with his Hokage. Those tended to backfire with things like being saddled with a bunch of genin -for all his three students showed ample promise!- and he preferred to not enact any further issues.

"The strange chakra mission albatross was to check into was revealed to be a missing nin from another village. The man has been apprehended and delivered to Ibiki personally. Rudimentary interrogation showed nothing beyond distrust for his own village and a desire to make a quick fortune selling a cobbled together form of the infamous 'nin boosting' drug that was insidious in the prior war. Incidentally the shinobi and drug were found at different times by my team without breaking their covers."

"Oh?"

Kakashi nodded, his one visible eye sharp. "They showed initiative."

Hiruzen set his pipe down to steeple his fingers in front of his face slowly. The aged Hokage looked everywhere save where it would involve eye contact. Showing initiative was a rare thing indeed, doubly so on a mission. Usual procedure would be for the genin to inform the jounin and from there manufacture a plan. That his team did not...

"Expand."

"Creating a distraction as only Naruto can, I was informed it took something of a cow and wire and lots of misdirection but no chakra..Sasuke had spied the bamboo that was out of place at a vegetable stall. He has been reading many of his father's notes and training scrolls and recognized the common civilian smuggling tactic. In the ensuing confusion the item was swiped. They did not truly open or examine until I was present."

Hiruzen blinked but did not interrupt.

"Kucho was after a nap, which I was later informed as a confession she was letting a few of her kikaichu out under the blanket as prolonged absence indeed caused her distress..one that I had originally written off as her adapting to the strenuous nature of traveling as a civilian while clamping down on their chakra output. She had gone to the local tea supply in town and recognized a strange scent and chakra signal, of which she promptly informed me. At no point did any of the three break cover, question my actions, or hesitate to inform me of everything even if they feared a reprimand. Additionally, upon the return trip none of them questioned me or tried to push the boundaries. They seem to have a natural respect for their superior officer which is refreshing and uncommon."

Hiruzen nodded again and then leaned back.

"I want you to mix them in D and C ranks in the village, I'll let the chunnin and jounin know there's a capable gennin team that needs a little extra pushing around. Report back to me after that and we'll start sending them on more C ranks outside the village."

Kakashi nodded. The 'hazing missions' as they were called were in village meant to test humility and push their buttons before they would start to escort or guard difficult civilian's. Hiruzen was certainly enthusiastic about the potential team seven had to start them on this so early. Generally it took until the first time a team failed the chunnin exams for these to come about. It also meant that in a few months when the exams were coming close, he was hoping team seven would be able to put on a good show. Not that he didn't understand, since Konoha was going to be hosting the exams it made sense to parade their last Uchiha as a show pony.

Kakashi's eye crinkled in a smile.

Oh he had no doubt when he eventually told his team they would be suggested for the exams (just a few days before of course, you didn't want them too prepared. Surprises were part of a nin's life and he would just be doing them a favor getting them used to that) that simply competing wouldn't be enough. Not for his team.

They'd be determined to win.

As a team.

It was something he could support whole heartedly.

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

The next few days were full of many missions, all of which were various shades of embarrassing. There was actually one that took four hours where all three kids were sent chasing down the different stores that sold soaps to find the best 'rose scented soap' for a chunnin who couldn't remember where he had bought it for his wife and needed to replace it.

He'd remembered almost last minute it was actually a body lotion and they'd had to repeat the entire thing.

Another had them plucking grass by hand because tools apparently didn't have the traditional feel and chakra could burn the plants. Kakashi did solemnly inform them in a rare bought of seriousness that Jounin were known to be eccentric and to just go with it. While he was reading an infamous book.

Sasuke had ended up on a private D rank passing messages across town for one person as they were in a grudge match and wouldn't actually speak to someone face to face. Naruto at the same time was picking up food orders for a woman with her children. Kucho had been stuck sharpening the academy collection of dull kunai which had to be done by hand and was long overdo. Also she was stuck with Baba-Sensei as she had been known who was watching Kucho like a hawk to ensure she only used the method and tools she approved of in the way she wanted it done.

When left alone they did not complain. Honestly after the week plus long C rank out of the village they were aware Kakashi was up to something with all of this but had unanimously decided they simply did not wish to know.

When they had free time they would practice their jutsu's together. Having been forced to play civilian's had given their chakra quite the boost from the constant suppression and at last Kucho was managing the techniques she needed. The boys were both up close and center fighters whereas unless using her Queen Style Taijutsu Kucho would clearly be a long range fighter. They were all three trying to not only come up with making their combination attack work, but balancing by all becoming mid range fighters as well.

At some point, as was bound to happen, exhaustion caught up with them.

Kakashi was showing up late as usual for once not having been there early to amuse himself watching his cute students and paused. Once again, the head band went up and his sharingan went into play because the three were sprawled out without a trace of dignity or grace. Indeed it seemed they'd simply been sparring and sat down..before passing out.

He was wondering how long it would take them to reach their limits.

Well, it could wait. He did have the last chapter to finish.

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

"Why. Are. We. Doing. This." Sasuke hissed out as he tried to ignore the fact he was as red as one of his beloved tomatoes.

"I don't knooooowwwwww ...errrrgh.." Naruto made a strange rumbling sound even as he tried to not look at the garments he was handling. He had several wads of tissues up his nose to combat the eventual nose bleed. After all they were gathering up a woman's laundry from her floor. Well, if there actually was a floor under there. At this point they had discovered several rodent skeletons, bags upon bags of take out, and had carefully moved weapons that were most likely coated in poison into a designated series of boxes.

Naruto had a makeshift set of tongs out of long barbeque chopsticks he was using to scoop up various...undergarments..and placing them in the laundry basket. Kucho was the one folding and putting away the clean laundry as it was one thing to handle the items when not actually touching them.

What was this exactly?

Go figure, apparently house keeping for jounin could be a C rank mission. That was not counting that Kakashi had first gone in to dismantle the lethal traps or else it would have been closer to B or A rank. The non lethal ones he left for 'experience'.

Sasuke had been the one disabling them all but the various locations they were in, and the items draped over them had been taking him much of the afternoon to clear space by space.

Only Kucho didn't seem phased, if anything she was having a great deal of fun dusting and even stopping to coo at a few snakes and lizards in cages that were kept all along one wall. The entire wall. It was covered in what looked like glass but likely was nothing so breakable (potentially turned into a weapon) and with large branches and lights that had the long serpents draped about lazily. Off to the side in a decent sized cage on a makeshift table made out of books and crates was the main cage Kucho kept stopping at to coo and even reach in and stroke the head of the pretty brown and striped snake.

Her gift after all for all that he lived here.

Yes they were cleaning up after Anko.

Kucho kept to herself that she had never seen the place anything but immaculate because Anko didn't trust a single thing out of place. Chaotic yes but this smacked of planned chaos specifically to harass the boys. For one she knew for a fact because Anko-sama over shared over tea all the time, that she did not own so many pairs of underwear.

Anko was fond of going 'commando' and had told Kucho when she was older she'd understand. Anything that was more than a thread style thong or tight shorts for under the skirts was recent and a plant. Also knowing Anko it was likely all stolen goods as opposed to bought but that was the kunoichi for you. Kucho found the expressions and body language of her teammate's funny enough to not say anything though.

Really it was just clothing. So what that it covered a part of the lower regions, so did the boys shirts cover the chest area which would never develop compared to hers but Anko was through her puberty already. Yet they never made faces when they came across those. She was very thankful at that moment for her clans predilection for avoiding the drama of such sensibilities. Even upon her entering adulthood she knew she would likely go about it in a far more methodical and logical fashion than those around her.

It was good to be Aburame.

"Can we not do some missions, Kakashi-sensei?!" naruto hollered outside. Because of course Kakashi was smart enough to lounge on the roof with a window open rather than risk Anko's ire.

Kakashi smirked contently knowing not a one of his students could see him.

It was also good to be the copy nin.

Chapter Text

AN: Just an interlude. Because Team 7 has to have other things they do that isn't all nin battles.

()()()()()

Sasuke really didn't have any friends. Nor did he have anyone he trained with that wasn't Team 7. He trained, he worked on learning more about his past family having taken to reading the police reports and journals feverishly. Outside the bright spots of his team he was alone and did not know how to go beyond that.

Before his teammates the very idea he may want to hadn't even occurred to him. So when Naruto tried to drag him off to visit with Kiba for a prank he allowed it even if all he did was listen to them plot. Every so often he'd refute one of their dumb ideas with a better one and for all that he was the quiet one..it felt good.

Then there was Kucho. Kucho didn't drag she'd just invite him along and not tell where she was going or why. Maybe it was the soldier/Queen dynamics and the pheromones he knew she used and while he suspected it was more than he had allowed originally, he had no reason to doubt she was trustworthy. Whatever it was he was content to go to the market with her and on long walks where her Kikaichu would be trailing on her hair ribbons. He didn't even object to a few hitching a ride on his shoulders but the hair was off limits.

And being brought along with Naruto to one of her days with Chouji?

The boys hadn't been permitted to actually do any of the cooking but it had been more a picnic with the Akimichi and a number of their friends all there. With such an abundance of food Sasuke and Naruto had leftovers for days to bring back and left lethargic and relaxed.

Like many Sasuke had wondered just how and why Chouji and Kucho had bonded at least beyond casual friends. She'd called him her drone, and it just didn't make sense to the last Uchiha. He couldn't even explain the soldier dynamics and he was part of it but it made sense.

Until you saw them in person.

Kucho would smile quietly along with Chouji when others were boisterously laughing. They'd share food and get each other drinks. While everyone else in the Akimichi clan was loud and always offering anyone delectable things; and really it was all insanely delicious. Barbequed tomatoes were the best thing ever and Sasuke must have eaten an entire plate full with everything else he had been handed and for that he had Chouji to thank. Chouji was the quietest in the clan. At one point Sasuke was looking around discreetly not sure of where Kucho went and Chouji stopped eating to lean over.

"It gets to be a bit too much for her. She'll be back in a while. Just in the room off the kitchen reading most likely." with that same statement Chouji held out the plate of caramelized sliced tomatoes and smiled. "Kucho-chan said you love tomatoes..ever had them grilled?"

"No..." He tried them anyways.

Sasuke had been rather embarassed at how he'd almost eaten the entire plate but the beaming smile on Chouji's face had told him in this family that was high praise. He'd offered him one back off the plate on a guess and apparently the Akimichi heir could light up the room with his smile. Because of the close ties the Yamanaka had with the Akimichi they were there of course, and the Nara. Which meant he was hiding from Ino.

In that too it turned out Chouji was good for things because he seemed to just know when Ino was coming and they'd sneak off.

Much to Sasuke's amusement, it became a highly entertaining game.

Naruto of course, had spent the time playing and roughhousing. He could not win because the Akimichi were all excellent wrestlers but the advice and tips showed when not pigging out and being loud about how much he loved everything, Naruto was happy.

Many times Sasuke had envied how little it took to make Naruto happy, but he'd gotten to know the face behind the blonde's facade and so he no longer begrudged him. If Naruto wanted to stuff himself silly and wrestle, well he fit right in with most the Akimichi and it was a good thing.

They'd slipped out before dessert all too full for anything more and Chouji had beamed at the three of them. "Come back and visit next time! Hey, come for when it's cooking night and you can taste test for us!"

It hadn't taken much to get the boys to agree. As they walked away, before they split up Sasuke paused. For once the first to speak.

"I like him."

"Yeah. You can keep him as part of your -OUR-hive Kucho-chan." Naruto agreed, arms full of take home delights that still had Naruto glancing down in awe.

Kucho laughed, not that she would have ever let them tell her who she could and couldn't hang out with but it was nice to know others saw the good in Chouji. Being the quiet one as heir to a loud and joyful clan so often belittled until they were of age to have children of there own, that her friends were accepting of each other had her buzzing aloud in contentment. "Thank you."

"Haha Kakashi-sensei is going to be so jealous when he hears we got food and he didn't!"

"Hn. I'm setting traps around my fridge."

"You do know that's like waving a flag saying 'heyyyy sensei there's something good in here!' Right, broody-duck?"

Kucho closed her eyes content. She had been wondering what would happen, because being genin made them all just a bit different. It was calming to know Chouji was valued by her soldiers; and he had liked them back the same. It hadn't been verbally, but the smile and how he'd made certain there were grilled tomatoes and a few extra noodle dishes for her teammate's said everything.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

AN: We see a bit of Sakura in this one. Give her time, she's got a lot of potential but right now she's still the girl she was in the start of the show and she reverts to fangirl around Sasauke still. Be patient with her. Apologies for the delay but I kept having trouble getting this part right. And then it got out of hand. And then I couldn't find where to cut it off so I just kept going. .

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

"So whatever happened to the other rookies anyways?" Naruto finally asked one day as they were waiting on Kakashi. "I mean we know Choji is doing great, but I never see anyone around the village which is weird."

"It's a large village, loudmouth. Kakashi-sensei likes us to be late to things so we are probably just missing everyone. Who were you thinking of?" Sasuke asked though he was hardly concerned. In all actuality the Uchiha was relishing this moment of taking a break. Kakashi had them doing sprints with fireman carries the previous night pushing them beyond their limits. They could fully appreciate the need to be able to do it but it was uncomfortable for both the runner and the one playing injured body. Especially because they were all on the thin and bony side.

"Ehhhh everybody really..but um..Sa..k...ura..chan?" He trailed off shyly while scratching the side of his nose, it wasn't like the two who had been in school with him would be unaware of his adoration for the pinkette.

Not a single one of his teammate's responded but Naruto had gotten smart about them and smiled. "Kucho-chan, do you know what has been happening with Sakura-chan?"

"Yes." She answered calmly, her full attention on the little beetle scurrying around her palm. Sasuke hid a smirk. Slowly they were teaching Naruto how to have a decent conversation without as much of his leaping to conclusions.

"Will you tell me?"

"You should ask her personally." Kucho replied.

"But I can't find her anywhere! I looked an I dunno where she is since I can't find her at the academy anymore. An yanno there's no guarantee she'd even talk to me and if you guys are with me she'll just flirt with broody duck and ...I dunno what she'd do with you Kucho, maybe ignore you."

Kucho paused, her eyes flickering over to Naruto. "Gathering information is a skill you need to work on."

Naruto scrunched up his face and then got a large foxy grin. Bartering was something he could do and he knew one thing that Kucho and Sasuke wanted to know better. "Teach you to pick locks?"

"Haruno Sakura was accepted as a paper nin in the intelligence and cryptolinguistics section under an apprenticeship. She's according to my intel doing very well and seems to have a head for puzzles. Right now she mostly handles running errands and doing various beginner tasks but with her intelligence and scores from the academy it is likely she'll have a very good career." Kucho fired off with ease making Sasuke sit up and lift a brow.

"That girl, in such a department?"

"Hey Sakura-chan is smart!" Naruto defended her and Kucho nodded.

"Sakura-san had a very good mind for puzzles and complex figures. Had she put more effort in at the academy instead of her appearance and attempts to impress you Sasuke-kun, she would have made me work harder to achieve my ranking as top Kunoichi of the year. She is neglecting her physical aspect of training..as she is never seen in the regular locations, but apparently she's very popular in her department. I believe she's mostly in 'risk assessment' assigning which missions are approved D or C ranks this week as assistant."

"How did you learn that?' Sasuke had a smirk though because every so often Kucho fell into being verbose. It wasn't common but it was an Aburame trait so perhaps it really just was their nature.

"There's a sheet tacked up in various departments that state what the genin are up to if not attached to a team." She shrugged then amused. "My beetles can sneak in and observe."

"Huh. I thought they couldn't read?" Naruto ruffled his hair in thought. "But I guess that doesn't mean you can't go look if they give you the all clear..right?"

"Yup!" Kucho bobbed her head with a smile back to her more relaxed self. She knew what was coming.

"Okay so where do we find these...?"

"We should try to guess that on our own." Sasuke said as he stood up. "C'mon idiot. Let's go. Kucho-chan you shall let us know where to start?" It was really asking her a favor but she didn't mind, he had a hand out to help pull up the girl on the team and she nodded.

"It's over by the academy for the first one.."

By the end of the day they knew that most of the departments that handled genin and chunnin without a team were the academy, library, a warehouse, and two actual office buildings. This wasn't taking into account the better known sections for things like the hospital, T&I, or Hokage's tower either. The actual departments varied from complex things like what Sakura was in, to an actual group that handled cleaning and managing the various rooftops dubbed 'Konoha's Nin highway'. There was even a section of genin corps that handled processing travel visa's for civilians and did background checks. Some of that information on older people Sasuke had from his military police files and it appeared when things had been cleaned up after the massacre that department had paid handsomely to acquire the information. Sasuke couldn't complain, it wasn't as though the information would have done him any good and they only had taken copies.

"I didn't realize ninja did so many things..I guess I was always thinking of missions and battles and stuff.." Naruto said as they wandered around the area. Sasuke shrugged. "Makes sense though. A lot of those 'paper nin' as I heard them call each other were hurt. Did you notice that one in charge of civilian complaints and fact checking against mission reports had only one leg?"

"Man that would suck to have a limb gone.." Naruto agreed with a face.

"It could happen." Sasuke agreed but then all three made a face. "We need to keep training. Just in case..but it's good to know there is some place for those who don't fit the idea of powerful ninja..or retire from fighting condition."

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

A week later had them at the training field attached to the Uchiha compound when Kakashi located them.

They were just finishing up working on coordinating yet another group of their attacks with code names and ensuring they could remember them when Kakashi appeared with a frown. "We have a special request mission. I will need to supervise your packs to ensure you have everything should you accept taking it."

"What is it?" Sasuke asked as the three stood up straight. Eyes were serious and bodies at attention. They'd been subtly learning more about proper protocol and how to handle things since the mission where they had their first messy kills. The counseling after wards had been mandatory and Sasuke had simply told them where the Yamanaka he'd gone to was because they were 'tolerable'.

Once they'd adapted though and handled the range of emotions from guilt to fear, Kakashi had helped them with developing a more professional mind set. It wasn't something that you often saw in the lower ranks, it had caused much dissent in his own team as a child but there was a time and place for emotions and plenty more for being focused on the mission. Occasions like what had torn his team apart were the exception, not the rule. Half the guilt he carried was because if Obito and Rin had known to follow protocol. They would have completed everything, found Rin and retrieved her with a better rescue mission. Yes Rin may have given up intel and perhaps been traumatized but they wouldn't have lost a teammate. They wouldn't have been so compromised as to then have the later events occur. If Rin had just known to follow protocol when she had protested or asked to be killed she would have used terms that did not seem so emotional and Kakashi could have made sense of them. They could have retreated to one of the safe locations and had someone help her..

But he hadn't. He'd been such an ass about beating in the methods his father had taught him to the point that he wouldn't have to see another person fall to their emotions and be belittled by them that he'd chased his own team away and indirectly caused his fears to reoccur all over again. So with his gennin he was going slowly. Carefully. He wanted them to realize you had a life outside of your missions and tasks and that was where the laughter and the pranks were. But when you were slipping into the role of representative for Konoha you sometimes had to put aside your values and morals.

This time though, he'd do it slow. He'd do it kindly. He owed it to them.

"Another team was sent out on a misrepresented C-rank to wave escorting a civilian with an additional request to guard as he supervised construction of a bridge. It turned out due to financial complications and lack of funds he knowingly did not alert the officers of the danger of his escort and guarding mission. They encountered a pair of nin known as 'The Demon Brothers' who specialized in water jutsu and poison weapon attacks. The assigned gennin team voted to return to base as they had yet to complete a C-rank much less one that was clearly B. The client was questioned and then the Hokage approached me personally. Considering you now have many C-ranks under your belts I was asked to see if you three would be willing to assume the mission, understanding the pay will remain at C-rank even though the danger is clearly B-rank and may potentially be upper B to low A. The only reason this is being offered is because I am your sensei and the three of you have shown commitment, diligence, and the ability to follow my commands without hesitation while also able to think for yourselves. I want you to deliberate this together. I'll be back in three hours."

Kakashi vanished and the three exchanged glances. "Why would we get a high ranked mission if we didn't get paid for it?" Naruto asked and Sasuke was the one who answered, brows furrowed.

"I read about that sometimes in my families files. It used to be ...kind of normal..but more for if a member on the team was from a location. Since we're all from Konoha the only way this makes sense is if they want us to get the experience but the client can't pay. It must mean that Kakashi-sensei as the highest ranked member on our team is willing to take something so below his grade so the usual method is waived."

"It's going to be dangerous." Kucho agreed. "But Kakashi-sensei will be there and if he didn't think we could potentially handle it he wouldn't approach us. We won't have room for error.."

Naruto fell silent, his eyes going towards his feet. He knew he'd have to kill again and yet.. "Is it against procedure if I ask for information on where we are going or the client, I mean if we haven't taken it yet?"

The three exchanged confused looks. They just didn't know.

"Well.." Naruto nods. "This is someone who needs help. I think we should do it. Besides who knows how much stronger we can get!"

In the end, when Naruto is determined and his eyes start to get that look to them, Sasuke and Kucho yield because he's right.

Kakashi had been watching, hidden in a tree nearby and smiles at them. It was the desire to help others as much as improve that motivated them in the end and he can feel nothing but pride. Now? Now he needs to ensure they have the tools they will need because they are Team 7 and if Kakashi has learned anything teaching these three, it's that they are the sort who bring chaos to them. They weren't done surprising him though.

"I agree but...I like the idea of getting information." Kucho said and looked down at her wrist where one of her kikaichu was twirling about. "We do not have to request it so obviously. We can gather our own..remember earlier.. last week?"

"Hn. What we need is someone who would know of this mission yet we have only that it was a C-rank, canceled, and going to Wave. It seems like enough but.."

"Uh guys?" Naruto grinned at them and there was a pink flush to his face. "Wasn't Sakura-chan on lower ranking mission assignment help duty yeah?"

"Brilliant." Both of the darker haired members agreed and then Kakashi was treated to the sight of them huddling together.

"Okay so we can track down Sakura-chan, broody duck, you'll have to ask a lot of the questions or just grunt after Kucho and I do it, she'll tell everything because she likes you."

"..." Sasuke sighed but nodded. There was no point in not using this to their advantage.

"Kucho you have a tracker on her still?"

"Yup! I have them on most everyone by now..you should know that. Standard procedure."

"Just checking." Naruto smirked. "So...lets go hunt out our information."

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

Kakashi was enjoying trailing his team far too much. He did need to henge and vary the direction he followed them in because the three were wary, even in the bustling space of Konoha which only made Kakashi's mask wrinkle with his grin. The three were careful not to run, they did not wish to draw attention but they followed one of Kucho's little winged kikaichu around while discussing other topics. They were arguing over where to get a snack. It was a rather brilliant ploy he had to admit, this way anyone who remembered seeing them later wouldn't think this was planned. Apparently Sasuke had taken to studying some of his families Police Manuals far more seriously and was sharing them with his two teammate's.

"Sakura-chaaaaaaan!" Naruto bleated at one point, arm waving frantically. A disgruntled looking pinkette glared at him and had half twisted her body to dart into the crowd when her gaze locked unnervingly onto the other male of Team Seven.

"Oh! Sasuke-kun!"

"You both owe me." Kucho growled under her breath and two discreet shoulder bumps were her answer. To Kucho who was an introvert being forced to be in such company that was loud, not her choice, and especially belittling at least one of those she cared about was going to be almost physically painful. They didn't need her there, but she was to play moral support for the two boys.

"At least she's not going to try and touch you." Sasuke replied just as quietly. Naruto shot them both an amused look before engaging the object of his crush.

"Hey Sakura-chan! We were gonna go get kebabs for a snack, wanna join us?"

"Ah.." You could see the flash of ideas rolling behind her green eyes before the girl nodded. "Sure! Hey Sasuke-kun how've you been?"

"Hn."

"Sakura-san." Kucho said by way of greeting with a tilt of her head. It was..amusing how Sakura actually gave a tiny shudder and stepped back, green eyes seeing a few crawling shapes on Kucho's hair ribbons. "Have you have been well?"

"Hey Kucho-san. Yeah. Heh...are you..coming then?"

Naruto and Sasuke had gotten used to the rather blah facade Kucho would pull sometimes, an Aburame defense mechanism for the introverted and to be honest they thought it was pretty funny. But then they had seen the group of them a few times when over and how when comfortable with people the Aburame could be just as warm and friendly as any others.

"Naturally as Uzumaki-san and Uchiha-san are my teammates." Give someone what they expect to see and they just seem to ignore you. Naruto was able to see this in action as sure enough Sakura proceeded to ignore Kucho. It didn't make sense to the boisterous blonde. Still he did not miss his cue.

"Did ya hear the gossip Sakura-chan? Someone falsified a mission rank! I heard the client got blacklisted and busted! How lame!" Naruto was hamming it up a little taking a cue from Kucho's playing up to what people thought of her.

"Ah yeah I was working in the risk assessment office that week!" Sakura pointed out with a smirk, clearly looking to Sasuke for a reaction. She got one.

He raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah! It was a huge deal. This bridge builder guy, wanted an escort back and Wave is having a real problem with crime lately so no one thought anything of it, same for when he said after wards the guard would need to stay to help keep an eye on the construction site, he mentioned making certain none of the materials were stolen. All really normal. Turns out though that he's got an enemy or two and he's building the bridge in direct opposition of the guy who owns most of Wave's commerce so it's a giant mess." Sakura hadn't stopped talking as the group ordered their skewers from a local vendor, nodding or seeming interested (or entirely not in Sasuke's case which oddly encouraged the girl) to keep her talking. It was amazing the information she could contain.

"Wave is having an economic dispute?" Kucho asked softly and Sakura nodded.

"Oh yeah! There's this really wealthy guy named Gato who owns a lot of the ports up and down the river." Sakura said and Sasuke got a hilarious twitch to his eyebrow as Sakura leaned into his side to 'talk to ' Kucho and Naruto who were sitting on the other side of the bench. Naruto had tried to sit by Sakura but he couldn't beat the speed of a determined kunoichi fan girl.

"Ah.." Kucho nodded, her mind whirling. "It sounds interesting that someone would have such a monopoly.."

"How do you like your new job Sakura-chan? I heard you are in the crytpo..linguine...sorry I can't say it but just goes to show how super smart you are." Naruto said with a smile and Kucho was highly entertained at the look of shock on Sakura's face.

"You..heard about that Naruto?"

"Well yeah!When you didn't end up on a team with me I wanted to see where you went because you're just brilliant and I know you're gonna make a name for yourself.."

"Oh..well..Thanks.." Sakura seemed taken aback by the complement but Kucho just shook her head. It had taken them a long time to find Sakura and then her talk had been interspersed with lots of pointless talks towards Sasuke.

"Hn, we have to meet sensei." Sasuke said picking up on Kucho's looking at the sky.

"OKay thanks for the date Sasuke-kun, next time visit me alone!"

The three walked off and only got a block before Naruto was chuckling. "that was..kinda funny.."

"Loud."

"Why do you admire Sakura-chan, Naruto-kun?" Kucho asked without judging, it wasn't something she was interested in yet herself but she did wonder about her teammate's.

"Well because once she was really nice to me a few times when no one else was, and she's smart, and she's pretty."

"Okay." Kucho said and both boys looked at her confused so she elaborated, her lips twitching that they were unable to pick up on it. "They are all good reasons to be drawn to someone even if I think you should focus on someone who likes you back, I am not at that stage to be paying interest to the opposite gender so I cannot give much opinion. Besides as much as Sakura is loud and ...less than efficient she is clearly someone whom we will have many interactions with in the future and cultivating a good relationship with someone in intelligence is always a good move."

"Well this is an entertaining conversation.." Kakashi drawled from above them, book out as always as if he hadn't tailed them the entire time. Kakashi was wondering though if Naruto felt the difference his sensei could see, Sakura was in a place she'd grow and be skilled in and doubtlessly highly respected some day, there really were not enough brilliant minds that went into the shinobi forces and having someone to analyze risk and code who could branch out into so many areas of tactical intelligence as Sakura showed was a blessing. There was a reason she had been subtly set up to not go into a team cell and take the combat shinobi role. The Nara wouldn't have ever set foot on a battlefield outside peacetime if not for their shadow jutsu. Intelligence was too rare. Naruto himself though had grown in spades already since he was the more foolish one he portrayed just a few minutes ago. It would take time but there was every chance Naruto would turn into a legendary figure that eclipsed his own father.

"Kakashi-sensei." Sasuke spoke up for his teammate's and they shifted. Once more the three gennin stood at attention, eyes sharp and heads up, shoulders squared. "Team Seven would like to accept the mission."

"Oh, of that I had no doubt." Kakashi agreed as he set his book away and smiled, pride leaking into his voice. "Well done on using your resourcefulness to get additional information by the way. She shouldn't have shared any of that but that is for her own superiors to handle. So..we shall go to each home and pack and I'll start briefing you on what you need to know."

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

The entire situation was explained to them by the time that their packs were completed. They knew what they were getting into, that it would be a slew of bandits and likely low ranking nin with the dangerous chance of ones of Kakashi's caliber. In such situations drills and procedures were laid out with a strict attitude. At no point were they to allow further risk of danger to their client and Kakashi wasn't smiling.

"It is entirely possible in fights I get in it may seem I am losing. If so you need to trust I am employing such a deception and do not break rank or procedure!I will do best if I know my subordinates know what to do and I can entirely focus on the fight."

"We don't want you to get hurt either though, Kakashi-sensei." Naruto said but it wasn't whining. "If we really think you are, what do you want us to do?"

Kakashi's eye roamed over their figures as he nodded. Better to have this talk before they even walked out the gates. "If I bring up your training, say 'You need a lot more training before you can handle this' or a similar talk you will know I am fine. If at any time I tell you to leave, I am fine but I need to use a jutsu that is too dangerous with bystanders. Now I am making this one rule clear beyond anything, because I am knowingly taking you three into a potential situation you aren't ready for as much as I would like but I believe there is a fine chance you are. If I say leave..you leave. If Konoha is too far you find shelter and hide with you and the client, I want your chakra's all at civilian level and you do not emerge unless I say something only I would know. I don't want to say what because in the heat of the moment remembering passwords is difficult. If you aren't certain it's me..ask something about our missions only I would know."

"Understood." Sasuke said and Naruto and Kucho were nodding their agreement. They didn't like the idea of leaving their sensei behind but they understood that they were still new ninja, and if he was saying he needed them gone to let off a devastating jutsu they would respect that.

"All right, lets go to the Yakitori Inn to pick up the client."

"Someone has an inn named after food in Konoha?" Sasuke asked in disbelief. Of course Naruto grinned.

"Makes sense to me! I'd love to have a place about Ramen!"

Upon seeing the swaying figure they were to guard team seven frowned. Not because he was a drunkard or loud, or that he insulted them as 'buncha brats look weaker than the last ones!' which all of the team were able to ignore as Kakashi reassured the man. No, they disliked him because the change of information he had given could have meant a few of their comrades dead.

Still he was their client and they had accepted this mission so Team Seven would be professional. As they were about to exit the gates Kakashi turned back and motioned. "Take up formation, kids." And there was inflection on Kids as a reminder. Dutifully each of them suppressed their chakra to a third of the level they actually had. Whomever was after Tazuna, Kakashi wanted them to underestimate the lot of them.

"So what's the reason you need guards anyways, old man?" Naruto asked, playing the role of an idiot and keeping his eyes half closed to hide how he was sweeping the area ahead. Sasuke was behind, along with Kakashi further back and Kucho walked with Tazuna in the middle.

"Well...you see I'm a very famous bridge builder!" He rambled on for a while but Kucho just ignored it. At one point she 'steadied' the client when he wavered and one of her kikaichu teams she'd created slipped out. A tracker, one of the genjutsu pinchers, and one that had a sting that could drop someone. If for whatever reason it turned out they had faulty information and Tazuna was actually part of those attacking -which could happen- he'd be knocked out. The boys already knew, indeed it had been Sasuke's idea for her to locate one of the resident centipedes that grew nearby and fortunately a cousin of hers had collected that could do the job. A little time spent bonding with the small multiple legged creature and he was happy to be part of her mixed hive. She couldn't absorb him through her tenketsu into her chakra pathways but that didn't mean he couldn't keep her company.

It was rather adorable honestly that Sasuke and Naruto had gotten a habit of catching any strange insects they found around their homes in jars and containers to show her. It had certainly brought them a lot of approval with her clan.

"Have you done any projects we may have heard of before this?" Kucho finally asked and was pleased that Tazuna fell silent for a time trying to think of what they would be familiar with.

"Probably not. I'm mostly an architect but my designs were used for a few places up in tea country. Usually it's just I go to places, observe, and give advice on how they should be better supported. Been in the family a long time."

After a while Tazuna was content just to walk in silence and drink leaving the team to pass random ideas back and forth to pretend to be normal. All that training on their first C rank, Albatross, was coming in handy now. Kakashi nodded in approval as they were easily able to talk like regular children their age and it was lulling Tazuna into complacency.

Until the first attack.

"Spiral!" Sasuke yelled as he caught sight of the incoming projectiles and Kucho's hands flew into the signs to create the barrier jutsu Kakashi had taught her on request so long ago. This one hadn't been nearly so hard as the flare to learn. It was a form of earth dome that was thinner, more flexible and with a turn Kucho had seemed to pull it like a tablecloth from the ground to twist over Tazuna and her from the back, leaving the side and front open.

"Spiral!" Naruto agreed and with his confirmation Sasuke's fireball went off with Naruto's wind attack he'd been taught, deflecting off the barrier Kucho had put up to bounce even further towards the enemies.

"Ugh...they smell.." Naruto grumbled as he walked over. "They didn't even dodge.."

"You just sent an over powered fireball at them. They didn't have a chance to dodge." Kakashi drawled as Kucho let the earth dome crumble and led Tazuna out. The man's eyes were wide.

"How did that happen? Fire doesn't just..incinerate people like that!"

"It's a good thing chakra fire does." Naruto said with a frown a he looked at the charred bodies that didn't even remotely seem human anymore. "It'd be awful if someone burned slowly."

Tazuna was shaking and Kakashi sighed. He didn't want to force the kids to comfort a civilian when they'd be compartmentalizing enough for themselves. "Chakra based attacks are much hotter, Tazuna-san. This one fed off the attackers own chakra pathways increasing the heat to about five times the average incineration point and doing so from inside and out at once. They are very low ranked attackers..not even taking a single hit from a fireball.." Kakashi's eyes went over where Kucho's doton wall had dropped. Several weapons had hit it and not done a lick of good. If they'd had an explosive tag it would have gotten more complicated. He was pleased, his team purposefully held back. Only using what they could with the lower chakra levels he was asking them to use and even then not over stressing that amount.

This was clumsy bandits with barely any chakra instead of the demon brothers.

Someone was testing them, someone was watching.

"We'd best keep moving."

Eventually Tazuna was able to talk, and was impressed with the children. "What I wanna know girly is why you didn't have something flashy like the boys do."

"My teammate's have more chakra than I do. This is considered standard, why? Because generally girls have lower rates of chakra but higher control. It is information every nin is aware of." She said calmly and didn't miss the shaking of Naruto's shoulders ahead at her standard Aburame response. Sasuke's snort behind her was audible too, the fact they found that trait entertaining was definitely a positive for her. "This is also making me the more likely target perceiving me as the weakest link of the team."

"But you have that shell thing to avoid that.." Tazuna said and nodded, he lifted a brow. "I bet that's not all. Is it?"

Kucho just looked up at him over her glasses. Like she was saying anything when they may be being watched. "I am the only one on the team who can cook halfway decently."

Sasuke snorted from behind. "I'm calling fire duty."

"Awww you're making me find wood again?" Naruto whined as they shifted the talk to something less obvious.

"Now we are still a day or so away from the river, lets not start complaining about camping already."

"How long will it take us to arrive, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto called back.

"A week or two."

"What are the changes to chores with a client, Kakashi-sensei?" Sasuke added on, curious.

"Well as he is paying Tazuna-san has the right to not do anything but set up his own tent and sleeping roll."

"That's right!"

It took a little doing but Team seven managed to exchange a three way look despite being in a line. Kakashi felt his lips twitch. He gave it two nights before somehow Naruto managed to get Tazuna to help out.

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

There were three more attacks the first day. One occured that night from a low level group hoping to get them off guard. The screams that were let out made them easy targets and Kakashi took Sasuke with him to learn to sneak up on a target at night in a reverse ambush. Kucho had to stay put as it was her beetles the men had run into set as a perimeter watch and Naruto stayed as backup with Tazuna in the tent.

"What..did they run into?" Tazuna's eyes were wide and bloodshot but Naruto had set traps if someone got closer and none of those went off so he wasn't worried.

"Eh? Oh, outermost layer of traps is some of Kucho's less friendly beetles. You don't want to run into them."

"Beetles can make people scream like that?"

"Well yeah, I mean, they are bred to burrow into your chakra pathways and feed off them like ticks. Not a nice group. She told me some of her clan has ones that do that and then explode. Don't worry though, they know mine, Sasuke, and Kakashi-sensei's chakra and yours is too subtle to interest them."

"...that little girl...?"

"Oh don't underestimate Kucho-chan old man, she's way uncute and scary." Naruto said it with a happy grin, enjoying the way the man looked rather green. "Could be worse..."

"Ne Naruto-kun, Tazuna-san the guys are back you can come back to the fire."

"Your beetles happy, Kucho-chan?"

"Hm? Oh I didn't bring them out." Kucho said as she poked at the fire, Kakashi and Sasuke looking as if nothing had happened, well if you ignored the wider eyes of Sasuke and how he was firmly planted beside Kucho.

"I hate you" Sasuke grumbled and it just made Kucho giggle. Even more so because apparently whatever Sasuke had seen had scared the Sharingan right into him! They didn't say anything though an it had taken Kakashi a while to help him turn it off, as well as coaching him to not use it if possible until they had a chance to train in it, explaining the long time it took for the body to catch up to his eyes.

"Wait..why does..no...Kucho-chan..if you..didn't bring the beetles..you didn't..Please tell me you didn't.." Naruto whined and Kucho, not needing her glasses just tilted her head so her puppy tails flopped and gave a large grin.

"There were lots of nice spiders in the area happy to help!"

"...I'm peeing in this spot later I swear. I'm not going outside of camp to go."

"Maaa Naruto-kun." Kakashi said as he turned the pages in his book. "Probably the best idea. I've never seen a wall of webs before..."

"...Kucho you know if not for the fact you are my teammate and I respect you that entire group of eight legged terrors and their webs would be burning right now." Sasuke growled, he did hate spiders. Naruto hated spiders. They were pretty sure so did Kakashi..and Kucho? She thought they were adorable.

"Thank you Sasuke-kun." Kucho agreed.

"One question.." Kakashi said as he looked up, entirely amused at the fact that Tazuna had fainted judging from the thud that came from his tent. "Did you know they were a venomous breed of spider?"

"Of course Kakashi-sensei, I wouldn't want the harmless ones to risk themselves if they couldn't bite back!"

"So uncute Kucho..so uncute.." Naruto muttered but huddled on her side anyways. She'd be the best early warning system if one of the creepies came over. Because she'd be cooing at it but still...

"So uncute..."

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

The next morning the team followed Kucho out of the area they had camped. They really did not want to risk bumping into the walls of webs and spiders that had sprung up overnight. If they were all pretty much right behind her, not even Tazuna was going to say a word.

Not after they saw a few large shapes enshrouded in webs that clearly had once been humans and were now just spider food.

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

They were attacked around lunch.

This time even Naruto was adjusting and he just sighed. "Okay really? You know what..." He never finished before the nin who had showed up plowed a hand through his chest.

POOF

As the ninja reacted trying to figure out why it had been a clone, Naruto kicked him from above. "One down guys!"

"Three!" Sasuke called out smugly where he had knocked out a group and ricocheted off one to kick the other two in the face.

"Kucho-chan?"

"...Kucho-chan?"

"What?" Kucho asked from in front of them. They turned, blinked. "Kucho-chan did you fight any of them?"

"Oh, they stabbed themselves getting out of the genjutsu. I think he forgot he had poison on his blade. I mean..what are these guys, academy drop outs? They're really not smart."

"Most likely." Kakashi said as he emerged with Tazuna over his shoulder, having taken to the trees to allow his team to handle the group. He set the drunkard down, though honestly since the spiders he didn't seem to want to touch his sake. Apparently scared of not being fully aware for what the 'cute little kids my ass' could pull. "Many who don't make it in other villages have still learned to use chakra and can strike out to try and become a big fish in a gang or the like. Let's keep going. At this rate we will have a bigger fight soon. I'm surprised though..so many attacks..this Gato you have annoyed Tazuna-san, is clearly well funded."

"Yeah.."

"I do wonder though..hey Kakashi-sensei..." Naruto began and it was in that slow tone that made Kucho and Sasuke whirl to pay attention. "Why is it we are fighting slowly stronger groups..not someone really powerful?"

"Most likely he's hoping to overwhelm in numbers. It's a psychological tactic to offer a reward rather than pay each of these. Tazuna-san probably has a bounty on his head. I do not doubt that the bounty will increase and we will see some substantial nin but where he returned to Konoha and stayed a while longer it probably has them backing off..."

Team seven frowned as they translated it. 'They'll be waiting at the site instead of wasting time traveling.'

"So in the mean time, we're going to deal with all the lousy bandits and ninja rejects just after what they think is easy money. At least we'll have thinned out the group before we get there." Sasuke grimaced.

"Gato has a huge shipping empire but he's notoriously terrible about paying people." Tazuna spoke up for once being helpful. "I don't doubt he's pulled up a small army of these guys."

"Your bridge must be really important then, old man." Naruto said and it was with that casual weight that only Naruto could seem to use. He smirked up at him. "There's a reason we agreed to this you know. You may not think well of us, but we do want to help people in our own way."

Tazuna blinked as he took in the whiskered cheeks but the ever so serious blue eyes. His gaze traveled then to the stoic Uchiha who nodded, and even the rose glasses hiding the eyes of the girl who inclined her head.

"Thank you. Truly."

"Thank us when your bridge is built and you're still alive, Tazuna-san." Kucho spoke softly. "Sensei?"

"Hmm..since these ones aren't destroyed or covered in potentially lethal allies of our un-cute little Kucho..."

"Hmph." Her arms may be crossed and she may have a pout but the team had sort of just made it an endearment all it's own at this stage.

"I'm going to show you how to safely look for weapons and such to replace ones in battle. Pardon us for this break Tazuna san. Naruto..come here, you first."

Tazuna said nothing about it as Sasuke and Kucho flanked him while the blonde was learning first. This was the fifth or so battle since they had left Konoha and the kids had done very well, not to mention they were taking a mission far more dangerous than he could afford, knowingly. If they made up for it by salvaging weapons and gear off those who thought to profit from his death he could admit to a twisted sense of enjoyment in the justice there.

Once Kakashi had taught them to safely frisk a corpse, where the most common hiding places were, how to tell if something was likely a valuable tool or just a flashy one and to never test any substances you found and always safely wrap them up for analysis later, they moved on.

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

"You know..I'm really..bothered..by how I'm starting to almost not notice we're ...killing.." Naruto whispered one night when he was curled up against Kucho and Sasuke as Tazuna was snoring nearby in the tent and Kakashi had watch. They were just sitting up, sharing body heat and on alert.

"..I'm going to visit that Yamanka when we get back." Sasuke agreed, his hands clenching. There had been so many attacks in different numbers and while they were ninja it was really difficult to accept that instead of just knocking them out. The problem was in this situation if they left them alive they would just come back in greater numbers and they already had a few fights a day. They were due for another night ambush which is why they were up.

Kucho tilted her head, so it was against Naruto's and she let out a long soft sigh.

"You don't notice it or you aren't bothered by it? Because in the heat of battle I think we worry more about the next second..but it still upsets me."

"Nightmares?' Sasuke asked gently, a question and confession all at once.

"Nightmares." Kucho and Naruto agreed.

"When the act no longer bothers you.." Kakashi said as he was suddenly there, crouching across from them. "When after the rush and the adrenaline is gone if it doesn't make you pause, send a frisson of fear down your spine that it could have been you or someone you know..then I'll worry. It's the ones who start to enjoy it, or give no thought who are a danger."

"Still upsets you too, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked and three sets of eyes, gleaming in the firelight met a single black one.

"Every one I have ever taken, no matter how justified I thought it was."

"I'm glad we're learning from someone like you." Sasuke says softly. Kakashi hears what the others don't 'Someone who feels, not someone like Itachi..'

Their hair is ruffled before Kakashi goes back to his watch.

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

"mist feels funny on my skin." Naruto grumbles as they are in the boat, careful to keep their voices soft. "Like it's wet and cold but it's not there at the same time.."

"Messes with my senses." Kucho agrees. Sasuke just huddles into his shirt a little more.

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

They make it nearly to Tazuna's home when things change.

"DOWN!" Kakashi's voice is sharp and it's a flashback to the Jiro mission, the first time they obeyed it without thinking and then flew into action.

Sasuke and Naruto tackle Tazuna, Kucho has an earth dome over the lot of them and hears something clang into it before it whistles further and a rain of senbon scatters uselessly.

They don't dare just sit there like a turtle because someone else may know earth jutsu's or just crush them effortlessly so Kucho releases it, but does so in a jerking fashion to send the needles flying aimlessly. When they are out there's a large man picking up the sword, a massive thing that had impacted the top of the dome and sent it off course.

"Huh. Kakashi of the Sharingan..your little brats ruined my entrance.."

"You'll find they are rather good at being irritations, Momochi Zabuza..."

Sasuke is the son to the former head of the Military Police, he inherited hundreds of files and scrolls and documents and even then Zabuza was mentioned. Still they are playing at being less than, and so Kakashi expands on the rumors, the method of the bloody mist.

It makes something in the three roil in disgust.

Kakashi's words that night around the campfire burn in their thoughts. This then, is someone who has gone too far, been too twisted. There is no redemption for such a person when they learn to thrive on killing for the act itself not for being a master honing a skill. But Sasuke's eyes are troubled.

"Sharingan..."

They know of it of course, have spent time discussing it but that this stranger is aware? That they do not like. They move around Tazuna, back to back enclosing him and in the sound of their footsteps kikaichu pour out from Kucho. The mist may hide the dangerous 'demon of the bloody mist' but it also hides Kikaichu and Team Seven knows how to use their little allies.

It is to his credit though that Kakashi had spoken privately to Sasuke before on one of their watches about the fact he was given it by another Uchiha who was dying on a mission when he had just lost his own eye, and a promise to help Sasuke with his when he develops it. When, not if. It is nice to have someone show faith in him.

"That's..gonna be you someday huh?" Naruto whispers as they are back to back, even as Kakashi has lifted his headband.

"Yeah." Sasuke agrees.

Zabuza taunts them, speaks of silent killing but he does not know Team Seven and he just sees three weak little brats...

So when he is suddenly there Sasuke's kunai is lashing out and Naruto has performed a clone that substitutes with Tazuna to get him safely out of the way passing to another clone who clamps it's hands over his eyes because Kucho just yelled "FOUR!" and she has seemed to twist.. her hand thrusting out as she uses the Flare jutsu to burn through the mist and it reflects off the water droplets in a blinding array.

Luckily Kakashi was let in to what their words are since they have trained that way instead of with the titles of their jutsu's it is something that is not doneand it is precisely that unpredictable nature of Team Seven that is going to take them far.

Because Zabuza had no warning and is snarling as he's blinded temporarily.

"GO!" Kakashi barks out and like the good kids they are, the fantastic soldier's in training...they obey.

Clones fill the area in a mixture and sometimes Naruto has Tazuna sometimes it is Sasuke and some it is Kucho, but the mix of clones both illusion and shadow and insect are all running off in various directions.

Zabuza turns angrily to Kakashi to finish him off before going after the brats. In the trees, a silent young boy waits. He could have gone after the younger ones, but he will not leave his master.

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

Not needing to hold back, it is a tremendous battle but without needing to worry over keeping his team safe Kakashi is a monster of his own and does not draw out fighting Zabuza. When he falls, and is taken it sets off something in Kakashi wondering..but the sharingan has taken it's toll. It's little effort though to summon his ninken and tell part of the pack to keep guard and the others to find his team. It's a good thing, as he slumps against Bull, that he has introduced Pakkun to his team before.

Naruto is the one who goes to retrieve Kakashi because he can spam shadow clones, that his team trusts him to do so and return makes him go even faster with a giant smile on his face.

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

Kakashi spends a day sleeping. Once they meet the family, and collectively decide Inari is a brat but they do not respond to him, the three set an ever increasing series of traps that go out a long ways. Of course they make certain the family can easily avoid them but it's not much work to let them know just not to open a window after a certain hour.

Only regular people use doors.

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

When kakashi awakens he fills them in on the battle, it does his ego a lot of good that his three students have their jaws open, and ask so many questions about the jutsu's employed. But also they ask why he attacked as he did, why would he counter in a certain way. If in such a situation what should they have done.

He couldn't ask for more eager students.

They are aware Zabuza lives and has an accomplice but as they escaped he still has no idea team seven is like a team of dogs instead of the little mice he may suspect. It won't let them battle as Kakashi does, but every edge is a good one.

Kakashi decides they need to learn more tricks for battle so he starts to show them how to memorize each others chakra enough they can swap places in a pinch. He works with them on the substitution jutsu mercilessly. Endlessly. It seems it is the only thing they work on.

"I know it is really not flashy, or impressive. But there's few jutsu that those of us who have lived through enough fights rely on like this one. It can not only save your life but distract an opponent to the point you can create the opening you need. It should become almost more of an instinct then to dodge, because you will often find yourself against someone with a skill that seems to be unbeatable. You need to buy time until you find a way, and this will do it."

They grit their teeth and obey.

You can't really argue when you've seen your own sensei use it in a battle, as much as clones, and Team seven are not fools. If they are being taught this, drilled over and over with barely any breaks, Kakashi thinks they will need it.

There's no room for complaining.

And so they learn to substitute with rocks and branches, with even Kakashi's ninken who are great sports over it and seem to think it's entertaining. They practice doing so with their clones and each time they're a little faster. A hair of a millisecond quicker.

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

They take turns spending a day to go with Tazuna, another staying with his family, and one being out with Kakashi training in other ways. Only when Tazuna comes home will the other two go train with kakashi and the one who has trained until then go to the house. They see each other for meals, and not much else.

Naruto is usually the one who goes with Tazuna, his shadow clones let him help out to move many of the items around at the build site and saves time on the fact people have left out of fear. When they hear that, Kakashi and the others in the team just grin as Naruto volunteers to go with Tazuna every morning. Naruto just wants to help..and he does his best.

Kakashi not only is drilling them in substitutions but clones. Sasuke can only make a single shadow clone but it is impressive, instead Kakashi teaches him to make a water clone for all Sasuke struggles with it water is the substance they have around them most right then. He may as well turn it into an asset. Kucho is forced to learn the same, she doesn't argue though because while she can use her insects she is closer to them than most Aburame and the loss is devastating. If she can spare them being destroyed from an attack she will.

Naruto is taught almost purely in taijutsu. Kakashi is showing him grasps and holds that are very much dirty fighting but the boy needs an edge and taijutsu is still one of his weakest areas. At first he intended to help with genjutsu but Naruto shakes his head.

"They don't work."

"Pardon?"

"Kucho-chan worked hard to breed a beetle that detects the changes in our brains from the genjutsu and pinches us. We don't need to dispel them..but don't bring it up. She wants it to be a secret weapon for us."

Kakashi is impressed but nods. Indeed, to not need to worry about genjutsu?..it would have done a great deal of help in the third war.

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

"It's hard to see the village so.." Naruto says one day when they are perched on the roof. If the window cracks open a little to Inari's room the nin pretend not to notice. It's early enough they haven't set the window traps and so it is safe for him to do so.

"Yeah. They don't deserve it. No one should.." Sasuke sighs then but trailing off is normal

"Protecting Tazuna, letting this bridge get built..that'll change things yeah? I mean they'll get to be like before?" Naruto says softly and Sasuke nods.

"They'll have to be smart about it and it'll take a long time but it'll work." Kucho agrees before she speaks softer. "Tazuna-san..he's kind of amazing."

"Huh? The old man?"

"How so?"

Kucho looks up, flickering lights of her fireflies not far off as they dance about, she's seen large groups of them not so far off and they know it's only a matter of time before she goes to add to he hive. "Imagine..he was two weeks away from his home to get us. He was there to request in person. So either he stopped by from somewhere else and knew he was being hunted down, or he first risked the trip to Konoha. Alone. Even with a group he knew...and he did it anyways. He's brave."

They fell silent but agreed. How brave a person was to risk everything to get aid, long enough to help his people?

"We may be doing the fighting, but people like Tazuna..they're the real heroes, huh?" Naruto said softly and smiled. "I'm glad. It makes me just want to help them. I know we can't always choose which side we are on but there's that..what is it called again Sasuke?"

"The one where if we feel a situation is against the edicts of Konoha we can defect or demand to change from the paid mission?"

"Yeah."

"I don't remember the title. We'll ask Kakashi-sensei later. But it is nice, I think most villages don't permit that sort of thing. Konoha seems to be one of the only ones that cares if the thing we are assigned to do is the correct choice of action.."

"Every village has things that we don't want to admit to needing to do..but since Konoha was the first hidden village founded, I think we keep a lot more of that wish for peace." Kucho agreed.

They'd not minded if Inari overheard. They had nothing to hide in their conversation.

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

It is one of the nights when Sasuke cannot sleep and he wanders by the waters edge that he meets a young man, who moves with the grace and fairness to his features as if he is a little otherworldly. He says nothing as they pass each other. Yet as they circle around they both end up just standing nearby watching the moon shimmer over the water. The silence itself is comfortable and neither feel a need to break it for hours.

Another night it is Naruto's turn to patrol at night not for security but just to gather his thoughts. He runs into the same young one and smiles, all open and gentle and starts a conversation. Of course he thinks the stranger is a girl but he's no less friendly.

"Do you have someone to protect? A dream?"

"I have something better.." Naruto responds and looks up at the stars, so trusting by someone he doesn't know that it startles the stranger. "I've a creed. A nindo. I want to make sure no one feels like I did when I was young, alone, hated. Hungry and cold..it's part of why I feel for the people here...they're scared and just trying to make it. But actual people to protect? Yeah. I've got the best friends you've ever seen. They're a little weird and most people probably wouldn't think we fit like we do..one of them is always scowling and carries the world on his shoulders. He's got too much pressure he never asked for and the talents that come to him naturally make me jealous sometimes but though he's cold and stiff he does his best to care for us in his own way. Then I have another friend..she's the most adorably uncute girl ever!" And his companion has a laugh startled from them making Naruto give a fox grin. "Seriously, ever known a girl that adored bugs? I mean yeah butterflies and pretty ones but she likes the creepy ones and she's both the funniest person I know and the quietest sometimes..but she's the first to jump into a situation I don't want to and she's awkward but so honest..we still call her uncute though because then she pouts and it's just fun to tease her..what about you?"

"I have someone precious to me..and for him I'd do anything..just be his tool because that's what he needs.."

"You sure?" Naruto asks and it's one of his moments of strange genius when it comes to people. "Because sometimes what people think they need isn't what they really need..my friends taught me that one."

"He saved me, all I can do is help him reach his dream.."

And Naruto's eyes dim as he thinks of the secret he still needs to tell his teammates and nods. "Yeah, but sometimes people don't realize there can be other ways to get there because they're too focused on the end goal." And doesn't he know that one? Running towards Hokage so fast he missed a lot of things that thankfully he's catching up on now. That he's starting to realize are needed to learn how to be a Hokage. He needs to learn to listen and take orders so he knows how to best use what he is told, he needs to learn to trust and have faith in others. He's even had to learn to do things he doesn't want to, like killing because otherwise those people can come back and hurt others. It's also made Naruto determined to find a way to not kill, as often as he can. He'll bring his teammate's along board with that too..if they must do it sometimes, he wants to make it where it becomes as rare as possible.

"You think so?"

"My friends have taught me that one. It's not pleasant having your world changed around but when you know you can trust them to be honest sometimes you can take that step." Naruto smiles then and shrugs. "I think my dream's a much better one now because I let them help me."

Because now Naruto doesn't just dream of being Hokage, he dreams of being Hokage and somehow Kucho and Sasuke are there with him and they're doing things for Konoha and all the people who need it like right here in Wave.

It's two nights later, when Kucho is out wandering. She doesn't take the water path as the boys did, but seeks out the plants and the insects, her fingers dancing with flickering light from the botched flare jutsu Kakashi taught her so she can wink back messages to her various glowing insects and smiles, calling on the strange ones that way. Laughing and at ease she twirls, bare foot with her sandals and glasses left back at the house, arms outspread with her fingers aglow and hundreds of little lights blinking around her as if she's pulled the stars from the sky.

One turn and she's facing a surprised boy who has a basket of herbs and wide eyes. She bites her lip a bit shy at being caught but the simple joy of being out there has her smiling. "Do you like fireflies?"

"How did you.." His eyes go to her fingers, still alight with a soft palest of blue lights, she'd enjoyed figuring out how to change the color. "Oh.."

"Do you?" Kucho asks, her head tilting to the side and her smile is inviting because there is nothing she loves so much as her insects and introducing people to them. She cannot feel the boys chakra and so dismisses him as a potential threat. He nods and steps closer, visibly saddened when the fireflies start to disperse. "They're just not sure you're a threat..here.." And Kucho grabs his hand, ignoring his flinch as her fingers contact his wrist and her fingertips flicker.

The softest touch of chakra moves over the clearing as Kucho gently lets the insects know a Queen is there and simply calling for company, the boy is still, so still and Kucho brushes it off as fright but then the fireflies are back, as are her glowing dragonflies and the sound of wings is loud as the clearing is filled with their lights and for just a moment, the dark eyes of the boy flare wide in wonder.

"It's like the stars came down.." He whispers out loud this time and Kucho's delighted giggle fills the air. They stay for a long time, saying nothing more but soft laughter and though Kucho tears off, twirling and seeming to dance with her hair ribbons fluttering behind her, and the strains of insects happily copying her motions..and it seems they truly are attempting to follow after her, the boy just turns enough to keep her in sight and not ever at his back, laughing and his shoulders are softened in wonder.

They stay like that until the fireflies retreat for it is not long until dawn and breathless Kucho smiles at the boy and waves. "Thank you for sharing.." He speaks softly and his eyes are very gentle as they meet her mismatched own. Kucho just nods at him with a delighted expression, but tired and content, as she waves to leave.

There's a tiny insect hidden on him that he will never find, just because it is now habit for Kucho to mark people with her trackers.

Haku realizes, he's never gotten a name from any of them. Or given his. It does not take long, as the boy stands alone in the clearing that just before was a wonderland..to realize that the three are connected. "So...I've met his precious ones.." Haku pauses and smiles. "I can see why they are so dear." It had taken all of his control to not pull back when the girl had moved, so slowly to his eyes, to take his wrist but he had allowed it out of curiosity. And it is a pity for he knows what they do not, for Haku does not wear his headband unless he is working and they never saw him before. They showed much promise against Zabuza but they are still so innocent in so many ways, as the three encounters have shown him.

It is a pity..

Because one he shared silence with, one he felt a friend after so brief a time and one..he'd forgotten everything for a moment to bask in wonder.

And tomorrow Zabuza will kill them all.

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

"What'd you find Kucho-chan?" Inari is there on the couch, he's finally warmed up to the group, Naruto especially but they find the real trick is to simply let Kucho loose. Because all little boys find insects interesting.

"I got a few new fireflies last night." And her fingers are cupped around the glowing form and she giggles. "Want to hold?"

"YEAH!"

"Inside voice dear.." His mother calls and Inari blushes but cups his hands as Kucho hands over the insect.

"Maa..so I think we've trained all we can for now but with the decrease of helpers at the bridge, Naruto since I want you to take a break..you deserve one, I'll take Kucho and Sasuke."

"You got it sensei! I'll show you a few more tricks if you want Inari."

"That trap you guys have been setting on my window?"

"Sure if you'd like. No reason why not, if it's just you and your mom all the time. Actually..hm, Hey Kakashi-sensei, can I have a spool of your wire? I wanna show Inari how to do to a perimeter tripwire so they're a bit safer. I mean, they are out pretty far from town.."

Kakashi's eye closes in delight as he tosses the asked for item over. "That's something I think is a great idea, Naruto."

Kucho bumps shoulders with Naruto as she passes and the two smile, Sasuke and Naruto hitting fists together.

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

Their arrival at the bridge is a disaster. Immediately Kucho and Sasuke are seeking out the injured and getting them off the bridge, with Kakashi's clone to help. Only after that...does the mist creep in. They ignore it to get the last person off and there's a growl.

"Your brats keep ruining my entrance!"

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

"Wonderful aren't they?" Comes Kakashi's reply as Kucho and Sasuke flank Tazuna. They have their orders, they understand. The killing intent floods the area but these are not normal genin. Kakashi has exposed them to slowly increased levels of his own each time they train and while terror grips them, they are loyal and Sasuke has his Uchiha pride that has proven to reshape the ninja world before. Kucho does not think in a common way and when Zabuza goes to taunt them, his little friend appearing..Kucho's voice drops with an angry buzz because she had her guard down and played with him beneath the stars, surrounded by a living cascade of lights and that had been a good memory until now.

"He was gathering intel on us."

"Oh?" And suddenly every male there is paying attention to Kucho. Kucho though, does not falter, her eyes do not break from their opponents while she addresses her superior calmly, only the faintest sound of the hive beneath her skin audible to those so close. "Kakashi-sensei, Sasuke, Naruto, and myself have each had encounters with the masked one at different points. He came across me when I was visiting the fireflies."

"How can you be so sure?" Zabuza is smug, amused.

Kucho's response is so flippantly taken from Ino or Sakura, or any of the fangirls it almost makes them all stagger. "Have you seen his hair?" The code is passed though to Kakashi and Sasuke. There's a tracker on the boy in the location she just mentioned.

"That must sting Kucho.." Sasuke smirks. Can my pincher let me know?

"He set it up having better hair than I can." no but I can give you one of mine.. Her 'Set' part of one of their attacks was usually to pass a fresh pincher over, but he still had one that was fine for now. She rarely let off one of her trackers but they could buzz when near a real one..and wouldn't for a clone.

"Maa such a time to talk like that." Kakashi breaks in. He doesn't know their key words but he can guess enough for his own message to come across. You little twerps are filling me in after this and then I am going to think of fitting punishments.

"Hai Kakashi-sensei!" Kucho trills and they've definitely dismissed Kucho now as being anything but an annoying little girl... the lightest touch of her fingers to his wrist that is behind him for his wary stance..and the loose material of her sleeves hides as one of her trackers sidles along his pale skin and makes it's way up to perch behind his ear. Ready to assist.

"Haku, take the boy out."

Sasuke handles himself wonderfully, Kucho doesn't leave her place. There's a few clones who come near but they're stopped each time by Sasuke without Kucho needing to so much as flinch. As Sasuke ends up in an ice mirror though Kucho scowls and her hands flash into signs. "Nee-chan!" A clone forms beside her, nodding before it rushes at the dome and slips inside, having brought with it Sasuke's weapon-the longer kunai he favors- he dropped.

"Sasuke!" He turns to see the figure, this one's skin is darker, much darker, brown instead of fawny hued and he knows this is one of Kucho's Queen Clone's. It's still amazing to realize it's actually a bug in control of other bugs right there.

"You're not safe in here." He hisses out even as he turns, but it's a demand. He knows Kucho's love of her Queen's.

"I can handle a hit.."

He doesn't argue, you simply cannot reason with an actual insect. Especially not one so drastically intelligent. She doesn't last long, dispersing into many insects that slip out of the cracks in the ice dome easily leaving a surprised sounding Haku behind. "insects...?"

"Yeah..our little Kucho-chan..." Kakashi is saying even as the streams of Kikaichu are swarming the area, going back to Kucho, having taken a good meal out of Haku's dome as they exited. "Is not only top kunoichi of the year...but almost as scary as she is uncute."

"Aburame..dont run into those very often.." Zabuza says and watches as the dusky girl has summoned more of her clones, so she can properly surround Tazuna. "You're still down a brat though.."

"Maaa don't underestimate us you see..Kucho is the pride of her clan, Sasuke is an Uchiha and our number one rookie, Naruto is the most unpredictable ninja you've ever met..but the three of them? Let me teach you something about my team..Zabuza..." He dodged a swing of the massive blade as they started their dance anew.

"Their instincts are amazing." A blow, hand signs, more dodging. "But what really sets my team apart? Is their uncanny sense related to mayhem. I guarantee you.."

And the bridge is filled with Naruto and his clones attacking, getting Tazuna out of the way and back to the house where he is safe. A few latch onto Zabuza being dismissed in billows of smoke while a few attack the ice dome from outside.

"They have this weird ability to know when and where they're needed." Kakashi finished with a wicked grin under his mask as Naruto yelled.

"Hey Broody Duck! Inside, outside, weaknesses?"

Whatever Zabuza and Haku said was being ignored by the teammate's as with Tazuna out of the way then Kucho was there too. "Get in and help keep Sasuke safe." Kucho said as she smirked wickedly.

"Snack time for the little ladies?" Naruto smirked before nodding and barreling inside. "Miss me teme?"

"Like a boil on my left butt cheek." Sasuke agreed as they went back to back. "He's fast, I almost can get the pattern but not enough."

Naruto nodded and easily gave up command to Sasuke. He was the strategy minded one on their team. "What do you want from me?"

"Dodge, spam your clones like crazy and buy me time."

Briefly black and blue eyes met. Haku was too fast..but they knew if they could buy time, Kucho's little army would bring even this jutsu down. Naruto's grin was feral in it's enjoyment. "Heyyyy you think pretty boy likes light shows?"

They both set off the flare jutsu just in case, but it didn't slow Haku down in the slightest, the mirrors had started to melt but swiftly reformed.

"I am sorry about this.." Haku began and Naruto frowned looking up at him.

"You've got someone who has a dream yeah? Seems to me though, anyone who has a dream that involves perpetuating the misery this village has been going through needs an alarm clock to snap out of it."

"Huh. That was well said Naruto, you've been reading the dictionary finally."

"Mehhh I just listened to you when you were complaining about your uncle's reports last time when we were at your house.." Naruto said but his knuckles cracked as he made contact visually with Haku. "Seriously though, you seemed nice, and I really respect you wanting to make someone happy..but at the expense of people who can't do anything about it? That's not okay. What dream could ever make it okay to watch the little kids go hungry and be scared?"

Haku seemed to flinch. "It is not my place to question.."

"Bullshit! It's always your place! It's your duty as a friend! They rely on people to pull them back when they go too far, make mistakes. How else can you help someone?"

"Naruto can you save the speeches for another day?" Kucho called out from where she had her hands out lightly touching the mirrors of ice, her Kikaichu were ready and she took a deep breath in. She'd never let them out in combat on the level she'd need to. "nee-chans...keep them away from my soldier's.." she whispered before she simply...relaxed her control. The thing was she was too close to her kikaichu to force them to listen, and so the flightless ones decided under that particular hive's queen, they were going to help out those soldier's.

"Holy...what the heck!?" Zabuza yelped as he turned, even Kakashi's eyes were wide as an utterly massive roar came out. Hair fluttering from the wind created as all the wings were deployed and the crawling of her flightless friends the dome was encased in shifting patterns. It was something to behold, and inside the dome it went pitch black.

"Way to go Kucho!" Naruto cheered before grinning, then blinking as the kikaichu were crawling over them. "Huh?!"

"OW!" Sasuke hissed but there was a pulse to his chakra..and he blinked as things started to come into focus even more. He couldn't move with all the kikaichu on the ground swarming over him and Naruto, and yes biting but he wasn't paying attention to that..he was focusing on not activating his sharingan because he didn't need it for this. He was certain they could stay at not using their full chakra and skills just yet.

"Whoa I feel dizzy..like I just drank too many bubble teas.." Naruto said..and just as soon the beetles were retreating that had come inside.

"Kucho-chan..." Sasuke said with his eyes wide as despite all the angry bites he realized what had just happened.

Her kikaichu, whom fed off chakra...had just infused it into them. No wonder his eye wanted to switch over! "Dobe...clones. Now"

"Yeah!" Naruto's clones snapped into place around them, filing the dome up and making it where Haku couldn't go between the mirrors, he had to settle for popping them.

"This is a pity..." Haku sounded regretful and just as he could enter the dome... he exited and pushed through the insects, a senbon striking the distracted girl as she dropped with a thud.

Haku had to retreat almost instantly as the buzzing became angry but they flooded back into Kucho's form, leaving her to lay motionless and the boys inside unaware.

"Huh why did it get light again.." Naruto only took a moment to guess and he glared, snarling. "What'd you do to Kucho-chan!"

"She was interfering.."

"Naruto." Sasuke bit out before Naruto could get emotional. "I'm going out." He wasn't certain it would work..but sure enough a substitution had him back outside the dome. "Move it baka!"

Another poof and Naruto was out there with him, frowning. The kikaichu had weakened the jutsu enough they could escape but now they had to worry about Kucho...

"GUYS!" Inari yelled from up above, drawing attention from the fighters on the bridge. "Gato's been spotted an he's got people with him! Stall for a bit, we're gonna do stuffs!"

"Stuffs. How clear.." Kakashi mumbled. He had just gotten Zabuza immobile by his ninken.

"More of those guys Tazuna-san said Gato doesn't like to pay?" Sasuke sneered a question to Kakashi even as he carefully was moving the senbon out of Kucho's pressure point.

"YOW!" Kucho yelped and then pouted at him. "Okay that's creepy being aware an not moving.."

Haku just was waiting, his full attention divided between them, and where Zabuza was held motionless but Kakashi wasn't acting on it.

"Sensei?" Naruto asked, still wary, hands still on his weapons.

"Hmmmm...Zabuza isn't going anywhere and I have my suspicions.."

Sasuke passed Kucho off to a clone, she was clearly trembling and not doing so well with the pressure point that had been struck.

"So now we wait..huh? Fine. Lets see what you're waiting on..copy nin.." Zabuza said and they held still, not a one breaking the stalemate or the charged air.

Gato eventually showed and did the one thing it had taken Sasuke and Kucho ages to get Naruto to stop doing. He ran his mouth.

"Well...seeing as I was just fired..." Zabuza turned his head, the only thing he could move and laughed. "Haku...?"

"Of course, Zabuza-sama..." Haku darted forward and Gato's men began to fall like needles off a pine tree that had turned brown.

"I'm jealous he makes it look so ..fluid.." Sasuke mumbled and Kucho sighed, looking up at Sasuke's clone who was holding her.

"I'm jealous of his hair."

The comment was so utterly girlish it made Sasuke snort in amusement. An echoing boom not long after said the villagers had managed to take care of Gato's escape route and out of hearing of the children, Kakashi and Zabuza had come to some sort of an agreement.

"Strange brats you have." Zabuza stated calmly, not really worried about the state of his arms. They'd heal in time.

"Oh? At least mine don't go referring to themselves as tools.."

"Bah. Mine's prettier."

"You know that could be taken so very wrong, Momochi.."

"Shut up Kakashi, you're the one traveling with a group of little twerps."

"Yes but you have to admit...mine are definitely up there in the 'strange' level."

"You really need to get them to do something so they don't look so normal. It's not how things are done Kakashi. Potentially powerful need to be weird looking you know that you even do it.." And no, the two overpowered jounin thought nothing of their strange bickering.

()()()()()

It was three days later and the exact details were never disclosed but Zabuza was helping to clean out Gato's hideouts in Wave, the most they could figure was he was keeping a lot of the loot found, or splitting it with Kakashi who would turn it over to the Hokage.

"Does it bother you?" Naruto asked Haku as the two boys were gathering herbs to help with Zabuza's arms.

"Does what bother me, Naruto-kun?"

"That we were friendly and then fighting and now we're all friendly again.."

"That is our life. Look at our masters, the minute they do not need to fight they did not because it was a waste of resources. Besides I would like to think perhaps Kakashi is sympathetic to Zabuza-sama's goals.."

"You said something about a bad Kage right? Yeah..Kakashi seems the sort to want to help people but he's not too good at showing that. Still I'm glad."

"As am I. You have the potential to be ..terrifying battle I think Naruto-kun. I am glad I did not need to witness that, or have to kill you or your friends."

"Thanks for aiming to knock out not kill them Haku, I know you could have."

"Someone told me I needed to help someone else adjust their dream.." Haku smiled at him. "I just didn't expect you to also give me the way to do so."

"Heehe..I'm awesome that way!"

()()()()(

Kucho was still moving a bit awkwardly and making a face when they returned, Haku had apologized and tried to offer to use acupuncture in a different way to resolve the problem but the Aburame girl was wary even as she smiled at him. "No thank you, Haku-san."

Sasuke smirked and nodded as Haku went away again, looking a little dejected. "I'm glad you are cautious..sometimes I worry about our orange menace. He just trusts so easily."

"It's part of Naruto's charm."

"Makes us have to keep an eye out for him though.." Sasuke grumbled, not arguing that it was indeed part of the blonde's charm.

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

In the end though the missing nin and his follower visited and they patched things up on the villages end they were set to leave before team seven would. They said farewell's in the woods and Zabuza seemed smug.

"We'll keep in touch and let you know what we find out regarding Mist's intelligence."

Kakashi nodded, considering the information they had to gain on the rival hidden village Konoha would be plenty willing to see if Zabuza gave good information they could use, in return they would secretly provide weapons and rations to fund the rebellion. Putting someone in charge who owed Konoha was only good politics. "You know where and to whom to address the messages." And there was a whole level of new codes Kakashi had made just for that to keep existing spies safe.

"You keep in touch too Haku!" Naruto was grinning and the other boy just nodded with a smile.

"Of course." His smile fell then as he bowed to Sasuke and Kucho who had yet to drop their guard around him again. "Once more, it was a pleasure to fight you."

Sasuke inclined his head. "I'll have a strategy to beat you next time."

Kucho sighed and then shook her head. "One more chance, Haku-san." She said before simply leaving. The boy looked confused and Naruto just shrugged.

"You'll have to work at getting her to trust you again Haku, Kucho is super protective of us. Besides she let her guard down around you when catching fireflies.."

"She told you?" Haku looked surprised and Sasuke snorted.

"We're her teammate's. She tells us everything."

Kakashi made eye contact with Zabuza. "It seems your tool is a lot softer hearted then you let on."

"Eh the little insect made an impression. He said it was like she called the stars down. Seriously. I've heard it seven fucking times a day since.."

Kakashi couldn't resist being a bit of a troll. "Well you may want to let him know one thing, Aburame's don't develop an interest in anyone until after they are mostly through puberty..."

"Oh shut up, Haku doesn't have a liking for her like that or I'm sure he'd be blushing like you when you read that book."

"Eh!?" came Naruto's shriek and the two elder nin realized the three remaining kids were staring at them in different levels of shock. The reactions of Kakashi's two boys was funny especially when they noticed the completely befuddled expression of the usually calm Haku.

"Haku you can't like Kucho-chan! She's way uncute!" Naruto was saying as he waved his arms, Sasuke nodding with his own crossed.

"Maa easy boys, don't embarrass Haku-san. Besides Kucho can date whomever she wants." He was sure as hell not going to tell a little lady who thought evil human feasting tiny spiders were adorable what she could and couldn't do. The girl idolized Anko for crying out loud!

It didn't take long for Zabuza and Haku to leave. Zabuza entirely amused he had something to harass the brat about, and the sounds of Sasuke and Naruto bickering left behind.

Kucho tilted her head, and lifted a hand sending off a single glowing dragonfly to keep Haku frm thinking she was mad, it would stay with him, as her tracker that had been there curled back up in her tenketsu. Judging from the volume, her team wouldn't be done for a long while and so she went to keep Tsunami company.

"Oh Kucho-chan, where are the boys?"

"Arguing over something completely irrelevant at this point in time and getting themselves worked up over it for no reason. Want help making dinner?"

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

Team Seven left the next morning after another extended farewell between Naruto and Inari. The bridge behind them named 'The Great Naruto Bridge' and under it, at Naruto's insistence : In memory of.. followed by a list of names of all who had perished under Gato's iron fist.

"Neither of you minds that they called it after me, right?"

"Why would we? You were the one who befriended everyone and did so much work on it. Dolt."

Kucho just nodded, twirling a long delicate senbon through her fingers. "Kakashi-sensei..is it very often we'll suddenly be allies with those we were fighting to kill moments before?"

"In the life of a shinobi, Kucho-chan..you just have to be adaptable."

"How did we do on this by the way, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto asked and Kakashi chuckled.

"I'm very proud of you three. So proud in fact that I'm spoiling you by telling you something...IF you three are willing to proceed at a full chakra enhanced run to get back to Konoha cutting our time down by a little over a week..hmm?"

"Information?" Sasuke piped up, it took only a second to have all three nodding.

"Yes Sir!"

Kakashi took off at an easy run and his team swiftly joined him.

"So I wasn't going to tell you until right beforehand, but since you did so well with unexpected surprises on this mission I feel you've earned it. Konoha is going to be hosting the chunnin exams..and I want to recommend the three of you."

Chapter Text

AN: I am sorry this took so long. Life, and frankly trying to figure out if I was taking certain choices in this story or not was hard. There were good and bad but I finally decided this was how it was going to go. I present to you, The Chunin Exams Part 1 and the promise no other stories will be updated until we complete the exam arc which is looking like it will be fairly long. So I do still want to address the humorous interview episode. Do you have any questions for this Team 7? Any of them are applicable, or the other teams too. If you've wanted to ask about any variety of my Carapace Universes genin now is the time. I'll be wording it as Konohamaru and friends still but have fun. If there's any that don't fit in with the story and they don't give away too much I'll answer them in another way.

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

The success of their mission buoyed the spirits of the group and so Team Seven made incredible time as they ran back to Konoha. They did stop and camp and spar at times, but for the most part, they let Kakashi set a grueling pace that punished them and left the three trembling from exertion every night. It was good training, as their sensei had pointed out. Many times in their future they would likely need to rely on speed and ceaseless traveling to accomplish a task so the sooner they could handle it the better.

The better their odds of survival as well, as Kakashi calmly told them. Though he gave them a number of nights free of being on watch so the three could collapse together in their tent, somehow ending up intertwined like puppies when he'd check on them. At one point during the night, Kucho would be half smothered between the sprawled and yet clingy forms of the two boys, snoring happily to herself in the process. Though every so often one of her larger insects would come out and the sensation of it crawling over skin would make someone awaken with a scream. It had become normal enough that not even the dogs Kakashi called out every evening would stir.

"Kucho! Make your crawlies stop waking me up!" Naruto would whine pathetically before flopping back into his bedding, only to hear a snort of amusement, followed by a wary rustling on Sasuke's side as he checked for any unexpected intruders. Even Kakashi had come face to face with more than a few of the stranger insects he was fairly certain could not be normal. It was just a hazard of having an Aburame Queen around apparently. Most the time he and Sasuke would drop them back on Kucho, or move them aside, gently though. If Kucho was there and it was just a kikaichu sometimes it would almost look to melt into her skin, was truly quite the sight to witness. There would be an amused twitch to her lips, there and gone swiftly, but each of the boys on the team realized she was trusting them to see an aspect of Aburame society and abilities that maybe was usually hidden by the baggy layers, instead of having her forearms exposed as she would help prepare camp or tend to her own injuries.

"Stop yelling Naruto..." Kucho mumbled before tucking her face back into the crook of her arm before it draped over his side in a comforting gesture. "'sides it just wanted to eat the bug that was on you."

And that was the other strange thing. For someone so fond of insects Kucho had no issues if the insects ate each other. Apparently, hers knew better but unattached ones were fair game. When they tried to explain to her she shouldn't be okay with that Kucho would just give them a look as though they were speaking nonsense and at this stage, even Naruto was giving up on trying to explain normal people logic. Worse, her own was starting to infect them and once or twice Naruto had even been correctly identifying parts of an insect when asking about something. Pinchers, feelers, antenna, spinneret..these were all becoming part of Naruto's common vernacular and the look on Sasuke's face at times would make Kakashi fight laughter. Indeed, they'd come a long way.

Of course, then one night came a bloodcurdling shriek and Kakashi and the ninken keeping him company were treated to the sight of Sasuke rushing out of the tent screaming and tripping over his own feet, just to scurry backward on the ground with less grace than a toddler. While Kakashi wanted to laugh, confused as he was, he was silenced seeing two red eyes this time instead of just one. That was new.

"Again, Kucho-chan?" Their sensei asked instead and the sleepy looking girl came out, hair in every direction possible with a tiny grin on her face. The flap of the tent revealing Naruto curled up in the far corner of the tent as pale as curdled milk in fear.

"Ah what do you mean, again, sensei?" She asked entirely innocently and Kakashi just bit his cheek. She was becoming quite the little troll..he was a horrid influence wasn't he? Okay, maybe he was a teeny bit proud. Now if Naruto could just work on that skill some more instead of just pranking he had a few people he'd love to set the orange-loving -if not currently wearing- blonde on.

"Last time Sasuke woke up one of his eyes to the Sharingan thanks to a spider. We are nowhere near those spiders." There was a blink of mismatched eyes and a faint smile in response to his statement. Kakashi felt his stomach roil and a chill crept down his spine. Please tell him she didn't. Of course, she would. Aburame. Blast it.

"Oh, some of them came with me. I had to let them out for a little bit you know. Cold as it is tonight." Kucho nodded. "They're very sweet if you keep them warm."

"The man killing exceptionally venomous spiders we saw on the way to Wave? The ones who wrapped up several bandits for us so they could feast on them?" Kakashi rubbed at his temple because how was it an insect-loving girl had called something that ate bugs as 'sweet' anyways?

"With the pretty green stripes and eyes? Yes." Of course, only the girl on his team would care to look at a spider's eyes much less notice if they were an unusual color. Kucho nodded before she held out her hand, gently swaying it side to side. Kakashi's enhanced vision narrowed in on something hovering below her splayed fingers even as he heard Sasuke whimper.

A large very long legged black spider with vibrant emerald markings down its abdomen and legs twirled there in a fashion Kucho would no doubt dub 'happily' as it worked on sending out more thread. Legs twitching and shifting as it seemed to fiddle with how long it wanted to dangle. A strangled sound came from Kakashi. No wonder Sasuke had scrambled out and Naruto seemed terrified. He tried to find a way to reason with the girl who was far too fond of things she should be nowhere near and hopefully get the newest danger away from them in the reasoning process. "Kucho-chan..will it not ah..eat..your..kikaichu?"

"It would." She agreed without looking away from the spider who then shifted to climb up the thread, not even seeming to mind as it started to crawl on her hand! She even gave a tiny sigh that could only be called content. "That is why they are all staying inside."

"Shouldn't you mayhaps, not like it since it eats bugs?" Pakkun asked from where he was lounging, though admittedly the nice sane boys in the camp were all of a mind that the little girl was freaking terrifying and it was only worse because she was currently not scared of the eight-legged menace that could kill her.

"Hmmm?" Kucho looked up, turning her hand back and forth as the creature scampered along her skin, as utterly unphased as most girls would be if twirling their hair. Not a tiny murdering spider.

"Ohhh...no. Silly. Why?" And here Kucho lifted her other hand, finger up. "We Aburame have a slight connection to the arthropod genus as a whole. Why hate insects that eat other insects when we mammals eat other mammals after all? It is illogical. However, I do not have the ability to properly bond with and mutate the spiders. Perhaps another does but it is not myself; that does not mean I cannot appreciate the masterful hunters and wish to emulate them after a fashion. I can still communicate to a degree with them, it is just very garbled and a bit off. Several of these beautiful legged ones agreed to return with me so I can give them a nice home and work on their venom for my future endeavors."

Kakashi felt a little sick then. Why did they never look into the Aburame more? "You mean this is, normal?"

His response was a look that summed up deadpan in one glance. She clearly had practiced it, because that had Gumoko all over it. "Bringing back lethal insects to create a symbiotic relationship with is rather a hallmark of my clan, Kakashi-sensei."

"Can we break camp early, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto whimpered repeatedly scratching at his skin as if feeling something crawling there. "I'm so not gonna sleep now."

Though Kucho really didn't understand it, she did tuck the spider back into the container no one had been aware was in her pack and they resumed running. There may even have been a touch more effort on the boys part since they were suddenly aware they'd been sleeping in the same vicinity as a few containers that held lethal spiders and of course, Kucho left the lid off so as not to harm them.

Unsurprisingly not a soul remarked about Kucho being 'uncute' the entire way back.

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

It was a very tired Team seven that finally more stumbled and crawled than walked through the gates. Considering his team had just pushed through the last leg of a non-stop twenty-four hour trek (even if most of it had to be walking towards the end, they did not have much stamina yet after all. A few breaks had been permitted but not sleep) to give them a taste for it, Kakashi generously let them all go home and said they would debrief tomorrow so not to give any details though it was not entirely meant at Kucho, Naruto was well known for blabbing everything to Iruka and anyone within hearing range of the Ichiraku ramen stand. At that point, it wouldn't be fair to omit Sasuke so Kakashi kept it as a blanket finger wag.

Kakashi himself would go and speak with the Hokage about the mission right away so they wouldn't be in trouble for going temporarily MIA. That was a problem Kakashi had drilled into them in regards to the protocol on the way back, repeatedly. That one did not just take off on their own, show up and be lazy about giving information. Though Kakashi acknowledged that thankfully they were in peace times "You never know if that little bit of intel you thought was nothing could have prevented a disaster while you had a drink, picked up a new book, or stopped to check on a friend." The three had wisely kept their mouths shut.

Once his weary little ducklings saluted and chorused their acknowledgment of his orders "Hai, Kakashi-sensei!" was actually a pleasant retort for him these days, Kakashi grinned seeing them exchange smiles and promises to meet up before they went to the tower in the morning and parting. If he was slouching less because of the warmth in his chest when each of his troublemakers also waved and wished him in chorus a "good afternoon and evening, see you tomorrow Kakashi-sensei, thank you for everything." Well that they'd had it become a rote parting enforced by their little scary girl teammate who insisted on acknowledging hierarchy wasn't a bad thing in the least.

With both of the boys nodding along before adding further much to Kucho's amusement.

"Even the really hard stuff." Came Naruto's declaration, eyes utterly hidden as he let out a massive yawn that scrunched up his face like an infant and scratched at his side. They were technically dismissed at the moment, and the change in Naruto's body language was immediate. Kucho and Sasuke would take longer to shake off their 'professional personas' but considering their different circumstances it was hardly surprising.

"Especially the really hard stuff, we'll need that experience better to have it now." Sasuke pointed out, too tired to care about how he usually wasn't verbose even if it was with sarcasm. It seemed around his team that habit had been mellowed out. Oh, he could still speak in grunts, and they would understand him but in that same fashion, he was willing to speak up and out around them. There was even a half-hearted smile.

"Yeah. So yanno, thanks for helping us stay not-dead and not-explodey, Kakashi-sensei." Naruto agreed.

Well...Kakashi thought as he vanished after wishing them a good evening as well, it was nice to be appreciated.

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

Kakashi honestly wasn't paying attention as the others recommended their teams publicly. He'd done so already privately to the Hokage when giving his report, ahead of time and every so often it was good to remind people of whom he had been before the accident. After all, if you were always tardy it became predictable and no longer perturbed people. Where was the fun in that? He had met with his team that morning to hand over their slips and waited as he showed them how to fill the proper participation forms out. Mostly it was the same sort that if they made it to the second stage they would be repeating, but Kakashi would rather they knew how to fill out these properly instead of just guessing. Asking whom to inform in case of a problem, medical care decisions, treatments they may object to, chakra and blood type, known allergies. Especially any histories of worrisome trauma in their past or reactions to stimulus. These were things that if something went wrong was best to have on file. He was honestly not surprised to see Iruka listed for Naruto, or that all three put Kucho's mother as they did spend a bit of time over there being fed. Seeing himself listed on the applications though was an unexpectedly touching moment that he carefully did not react to.

Basic questions on what they could expect to be tested on he could answer trolling with a simple one-word response of "everything". Yet, even more, fun was informing them, entirely by accident; of course, he was distracted by the chapter in his book, -really- that records of prior exams held in Konoha would be in the hall of ...hm..imagine that..records. Right by the library and all. None of the details of course, but injuries, numbers, attendees in contestants if not names certainly an accounting of how many represented each village. Enough that a smart well adapted and creative team could make a lot of use of it.

For just a moment after his announcement the peculiar stillness to the three had made Kakashi wonder if that had been a poor choice. Informing a mostly recovering revenge obsessed avenger PTSD suffering child, one who wanted attention and it didn't matter if it came in good or bad recognition from those around him thus spurring on to pranks that half the time even ANBU couldn't seem to catch him for, and a slightly less than understandably minded Aburame Queen who may not have the stalwart loyalty and morals that everyone who wasn't infested with insects in their very chakra coils adapted to if not socio or psychopaths to some degree...

Eh. Konoha had survived worse; like the Kyuubi.

Kyuubi currently in said blonde menace's stomach seal but that was a headache for someone else to handle. So yes, Kakashi was honestly looking forward to what they came up with because the level of preparation his team had done already with their attacks and hard work was more than many who had failed the Chunnin exams a good number of times. Now? With a goal dangling in their face and the assurance from their Jounin sensei that he felt them capable of giving this a good run if not winning?

Kakashi's giggling was actually this time, not from his book.

Because he remembered the looks when he said they could try out for the exam.

It was actually fairly impressive, being on the receiving end of three glares with a good amount of Killing Intent wafting off the trio. Kakashi made a mental note to teach them how to do so with better efficiency, right now anyone could pick up on it or be susceptible if they were in range. The high-level shinobi learned to focus that intent on one person or a few at a time and thus magnify it. Though he was understandably a touch wary of teaching it to Naruto considering the vast reserves he held as both Uzumaki and holder of the nine tailed fox.

"Hn." Sasuke started with his predictable grunt before smirking, though the nudge with his shoulder to nearby Naruto who then nudged Kucho flanking the other side of the blonde helped keep the image from being too arrogant. Barely. "We won't just compete."

A giant fox grin but with open eyes, always far more intimidating on the blonde stretched over as he crossed his arms. "Yeah. We'll win, Kakashi-sensei."

Kucho clearly agreed with her teammate's and nodded, adjusting her glasses with a tiny smile.

"Maa, maa, you act like I am not fully aware you will not hold back. In fact, my cute little students..I'm counting on it." Kakashi had genuinely smiled then, his eye closing in a sign of his trust and felt the intent trickle away. When he opened his eye again it was to seeing Naruto nudge the other two, a common sight as he dealt with the antisocial and introverted members respectively on a regular basis.

"No." Sasuke protested but in the face of the grinning mischief creature incarnate, yielded with a heavy sigh. At that sound Kucho laughed and nodded, leaving their bemused sensei to watch as more shoulder bumping occurred before the three raised their fists towards Kakashi.

"Oh?"

"C'mon sensei," Naruto explained, and the smiles the brunettes were fighting betrayed they were actually amused at this but pretending otherwise for their egos. Kakashi had experience there, with the embarrassing friends and everything. Not that it meant he felt an ounce of pity for them. Not at all.

"And what, Naruto, am I to do?" He asked instead raising the visible eyebrow as high as he could. Oh, he knew, but where would the fun be if he didn't drag this out?

"Raise your fist. Come on, you gotta know fist bumps. You aren't THAT old no matter what your hair says!" Naruto snickered.

Kakashi stifled a chuckle of his own and tapped his fist against his group of students outstretched ones before promptly dragging Naruto into a head lock to grind his knuckles playfully into the blonde locks. "Old am I?"

The laughter of the brunettes filling the air before they playfully started trying to rescue Naruto who was crying out pitifully through his laughter and swipes at Kakashi only making Kakashi play along more. "Team Seven, Help! Help! The old man has me!"

"Don't worry fair prince we'll rescue you!" Kucho snickered as she flung shuriken towards Kakashi's hands to try and make his grip loosen.

"Not a princess?" Sasuke bantered. "He seems a helpless one right now."

"And whom, Sasuke, says girls are helpless?" Kakashi couldn't help but egg them on. If they were willing to play dirty fighting to try and help, he would call it training and make this into an impromptu hostage rescue exercise.

"Princesses are helpless. Queen's are terrifying." Sasuke scowled over at Kucho who just grinned, appeased.

"Less dramatics, more saving the handsome prince here!" Naruto bellowed, his hands kept apart so he couldn't form hand seals, Kakashi did know plenty about restraining troublesome hostages who couldn't just be knocked unconscious after all.

"Tornado?" Sasuke asked casually but with a very eager gleam to his eyes and Kakashi was curious what attack that meant in their codes because Naruto went still with dread and Kucho utterly leered.

"Tornado."

A wailing from Naruto was the response."NooooooooooOOooooo"

A few moments later Kakashi understood why. Tornado was, unsurprisingly, misleading. Tornado instead should have been named exploding fireballs. It involved a misleading rock jutsu both of the brunettes made that seemed to send several dozen small pebbles to fist-sized rocks at their opponent at high speeds, the first going off just after the second whom would have their hand motions blocked by the flurry of activity already happening. At some point, the second attacker counting on the visual misdirection of dodging the first volley and still in the process of doing so would expect the second was the same. However, those rocks contained a number of exploding tags. Hence, fireballs. Rapid substitution jutsu use with some of the other larger rocks in the group as they kept this up for the second time and Kakashi had to applaud their creativity.

As usual he downplayed his skills -something he had told his team he would do when training and slowly increase it as he felt they were up to the challenge and thankfully Kucho's pheromones ensured there were no outbursts but thinking logically about why that would be a helpful thing- and permitted the slight slackening of muscles and distraction that someone a little above them, chunin to high chunin rank, would likely have to occur. The moment he did Naruto was free and spammed shadow clones. As had become the new tradition when analyzing the battles with Zabuza however, now when Naruto spammed those clones he did so making henged ones to mimic his teammate's as well.

Kakashi could sense with his years of training, that all three then substituted themselves to nearby trees and scattered. Still in visual range but not striking, leaving the clones. If he actually had been chunin level they would have reset the advantage and no doubt send lethal attacks before fleeing with their rescued charge.

It made him very proud and he lifted a hand with two fingers up in a peace sign of approval. "Well done. I concede you rescued your pretty little helpless prince. Objective satisfied." Only once he'd said that did the clones vanish and his teammate's return, more relaxed and content with the short fight. They had learned -painfully- to never let their guard down unless Kakashi said a lesson was over.

"Now then, go study and then take the afternoon off. You three must be rested before the tests. By that I mean you need a few days to fully recuperate. Light training only. Understand?" Kakashi wagged his finger at them, something they had learned was only half to look humorous and a half was him giving a direct order without making it clearly so to observation.

"Hai, Sensei!"

Kakashi giggled again, making all but Gai step to the side. Not surprising at all that the 'Green Beast' was the only fellow shinobi to this point to realize how often Kakashi's eye was not focused on the words held up to him, but instead working out something in his thoughts. If playing along at competitions every so often kept him from telling, well, it did give Kakashi something to do.

"Kakashi? Do you have something to say?" One of his fellows asked. A quick glance up at the front and a minuscule dip of their Hokage's head let him know they had all recommended their teams. Hm. Well, why not mess with them? After all as far as anyone in this room knew he had the least likely functional group with the Dead Last and two 'loner' types. Besides, he knew the Hokage was still annoyed at all those who had a hand in Naruto falling behind all these years and probably wanted to discreetly show them a rude gesture. In lieu of that, having Kakashi put up a front of unwilling instructor trying to kill off the team he'd been stuck with would apparently satisfy the old dictator. Well, who was he to ignore a subtle order?

Shifting slightly he held up his hand in a gesture to report truthfully. Pageantry to play at Konoha being a democracy to it's less in the know soldiers and the contentedly oblivious. He hated pointless posturing and ritual when the forms were already signed and turned in, stamped as admitted under the Hokage's seal and filed away with the proctors shortly after he'd met with his team. "Hai, Hokage-sama. The three comprising Team Seven under direction from Hatake Kakashi consisting of Uchiha Sasuke, Uzumaki Naruo, and Aburame Kucho. I nominate all three for the chunin exams."

The outbursts were highly satisfying. Well, until Iruka overstepped his boundaries and dared to question if Kakashi thought it was a good idea. For some reason, that comment of 'They are my students' hit him the wrong way.

"They are not your students," Kakashi said calmly, too calmly. He sensed warning spikes in ki from a few of his ANBU former comrades hidden in the room as they passed it through their ANBU tattoos to his own. Something they all still did for each other. Too often it was almost impossible to resume a more 'civilian' ninja life. To go back to when you dared to question orders, to back talk a superior. Blending things lesser soldiers did without thought. Not a one of the ANBU thought of their beloved Hokage as anything more than their dictator. He commanded, they obeyed. Orders were only ever questioned if it seemed detrimental to Konoha as a whole. That side of Kakashi had never truly faded, not with his father's suicide, not with Obito and Rin's passing. It was too much a part of whom he innately was. Calm anger was far more lethal if you were ANBU. Calm anger meant logic, thinking, planning.

Hence the rapid flares of Ki on a level that none would sense without that tattoo laced in special chakra reactive ink that could conduct as a seal all its own such warnings. A pity that didn't work for varying the pulses, it would just sort of itch to a burn but could not be used for codes. They'd tried. The secret of how to make the ink had gone mysteriously missing at nearly the same time Root had been exposed to have some rather devious attempts to kill the Hokage in a coup, just a few years after he'd found 'Tenzo'; and none of the younger ANBU members had the reactive tattoos just the regular ones.

Looking back on it he rather suspected perhaps one of their MIA members had been worried about things getting into Danzou's hands and destroyed all records of it, it was too much of a coincidence. But the itching sensation on his arm now informed him he was stepping too far. It was enough to remind him to keep hands far from his weapons, killing intent locked up tight. Instead, he exaggerated his lazy slouch and slowed his speech, to mask the cruel edge his words would otherwise take on. It wasn't Iruka's fault he didn't know. Didn't understand just how deeply insulting he had just been.

"They are my subordinates."

It was cruel, perhaps even maliciously petty of him to be pleased when the Hokage, the seemingly flippant offer for Iruka to test his team. Though he did suggest Iruka test all of the suggested ones. He wouldn't have his singled out just because of Iruka's attachment to Naruto. That could be dangerous. While Kakashi knew the Hokage wanted Naruto to have someone to run to -it should have been Kakashi, he should have been there for him even if it hurt but he hadn't, had kept on the missions and running more and more until he nearly broke but it kept Naruto safe and safe was what mattered more than loved and dead. So when Kakashi knew the next time would kill him because he had nothing left to give, burned out and too close to that abyssal edge ANBU could walk and go KIA on, he'd given back the mask. He stepped back and by then Naruto was already almost to graduate and Iruka was there- he also did not want Iruka to accidentally cripple his teammate's capabilities by feeling he was always second-guessed and watched. There was enough of that to deal with whenever the nature of the beast in his belly came out to the rest of Team seven. By at least planting the idea for Iruka to test all of the rookie nine and the few apprenticed and other students who would participate, Naruto wouldn't think it was because of his not being trusted.

It was a good thing then, that his lower face mask hid his grin because Kakashi knew it was not a nice smile.

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

The hall of records was a massive dump of information. Most of it was carefully censored but out there for the constant approved tallies of coming and going with existing laws and rules on imports, exports, banned items and the like. This meant it was quite well organized in the massive shelves. Free of dust and well lit with many long narrow tables for people to spread out what they were working on it still had lots of privacy between the many rows. Quiet for all the bustle, no citizen was ever denied access. It never occurred to anyone to ask how they could tell if you were a citizen or not though.

Naruto's shadow clones were priceless for drudgery work. Seeking out records was just one more, and the fact to avoid attention he would spam them behind shelves and make them henge into various boring people easily overlooked only helped matters. No one realized in the quietly busy hall of records that so many of the thirty or so mix of ninja and civilians looking up various records- quite common for the rules on pricing and taxes that would apply to the foreigners trickling in and whether or not they had to bar certain exports- were clones. Instead at different tables would be a mix of clones seeking key words. They would make piles of the documents containing them, and one of the other clones who were always Aburame looking; Kucho's Nee-chan's did not often make normal facial expressions and did have darker skin to reflect their natural carapace's she hadn't mastered the insect clones yet to that degree but they could henge to have bulkier gear hiding all but a small swath around their glasses and thus be ignored by people anyways, would take those piles to a group of students who looked to be doing their civilian homework.

Completely average kids with dull colored attire, brown hair with different textures but similar shades, brown eyes, and the same light tan skin. It was their favorite 'ignore me' henge. By looking just similar enough thanks to coloring and minor changes to apparent bone structure and attire they resembled cousins. Their darker skin compared to many of the pale Konoha natives was still fair, but as if they spent most their time out in the sun. Likely working-class children who helped at stalls or in a family garden. The brown was an easy blend of their three colors so if the henge started to slip it was less noticeable, and the texture changes again was a blend of the three. They stood out just enough to be forgettable, and Sasuke clearly enjoyed not being harassed. For Naruto, he enjoyed the ruse of 'family' and Kucho?

Kucho didn't think anything of it. It was just a body after all.

"This may be useful." Sasuke slid over a paper he'd written numbers on with small annotations, and at the bemused brown gaze from the usually blue-eyed boy he sighed. "The average number of applicants per village each year that apply..and pass."

"But, it's got like fifty people total and only four or five..per exam!" Naruto frowned, brows scrunched together thinking hard. Patient, and encouraging Naruto to think more often, both of his teammate's waited to see what conclusions if any he would come to. Since Kucho had been working with Sasuke on helping Naruto feel comfortable with making suggestions the Uchiha had launched himself into starting to help Naruto draw out his opinions. Sometimes he had brilliant flashes of insight that broadsided them, and sometimes he came up blank. Despite a fond "Orange menace." though Sasuke never ridiculed him. It had made Naruto a lot more comfortable trying to come to ideas on his own instead of just throwing out stupid ideas or pretending he knew what was going on just so he didn't feel inferior to Sasuke.

"That doesn't make sense." Naruto finally said.

"Why?" Kucho asked and every set of lips twitched at the table. They knew she wouldn't finish her statement though, not pretending as she was.

"Cuz, yanno then each village would only get maybe what, two to twenty ninja every ten years a Chunin? And Jounin has to be harder. So it doesn't work. What do they do, all sneaky promote people then?" A scratch at his ear and a scowl as Naruto thought over what he just said. "Probably do. Or field promotions like Ka..er, like we heard." The slip was swiftly caught and so neither of the others called him on it. Mentioning kids their age and younger was allowed, it was expected they may mingle.

"Most likely." Kucho hummed. "So that means either these are not so much for promotion as to show those who survive it what they need to work on, or it's a farce of sorts. Or both."

"Survive it?!" Neither of the normally brunette children reacted at the outburst save for both giving him a nod.

A moment's pause before Naruto groaned and slumped over the table. "Okay. I get it. So packin like we are goin right back to the 'bridge' eh?"

"A good plan." Sasuke agreed thoughtful. "My...relatives..likely left some gear we may be able to salvage. It was properly stored and while dusty, would be worth examining. It would help if you both spent the night so we could use this time more efficiently. We can purchase anything we are lacking the next few days before the exams begin."

Kucho pulled out another sheet of paper and began making a list of supplies. "Does it mention how long the exams go for? On average. Clearly, it is not just a quick day-long event or else we would not have so many shop keepers and those running the inns and restaurants in and out of here all day."

"Uh wait, I had that one Queenie." One of Naruto's clone's piped up. Much to Naruto's bafflement and Sasuke's amusement the clones all referred to Kucho with that title. The faint humming Kucho made each time in pleasure probably only was reinforcing it. She did like having her ranking acknowledged. "Here ya go! Hey, Boss? Just so ya know there's a box painted like a rock circling around outside and every so often it asks where 'big brother boss' is."

"Eh?" Naruto blinked. "Oh. Well, I'll have to go out and pretend to be surprised then." He grinned over at the quietly waiting duo. "Konohamaru, he doesn't get enough attention and likes to 'play' ninja." That Naruto had not had anyone play with him was implied through his tone. The usually blue-eyed blonde watched as his henged teammate's exchanged one of those 'quiet people' looks that seemed to work as well as talking. A few shifts of muscles and then they went back to writing.

"What has he learned so far?" Kucho asked, and that alone had Naruto beaming.

"I taught him my sexy jutsu."

Sasuke's head hit the table with a groan. "Dobe..."

On the contrary, Kucho giggled. "Did he get it?"

"Yep! And his caretaker was the first victim to my improved Harem Jutsu!" Naruto grinned. "Actually remind me to teach you two, it works fantastically to startle and stun people and I get away a lot easier when they're flustered."

"I am not pretending to be a naked woman," Sasuke grumbled. After the heavy pause, he glared up from his arms snarling at both of the amused nin. "Or a naked man."

Kucho hummed teasingly. "You could henge to be an old one, and naked. That would make most people look away."

The boys and shadow clones all shuddered. "Way uncute Kucho-chan." "Hn"

"If it's effective it is not to be mocked." Kucho huffed, and one of Naruto's clones patted her on the tell tale puppy tail hair style she used even when henged.

"You tell em Queenie." At Naruto's gasp and look of betrayal, the henged clone stuck it's tongue out at it's maker.

"Besides, I am certain my mother would give me tips on how to adjust my own appearance with said jutsu." Kucho tapped at her cheek before nodding "Do walk me through it later, Naruto-kun?"

Unsure of what else to do Naruto just nodded. "Kay."

Sasuke let his head meet the table again.

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

Half an hour later the three had slipped out amongst the crowd of clones which would poof away in various alleys and back rooms to be forgotten, Kucho's Nee-chan's already back in her chakra coils. Sasuke slipped away with them as he would run back while still under henge to check on the said supplies and then return so they could buy anything they may need in the morning before heading to train in preparation of the exam taking place a few days. Lightly train, per their sensei's orders. Essentially just keeping limber. It was also no longer an uncommon sight to see Kucho and Naruto walking beside each other, even if it tended to look more like the hyper active blonde was dragging his unwilling teammate around instead of her just basking in his company while she stayed silent if she was in 'recharging from people' mode.

After all, Naruto knew that tiny buzzing sound meant she was happy and that she frequently had tiny touches as they would walk, the now familiar minuscule pin prick of soft chakra each time a fond reassurance of her company. He did not have fine enough control to return the favor, and he knew her kikaichu still didn't like his chakra but no longer took it personally. Heck, she had bugs that could form clones and talk to him, therefore, they were allowed their own opinions as far as Naruto was concerned. When it had come down to the wire they had been there for him so obviously, they didn't mind him just his chakra.

Well, his teammate's didn't understand his love of ramen so that's how Naruto chose to view it.

"There's no way a rock would be perfectly square!" Naruto bellowed dramatically, acting up, but since he had informed Kucho he would be playing with Konohamaru she did little more than giggle at his actions. Not berate him, and the joyful sound, reminding him of back in the academy when his antics could have her react even then only made his urge to be even more ridiculous increase.

So when Konohamaru and his friends popped out he was clapping. "Nicely done! Less smoke though. Hmmm..and I think you need to work on your intros a little more."

"Yeah? Like what boss?" Eager eyes grinning up at him made Naruto's brain falter. For just a moment his heart was in his throat and then there was a soft brush of chakra as Kucho silently stepped beside him. Not talking, just there to support him.

"Welll...okay. Don't give obvious things about you. Make them wonder. Or use a catch phrase, dattebayo. Wait. Not that one!" Naruto scrubbed at his hair trying to figure out what he should suggest before it came to him and he grinned. "What is it Iruka complains about the three of you the most?"

After the gasps and the sudden huddling of the trio, he heard Kucho murmuring softly. "That was brilliant, Naruto-kun."

"Thanks, Kucho-chan!" He beamed over at her, knowing despite the glasses that her eyes would be half closed as she was smiling at him. Of course, it would be misinterpreted by the tiny ninbabys.

"Hey, hey Boss! Is she...like..." And Konohamaru just had to hold out his pinky.

"No!" Naruto paled then because insulting Kucho's girly ways outside of the now fond uncute was a potential landmine if Ino, Sakura, and the other girls he knew were any warning. "That is..I mean.."

"Hello. I am Aburame Kucho. It is a pleasure to meet the one Naruto-kun spoke so highly of learning his own unique jutsu in so short a time." Kucho bowed slightly in greeting, the younger children returning it with their own introductions out of habit. "However, I must correct you on your assumption. Naruto-kun is my precious teammate. Being an Aburame, however, I do not yet have any interest in either gender or potential mates. Why?" Naruto's snort almost derailed her but the baffled expressions on the kid's faces were making her continue, apparently Kakashi-sensei was a bit of a poor influence. She would have to check in with her mother about it. "Because my physical form is not yet capable of bearing life thus any such attachment towards that is pointless. Also, not being yet at my own pinnacle I cannot surmise a suitable mates capabilities to produce optimal offspring as I do not yet know where I will be found lacking."

"Uh..."

"Kucho-chan I think you broke my friend." Naruto chided her while trying not to laugh. He paused then. "Hey, you mean all that?"

"Affirmative."

"Sooo..you I dunno, never had a crush on anyone?" He again blinked at her, thinking of his own crush on Sakura. "I mean you kinda brought it up on that one D-Rank..."

"Crushes are a mix of chemical reactions to recognition of talents and skills one may appreciate in potential mates." Kucho nodded. "However, my Queen's suppress most of such imbalances to help keep me as an optimal host for them while my coils continue to expand as I age."

"Shino?" Naruto was half ignoring the kids who just looked completely confused, but there was a sharp considering gaze to the little kunoichi who had called herself 'sexy' that had Naruto going with Kucho's randomness. Maybe he could avoid another fangirl situation where they didn't focus hard enough on their career. Not all of them were naturally brilliant like Sakura.

"Likewise. Though as a born Soldier for all he has Queen's and is heir his initial hives are reduced compared to my having numerous Queens and thus he may have more..imbalances..until that is corrected or he is already of age to find a compatible partner." Kucho smiled at him, not revealing that often if one could not be found they would only procreate for improving their own genetic stock, as she herself was proof of, or if they needed to provide an heir as Shino would. Otherwise, it was completely normal for most of the Aburame to shun such unions altogether and only increased the reasons they were so protective of their teammate's as their own 'hives' in a sort of substitution. That was why in many generations the Aburame needed to rely on adoption to swell the clan instead of having children of their own. It was a favored koan of the Aburame to teach their children. 'Do we exist as a clan, or as the vessels of our kikaichu's hives?' Or better translated, exactly which of the symbiotic relationship was being cultivated?

"Well if you aren't his girl friend..you are his friend, right?" Konohamaru asked with a frown. Kucho simply nodded which made that expression vanish. It seemed the protective nature went both ways. "Wanna play ninja with us?"

Kucho clearly felt she had spoken enough to strangers, children though they may be and gestured to Naruto, one that he was familiar at this point to interpret as 'I'll follow your lead'.

"Sounds good to us Konohamaru. What do you want to practice? Maybe go see who can hit more targets or...?" Naruto smirked here, knowing what would tire the kids out fastest without breaking Kakashi's take it easy rule. "A race maybe?"

"Ha! Eat my dirt Boss!" And without deciding where they were going or saying start, he ran off. Companions laughing as they ran behind.

"Whoa. They're..uh...slow?" Naruto drew his brows together and glanced over at the quietly laughing and buzzing Kucho. "We're just used to our trolling tardy sensei aren't we?" Kucho nodded, still laughing but bumped his shoulder with her own. "Yeah, yeah, I know. So, up for a race? Just a slow one, I want them to almost win."

Kucho raised a brow, a tiny smirk on her face.

"Of course I learned from Kakashi-sensei! He's crazy but he's brilliant and effective, ya know that!" Naruto laughed before winking. "C'mon, let's catch some kids!"

Roaring with laughter as he ran ahead Naruto whooped and a fantastic game of catch was started. They wound through various streets, though carefully slow to always let the three younger ones stay ahead. It was as Naruto rounded one corner though that he noticed the taunts from Konohmaru had ceased and instead some stranger had his friend held aloft by his shirt.

"Hey!" Naruto snarled as hot fury swept his veins. There was a roaring sound pressing from the inside of his eardrums. Memories of being the bullied one picked on, abused, even if he now knew the reason was the freeloader in his gut were no less upsetting. He would not let Konohamaru deal with that same issue! "Put him down!"

"And what are you gonna do about it, pipsqueaks?" The cat-eared stranger sneered one eye slowly opening.

Just under hearing if not for his known enhanced skills, ones Kucho took advantage of, she whispered "exam." Naruto shifted his hand back towards his weapon pouch but flicked a thumbs up to her to show he heard. Downplay. They were probably here for the exams which meant likely opponents. Just like Kakashi did with them this morning, pretend he wasn't as capable as he was. Well. That wasn't hard. Yelling out a nonsense cry Naruto rushed forward, purposefully slower and clumsier footed. Still, he didn't expect to be tripped by what he could not even see!

Landing hard, reminding not to twist and spring off his wrists as he'd learned but just to flop down Naruto pretended shock. Chakra threads, Kakashi had called them. Back when instructing Sasuke on something more effective than the wire he used if worried they could be used against his person. Naruto had zero skill with them but they'd found his brute chakra application could almost burn through them when Kucho and Sasuke had worked with him on it. Didn't mean it didn't itch like a bad rash though if he used it.

Kucho finally stepped forward and Naruto was curious. Would she attack? Pretend to fail? Or resort to the Aburame stereotype and use it to be utterly dismissed?

"You are here for the chunin exams. Why? You have foreign headbands and are here at the time for it. However, there is a section in the agreement of all villages hosting the exams and that for those coming to visit that states 'any hostile action upon the person of the Hokage or their immediate family shall be considered an act of war and either the village belonging to said party must withdraw or the team they are attached to automatically fail.' With that in mind, I feel obligated to inform you that currently, you are hoisting up the Hokage's grandson." Ever so slightly Kucho adjusted her glasses as she finished speaking, always with a casual flat tone. For some reason, the way she spoke seemed to unnerve the visitors before she even finished what she was saying. Slowly, very carefully, the bully holding Konohamaru set him down.

Sticking out his tongue Konohamaru ran behind Kucho with a wail "You aren't cool boss! Loosing to a guy like that!"

Kucho saw the hurt that occurred on Naruto's face before he hid it, knowing that he was torn between success and not wanting to let his friend down.

"I was faking it! Really Konohamaru!" Naruto exclaimed as he stood up. Kucho had to keep from smiling sadly, all it did was make it seem even more pathetic. She'd help him explain to the kid later if he really wanted.

"Pfft. Konoha's genin are really weak." One of the intruders muttered and then the same bully smirked. "By any chance, are you two related to the old man?"

Kucho shook her head, guessing where this was going even as Naruto mouthed off. "Hey! Only I'm allowed to call Jiji that sorta thing! But..no, he's not related to me."

"Good. Looks like I get a warm up, Temari."

"You're going to use crow? Really, Kankuro?" The girl asked with a glare before she rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Keep me out of it."

"Uh.." Naruto started before he looked over at Kucho. Of course, she was just watching him, half keeping an eye on the others. When she noticed he was trying to make eye contact she directed him at what had her attention. Ever so slightly, only because he was used to looking through her glasses, Naruto saw her flicker her eyes to one tree, blinking slowly, and then narrow her gaze slightly offset.

Ally. Enemy.

Dang. He really was speaking 'quiet person' too well these days! Hurray for Kakashi-sensei and his weird training! Still. Ally...that had to be either Sasuke or Kakashi, or Iruka. Heck, even Anko. Any of those choices..or even if it was just another of their year-mates was a good thing. The enemy wasn't a massive threat, was it? A swift look over Kucho's body language told him otherwise. Okay. Really stupidly dangerous enemy. Naruto flashed her a grimace more than a grin. Fortunately, she caught on that he meant Zabuza with his weird teeth.

A subtle nod. Okay. The Super dangerous enemy then.

"Naw." Naruto shook his head then and crossed his arms. He'd had Kakashi drill into them as they filled out their forms what the rules were. Now that Konohamaru was safe any action on his part to join a fight would render their opponents blameless for retaliating. Even if they initiated it. There were Anbu and exam enforcers crawling unseen over Konoha right now and the only permitted aggressive actions that wouldn't have dire consequences were ones where a Konoha native initiated or escalated it or frankly if they could find a way to dispose of the evidence without being caught.

"Coward.." The bully sneered and Naruto sneered right back sticking out his tongue and pulling on his eyelid.

"Moron. At least I know the rules about fighting outside of exams. How'd you qualify anyway? Running your mouth to the point they sent you here for a bit of peace and quiet?" No one had to know that was a modification of one of Sasuke's insults to him when Naruto had tried caffeine that Sasuke and Kucho had needed to get through the twenty-four-hour trek. It had turned Naruto into a massive hyper energy ball that Kakashi finally gagged and made run that way. Though originally Sasuke had said 'How did you graduate anyway? Really? Make so many clones and then run their mouths to the point Iruka graduated you knowing otherwise he'd never get any peace and quiet in class again?'

"Why you little pathetic-" whatever else would be spewed at Naruto was silenced by a pebble hitting his hand that had begun unwrapping what was on his back. The group turned to look up at Sasuke, tossing another one up and down in clear warning. At least he didn't go emo and try to crush it as if to show he was tough. Naruto and Kucho had to fight laughter though at the obvious -to them- annoyance at anyone else insulting Naruto. That was Sasuke's role, thank you very much.

"Why can't you be cool like that boss!?" Ah, they had almost forgotten Konohamaru.

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

Sasuke was standing next to his teammate's, glaring as the ninja from sand walked away. He had not missed the overall wary silence on both Kucho and for Naruto compared to his usual mode off missions. The revelation of the red-haired shinobi who had been in touching, and thus silent killing strike range, of Sasuke, had unnerved him. Not that he let it show. It was only after Gaara and his siblings were out of sight that he turned to his teammate's.

"Kucho-chan?" He said softly and Kucho nodded.

"My Kikaichu sensed him. They loathed his chakra.." close as the three stood the two boys heard it. Blue and black eyes met and both had serious frowns on before nodding. While they wanted a good battle, they knew to be careful. They had lucked out in Wave, they had killed. They knew they were fortunate to have lived till now. And that boy would be fighting them at some point no doubt in the exams.

"Come over prepared to spend the night. I want to show you what I found. We can train in the morning." Knowing they would understand he meant in one of his families dojo's outside of spying eyes more than they could guarantee the training grounds would be, Sasuke turned, not even greeting the younger kids and Kucho waved briefly before following as her home was in the same direction for a few streets. She needed to get food enough for dinner and breakfast after all, and her own supplies. They needed to see what had to be repaired or restocked for all of them.

Naruto groaned behind him but neither brunette worried about his finding a way to extract himself after a lot of talking and then meeting up with them later.

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

A few days later there was a corner of one of Konoha's bars that housed a very disgruntled brunette and a few bottles of sake.

"Iruka?" Kakashi asked before sitting across from the steadily getting drunk chunin. He may have been radiating smugness but no one would call him on it being unusual. "My, my, I didn't figure you the sort to drink before exams.."

"You're an asshole," Iruka grumbled before throwing another drink back. "You know, Team Gai? Scary effective but no surprise. He's had them a year after all. They obliterated my clones. Team Kurenai? The Hyuuga heiress needs a little work because she doesn't want to strike with force but the others performed as expected and they should do fine. Aburame are usually tricky but I didn't expect Shino to be quite as ruthless as he was when he finally went on the offensive to defend Hinata. Once he realized if he had been singled out so had they. I nearly lost a bit of my chakra escaping his insects. That Inuzuka boy is prodigal with his clan's jutsu's."

"Mmhmm.." Kakashi poured himself a drink, ignoring the glare he got in return. Frankly, Iruka didn't scare him and if the man didn't think he'd be there to gloat after the little calling out earlier the other day he was a far dumber man than Kakashi had given him credit for.

Relenting in his glare Iruka continued. "Team Asuma? No surprise. Capable. Lazy as Shikamaru is he could tell it was a test right away and asked I fail him so he didn't need to get up in the morning." That admittedly got them both to chuckle before Iruka glared at him. It was actually pretty decent, even if thanks to the sake his chakra leaking killing intent was sloppy at best.

"Now, now, surely you can't be upset at my subordinates Iruka! Why, I seem to recall you demanding they weren't ready, as your students." His tattoo burned. Kakashi couldn't help it, knowing his smile was hidden for all the glee in his visible eye wasn't. Also, it may have warmed his heart to know even now probably three buildings away his former teammates were looking out for him as they kept watch over the influx of foreigners. Bless those chakra sensors, didn't need to be in the same room to poke at annoyed teammates.

"What did you do to those kids?" The hoarse sound was unexpected. Iruka scrubbed at his face. "Sasuke..okay, he's Uchiha and frankly after the massacre I know he's got problems and a little unhinged. He didn't even hesitate the moment I made a move towards a weapon I was kicked in the face, then he threw shuriken with chakra wires at me, then he followed it by a fireball.."

Kakashi paused cup held halfway to his mask. "Oh?"

"Don't even try to play dumb with me." Iruka snarled.

"Maa more I am wondering why he held back so much. He must really wish to be underestimated." Kakashi had to withhold laughter at the strangled sound Iruka made before he slammed down the empty cup. Again. While Iruka rubbed his eyes Kakashi sipped his own sake, before putting the mask back. "So, Sasuke passed."

"Clearly." Another twitch to Iruka's eyebrow. "I planned to kidnap one of the kids following Naruto around to show him danger could come to his precious ones..." At that Kakashi couldn't help but chuckle, earning himself yet another dark look from the annoyed teacher. "Yeah. I figured that out. Once I was swarmed with shadow clones, dodging chakra bombs I taught him to make! He shouldn't be able to master those yet! He didn't hesitate to strike with the intent to kill and Moegi was substituted for a shadow clone and then there were so many look-alike copies of both I couldn't find them in the chaos. Then he sent a fireball jutsu -and since when did Sasuke teach Naruto how to use that!?- and by the time I dodged they were gone!"

"Good. He learned that one well." Kakashi just nodded, rejoicing in the suffering of one who had underestimated his team. "I presume that he then found and notified one of the observing enforcers?" Kakashi just smirked at Iruka's defeated nod. Naruto had indeed acted as if there had been a hostile attacking force, rescuing one of the citizens, and then going up the chain of command and reporting it so they could investigate. Perfectly textbook and not something Iruka clearly felt should be needed to know yet.

"...You aren't going to ask?" Iruka finally mumbled.

"About my Aburame? No. You probably did something entirely foolish like used genjutsu on her." Kakashi waved his hand.

"No. I ah..since Shino broke his so swiftly I went for looking like one of her teammate's and attacking her.." Iruka blinked before wailing and clutching at his hair. "She attacked anyways! No hesitation! Just flat out had some light in my face and then was sending exploding rocks in my direction calling out Tornado for some reason..why. Kakashi why are you laughing at me now!?"

"Forgive me Iruka. Just, two things. One, Kucho-chan has thanks to her beetles a very good idea of the nature of her teammate's chakra, and she knows them well enough to communicate almost wordlessly. I doubt you could have mimicked either of them well enough." He didn't tell Iruka it was also because mission Albatross had given them a chance to really get to know each other, tells that you wouldn't know unless you had been around others with your guard down, and seeing the ways they faked things, were much harder to copy. You could mimic someone's behaviors and pass off anything odd as 'feeling off color' or not sleeping enough. But if you knew how they acted at those moments? Not so much.

"...figures. And the other?"

Kakashi was tempted to flip up his headband. Really, he was sad he hadn't earlier and just thrown his eye under a genjutsu to hide using the Sharingan to remember this later. This was better than he thought and Iruka still wouldn't have any idea until the exams just how good his team was. He'd have to revisit after that. Maybe bring a camera. Actually, he needed to get more film, everyone's reactions to his team during the exams would probably be priceless future blackmail. "They don't hold back when training with each other. Kucho-chan probably thought they were just sneaking around my nothing more than light training order and reacting appropriately." At Iruka's spluttering, Kakashi couldn't help but rub it in more. "For the record, not using genjutsu on Kucho-chan was a good idea. Hers are...alarmingly creative."

"...do I want to ask?" Iruka was looking as if he was debating another bottle of sake. To help him out Kakashi decided to clearly remind him of an event not so long ago.

"Remember when Ibiki decided to test that new hallucinogenic serum out and you were forced to volunteer?" Frankly, Ibiki had tested it on EVERYONE over genin because he claimed he needed a varied testing pool. No one was fooled, he was just crazy and reminding them of the horrors that existed out there. It had uncovered a few considering defecting though so they couldn't really fault him. Much. Well, the Yamanaka didn't appreciate the increased workload but there you have it.

"...yes?"

"Worse." Kakashi waited for the color to drain out of Iruka's face before he added. "She thinks like an insect when she makes them. Very disorienting. Tends to cause Naruto and Sasuke to lose their lunches if they've eaten."

The pitiful whimpering was balm to his soul.

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

Chapter Text

AN: Chunin exams part 2!

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Sleep eluded a member of Team Seven as midnight ticked into the first day of the exams.

The sun was still tucked away and not even an afterthought amongst the other stars when Sasuke rolled over on his futon. Naruto was snoring nearby, only a line of pillows between the two futons preventing flailing limbs from swatting Sasuke in the energetic sleep the blonde tended to have. After hesitating a moment, before resting assured the deep breathing and even snores meant Naruto was far into slumber and would not wake easily from a bit of sound, the last Uchiha rolled onto his feet and padded out the door. Unseen by any thanks to the lack of light was the way his lips curved into a genuine smile at seeing the various glowing insects lighting up the hallway. Over the years their particular luminescence had become a soothing comfort that chased away fears and shadows in silent evenings where paranoia once had loomed.

It was hard to think of silence so oppressive with the scent of iron and the slow drip of blood when faced with bugs that glowed where they had no business of doing so. Dragonflies for instance, or even the few millipedes that he'd noticed showing up lately. Long segmented bodies undulating along the ceilings in faint pale hues of greens and yellows. Really, all one could do was sigh and hope Kucho had made certain the dangerous ones knew to leave them be. It was though, always nice to see the homey changes that his peculiar teammate's left. Glowing insects interspersed with new photos on the walls showing the three of them and their sensei, and plants were from both of them though Naruto's tended to do better. His skill was with the potted ones, Kucho's with those free to splay roots out of doors. A soft blanket Gumoko had sent over for his couch to ward of cool evenings, a few books Kakashi had suggested they get to read and found in storage. The inevitable random piece of weaponry or attire that had no business being there but had been forgotten by the owner.

All subtle signs he was not alone. Of course, then you had the glaringly obvious.

In a few places down the hallway, Naruto had even painted in what else, orange, and then found some unguent that glowed in the dark when exposed to light and fortunately was non-toxic, to go around his paintings, a nonsensical frog making a face by a fan and a butterfly. Or what was meant to be each of those, but Naruto's skills with finger painting left a lot to be desired. That could also be because Sasuke had been threatening to put senbon in places they wouldn't be comfortable and rushed the blonde into hurrying up his 'artwork' before running away.

That Sasuke never removed said artwork though, always made Naruto grin.

Likewise in a short span of days, it had just become..normal...for the other two to spend a few nights there. They'd started by staying late and showing up early to Kucho's house, and then a problem after they had left for Wave had rendered Naruto's apartment even less habitable than it generally was upon their return. Uncaring landlords rendering a nigh condemnable building into straight out inhospitable that not even the loudest on the team wished to venture into except to get a few precious items. With that disaster he had offered the shuffling and embarrassed blonde who clearly was trying to figure out if it would be rude to ask Kucho if he could stay with her, to sleep over so they could practice nighttime sparring. Naturally, with that as an excuse, he'd invited Kucho.

It had been intended to be a temporary situation. One that should have irritated Sasuke from the start, even if he had been the one to offer. Rather, after all the weeks they had spent traveling and sharing tents it seemed to feel only normal, having his teammates there when the sun left and returned. Just a few missions and Sasuke had rapidly adapted once more to not living alone. Though they all came and went in varying amounts, Sasuke himself was often guilty of staying out all night to train, there were small signs of cohabitation by pre-teens that were unmistakable.

Naruto's favorite plant had a place now in the window by the kitchen and his clothes spilled out of drawers in another room's dresser. It wasn't as though Sasuke lacked the space, and both boys were content pretending it wasn't happening most the time; though neither spoke of when the apartment was eventually fixed either. There were more important things to focus on. When he had not been told to leave though, Naruto had ceased stealing all the milk.

Over the last few days with Kakashi's enforced rule of 'resting' they had to be productive in other ways. There was no shortage of gear to repair and go over, scrolls and ideas freely passed around. They would join Kucho to meander about the stalls and gather supplies for dinner, breakfast, not wishing to be caught off guard as they had for being tested they took to visiting the Aburame compound for lunch and bringing more such produce back with them.

That had been the other interesting part for the two boys, seeing that most Aburame meals were casually communal. Certainly, they could eat in their own homes, but there was a sort of central hub where extra food would be brought out for consumption and cooking both and everyone helped themselves, sitting and conversing and catching up. It had been the first time Naruto and Sasuke really were able to speak to the 'civilian' Aburame. Those who according to Kucho were the workers and doers making up much of the 'Clan Hive' and the way they fluttered about Kucho subtly fussing over her, and watching as Kucho asked how each was, checked if they needed anything, wanted anything no matter if they were many times her age. That only helped the two boys on Team Seven understand better what Kucho meant by how a Queen looked after her Soldier's and they would her.

Speaking of the said Queen, it seemed Sasuke wasn't the only one who woke early. Usually, Kucho chose to sleep in an adjoining room so she could let her insects wander freely as she slept and the boys did not complain, it was rather hard to slumber through hundreds of thousands of little feet cuddling over you for warmth if not accustomed to it. Say from birth. He could just make out the sight of Kucho, knees drawn up to her chest as she watched the fireflies dancing around the moon. Her hair was down from the upper tails and mussed from sleep it was the biggest curly poufy mess he'd ever seen. Not that it didn't suit her, wild and sticking out all over as it was there were tiny flashes of reflecting moonlight off wings, glittering carapaces turned into jewels in the wan light that had his Sharingan active to see better. Even a few tiny fireflies and various luminescent insects seemed to crawl over her curls as if their own private jungle.

Not for the first time, it struck Sasuke that Kucho was entirely alien in many ways, possibly even to her own clan. Still, he wouldn't change a thing, she was perfect as she was and he much enjoyed the idea of how if his family was here, the clan, they would have been half exasperated at the anomaly of his teammate's and secretly delighted in them. Hidebound and rigid as they were, peculiar and exceptional was also their hallmark and Kakashi with his misfits certainly had been pulling the better parts of Sasuke out. If he had to have a kunoichi, had to have another teammate as well..he could have done far worse. His mother would have loved them.

Sasuke paused at the bittersweet thought, then leaned against the wall of his home where it opened out into the garden. It was similar to the house he'd lived in with his family but the orientation was just different enough he wouldn't panic every time he moved around. There was no pond in this one though, wonderful memories of feeding the koi fish with his brother were as tainted as everything else Itachi had destroyed for him. Considering Kucho had so many insects and what a disaster that would have been around hungry koi, it was probably for the best. With his luck, Naruto would have tried to catch and serve them for dinner. Come to think of it, didn't they have fish the other day Naruto had said he caught nearby? It would be best to ignore that line of thought.

"You can join me." Kucho didn't drop her gaze but no doubt one of the little forms flying about had somehow passed information to her. Sasuke was used to it, honestly, he was starting to find them all fairly comforting. Except for the spiders. That said, an Aburame could apparently render spaces 'spider free zones' so there were absolutely no complaints from Sasuke about the aforementioned millipedes. Without a sound Sasuke decided to take her up on the offer and padded over, easing down after making certain he wouldn't sit on and crush one of the delicate insects.

It was worth the silly feeling of sweeping his hand over the porch to see Kucho's beaming smile. He liked knowing he could make his friends happy just by being considerate. It wasn't because he was the last Uchiha, because of his appearance or skills. It was little things, and Sasuke was trying. After all, they were doing the same for him. "Couldn't sleep."

"Nightmare?" At Sasuke's shake of his head, Kucho nodded. "Ah. Excited."

"Yes." One step closer. One goal accomplished. It also just felt good. What if he could make Chunin at only twelve? Sure it wasn't his level, but it was something. Something more than he had expected.

"My third guess would be Naruto-kun flailing in his sleep."

"Pillows," Sasuke smirked at Kucho as she snorted in laughter. "What brought you out?"

"Thoughts would not settle down enough. I kept waking up to my mind racing on ideas." Kucho confessed easily, her mismatched eyes once more locked to the moon. She was always talkative when they had time to be away from everyone else, and one on one or just with the team. Trust, comfort. Sasuke could understand that it was hard to be around many people as he suffered the same way, even if they had differing reasons for it. Kucho was a happy introvert, but assuredly one by nature. Her extroversion only came out in fits of joy or around those who did not drain her to be near. Sasuke just hated most people who tended to suck up to him because they wished fame, glory, wealth, or just his name. Most people were not worth his time, and he loathed when they would force it on him. He had hated Naruto originally thinking he would waste that said time, only to learn that with direction Naruto was very useful. Entertaining, and not so blinded by the fan Sasuke wore on his back.

"What thoughts were so loud as to be heard over all your hives?" Sasuke stretched out a hand, unable to help it when one of the fireflies went by. These had been his companions for years, after all.

"Um."

Sasuke felt like talking, keeping the shadows of his thoughts at bay by listening to her own. The pause after her words let Sasuke know it would be one of those comments which would have the boys of Team Seven teasingly bring out the 'uncute' joke. At this point, Sasuke was contentedly resigned to never understanding girls in his future because the exposure he was getting was to one who was most absolutely unique. "Tell me."

"I was wondering.." Sasuke glanced over as Kucho trailed off before she looked back only at the sky nibbling on her thumbnail in thought. "Well, if my kikaichu 'ate' Haku-kun's chakra, could I make a breed of bee's that didn't suffer from the cold? Maybe some of the other insects? They don't have ways of warming up like we mammals do after all."

Sasuke found himself laughing softly. "You come out to look at the moon and think of a boy..as a way to use his chakra for your insects."

Kucho ducked her head suddenly shy but Sasuke just snickered. "Don't ever change. Besides, I imagine if you asked Haku would happily let you experiment. He didn't like you being so angry with him." Didn't like it from Sasuke as well but the last Uchiha knew he had issues when it came to forgiving. The sensation of betrayal for all he'd not shared a word with Haku during their lake time still sat against his thoughts. It was part of why he kept any of the honorifics off, he was still annoyed.

"Well, he shouldn't have expected any different. I let my guard down." Kucho sighed, unaware she was echoing Sasuke's own thought patterns. Sasuke reached out and gripped her shoulder, tightly. No different than he would have for Naruto. Firm and grounding in his hold. Kucho may be female but she was his teammate and fought hard in her own way to stand equal with them if in her own fashion. He didn't need to handle her with delicacy unless he was overstepping a line. In that case, he'd likely have an annoyed Queen either dousing him with pheromones or sending some of her insects after him. Or he would be getting dodging practice.

"Now you know better. Even if the fireflies are being beautiful." He assured her while reminding her he did know, she had told him. As she told them everything, as they were telling her. Nor was he blaming her, they were still genin, barely twelve. They would make mistakes. After all that was why they had Kakashi-sensei to look out after them. Even as new chunin they would end up under their sensei or those of equal standing most the time as they grew into their responsibilities. Now was the time to make and learn from mistakes.

"Yeah Kucho-chan, now yanno not to trust the stupid pretty boys. Unless they're us." Came the yawning voice before heavy footsteps announced Naruto walking behind them. "Supposed to be sleeeepin yanno? Big day later." With a loud fwump he stomped the ground with one foot, once satisfied Kucho's insects would have scattered he flopped down, resting his head against Kucho's back. "Can we go sleep now? Yeah?"

"Loud enough to wake the ANBU guards, clueless?" Sasuke snapped but it was without any bite to it, they all knew that now.

"Pfft, there's no ANBU guard."

"You certain of that?" Sasuke challenged and Naruto cracked open an eye to meet the black ones of Sasuke. Understanding. The last Uchiha was a commodity and just as Naruto now knew why he had always found ANBU following his tracks as a child, it seemed for different reasons so had Sasuke. Nor had the dark-haired orphan found a way to slip from their watchful eyes it seemed.

"Dude. They don't give you any privacy, do they? That sucks. Want me to nosebleed em?" Naruto offered to spam his sexy justu harem around which just reminded Sasuke of having to learn it and making him blush. Because frankly...

"How do you not get affected by that anyways?" Sasuke moved a hand indicating the jutsu they were alluding to.

With a half-hearted shrug, because in her super soft sleeping sweatshirt Kucho was comfortable to lean on, Naruto hummed and grinned, purposefully enjoying the scent of the pheromones that were making him sleepy. "Dunno. Guess I just know it's not a real woman an I can't say why I thought of it. Sure get a lot of use out of one silly pranking henge though don't I?"

"He did blush when it was performed and he was not the instigator." Kucho hummed. That had been entertaining. Almost as much as the fight that had occurred when after seeing how to perform it Sasuke had done so. The resulting "Dang Teme, you would have made a pretty girl!" had of course made for a massive taijutsu session that ended in Naruto running away still in his transformed state from Sasuke holding the same henge. Curiously that had been when they learned there were guards around. It was hard to hide the sound of stumbling bodies on a roof no matter how good at concealing they were. So they had perverted guards.

When Kakashi had checked on them later Kucho had ignored the glares from the two boys when asked why he'd heard they'd had a disturbance and was everything all right? "Yes, Kakashi Sensei. Naruto-kun used his sexy jutsu and taught it to us. Then he complimented Sasuke-kun's appearance as a female version of himself and they proceeded to test out how well they could hold the henge while fighting. For some reason they were both in swim wear instead of regular attire for that though." The resulting expression on their Jounin-sensei had been something indeed.

Kucho was still struggling to form it but that was because she was trying to make herself look older. The male version which only required imagination was actually easier for her to do. The guess was it was the same way the boys could do female, they weren't getting caught up in the reality of what they would look like when older. Though, Naruto and Sasuke thought it was funny that Kucho's idea of the 'sexy jutsu' when she performed it was a male in fitted pants and a tank top. She claimed even for a false henge that was showing enough, thank you.

"Yeah, can we go back to bed now?" Naruto yawned again. "An I agree with Sasuke-kun. Maybe write Haku-chan a letter? Not sure how he'd get it but..could try." The fact Naruto called Haku 'chan' was also a bit of a jab on his own to thinking the pretty ice user was a girl. Even with his big heart, Naruto could still be disgruntled about being fooled.

"I will ask Kakashi-sensei after we get through the exams if he has any ideas how to do so." Kucho agreed. There was a silent pause for a bit before Naruto repeated his grumble.

"Sleep time."

Laughter met him but the other two obediently moved. Though this time the two boys tugged Kucho to share the room with them. So near to the exams, they felt safer in a place where they could wake up and help defend the other. As a courtesy, Kucho kept her insects tucked away but didn't complain. They were used to sharing a tent on the cold hard ground after all.

It was only right as she was certain the other two were about to sleep that Kucho smirked and lilted out "You do know you called both yourself and Sasuke-kun, 'stupid pretty boys' right, Naruto-Kun?"

The groans were soon replaced with giggling for a while before sleep finally took hold.

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

When the team finally awoke properly for the morning there was a quiet efficiency that took hold. Packs were carefully balanced and set up so they would not stand out. These were simple ones, not long stay overnight bags as there was no telling what would occur. Rather, these were their 'standard kits' as Kakashi had explained to them. Easily hidden under the respective jackets they all wore over their attire it consisted of the usual visible hip pouches with weaponry. Across their chests were strapped two body conformed curving pouches that started under their ribs but would pad out their sides some. In those were water skins, bandages, chakra pills, first aid supplies and carefully wrapped Aburame calorie ration bars.

They also had flint and knives wrapped in sturdy thin spider web rope provided by Gumoko the other day that could be unwound to use for bindings, traps, and more. It was stronger than most metal and the two boys understood they were on loan for the exam only and were expected to be returned to the elder Queen when completed. If possible after using the rope they were to regather and keep it to return as well. Kucho had not elaborated on the material so they took it as clan secret and did not press further.

There were whistles, fabric for face masks, and water purifying tablets. A sort of finger looped hand saw cord that could be utilized for firewood or a messy garote, and a few other items that Kakashi had advised they get. After Wave, they hadn't thought to ask why anymore. After a few cups of tea the trio set out to the Aburame compound where they would ensure they had everything and say goodbye to Gumoko. That they could get breakfast at the central meal house was just a bonus with the two hungry boys, and would permit Kucho time to have her mother put up her difficult hair.

"It will take a while. Go eat. Kucho-chan will join you after." Gumoko greeted them at the house with a curt nod before steering her daughter inside. Neither boy took offense, not when they had seen the chaos of their teammate's hair that morning.

"Gumoko-san is gonna need a loooooot of patience," Naruto mumbled before grinning. "Breakfast!"

"Breakfast." Sasuke agreed with a nod as they turned towards where the central eating hall was. "You did suggest the revenge item was packed?" They had a score to settle with Kakashi. Actually, they had several but all things considered with their teacher such a troll the team had agreed they needed to poke at him. Guage his response. Mostly it had been Naruto's idea but neither brunette had argued with the logic.

"Yep, Squirmy is secured in her packs. With a lid on. I made sure the air holes were big enough so Kucho-chan wouldn't complain." Naruto smirked. "I'm still saying he's going to refuse because of the spiders."

"He'll take it," Sasuke smirked back. "And then you shall owe me."

"Not a chance, smug face." Naruto snickered at this point. "Though he won't scream."

"Unlikely." Came Sasuke's agreement and then all talk of revenge was dropped in the pursuit of food.

The two received waves and nods of greetings as they helped lug crates of fruit to the awaiting tables inside and helped set up the buffet for the morning meal. While they set up, fruits and nuts were handed to them even as the more complex breakfast items were prepared by the various Aburame noncombatants who were more talkative than their soldier brethren.

The Civilian Aburame dressed very much as they had come to expect in their modesty but there were sturdy boots instead of ninja sandals and many wore gloves. They would switch out for handling food, but always pull them back on after. Their garments were just as covering but lighter, scarves and old hakama, kimono, attire that seemed far older than the founding of Konoha. When Sasuke asked about it there had been an older worker preparing omelet rolls who buzzed in delight before explaining to him it was traditional wear. Not only before Konoha, but long before what they knew as the warring clan's era. It dated back hundreds of years when the Aburame were apparently a nomadic group. The obvious lack of explaining on what they had been like before was a hint enough that it was a clean secret but other than that the clan was quite happy to welcome them in as their own as every other time they visited.

Naruto and Sasuke both did not realize the buzzing of Kikaichu had become a soothing sound to them, their shoulder's easing, muscles relaxing and smiles softly coming evident. That paired with how most days they had been seen bringing some new insect to Kucho, one that despite seeming annoyed at being trapped did not sound hurt or worse for being in a container with air holes, was giving the two very positive reception among the Clan Hive. It also helped that to them and their Kikaichu both of the young males were saturated in the pheromones that marked them as Kucho's hive. Her soldier's. It would have been unthinkable to not welcome them.

So engrossed in being fed and fussed over, neither of the orphaned boys noticed when Kucho came in only to sit at a table with a bowl of lychees that one of the children who knew her preferences had brought over. Hair tightly pulled back in five snug plaits that interwove across her head in a fashion that her mother had assured her was not only going to hold up to battle but sleeping and if she didn't tug any free would stay for a few weeks before needing to be redone. It prevented her use of the usual hair ribbons, and thus no flying wingless kikaichu, but considering the chunin exam tests were an unknown variable her hives were not protesting.

Shino had quietly come in and sat beside her while Naruto and Sasuke were helping themselves to the variety of fruit at a far away table with a huff. Humming, she brushed her hand across his. Soft chakra pulses shifting between them, a few scurrying forms from one Queen nation to the next until he calmed.

"I am jealous." There was no reason for the tick. No reason to explain himself. The very fact his attention was zeroed in on her soldiers said it all. He wanted to bring Hinata and Kiba, wanted to have them wrapped up and enfolded in the clan as team seven was.

"In time." Kucho soothed him, handing over one of the soft fruits she had just peeled free from it's spikey enclosure. The lychee nuts were favorites of many of their insects, and thus their carriers. Once more the curios notion that perhaps it was the Aburame humans being bred to be ideal hosts and not the insects as weapons flitted across her mind. Her Kikaichu, aware as interwoven as they were, buzzed in amusement briefly with a tickling down her spine.

Gently Shino plucked the offered fruit from her fingers, the very act a caress and thanks, all of its own. Aburame like their companions, were tactile, scent, actions. These were their words. Their chakra only carried further enhancements. In offering Kucho was not just placating him but assuring the heir of her clan if he wanted, she would help him. In taking it he was thanking her, and letting her know he appreciated it.

A moments peace was broken then by Shino's soft low voice. "I heard you had to lecture them on biology?"

"Ah." Kucho laughed. "A misunderstanding with a younger student. Considered perhaps I was romantically invested in my loud teammate."

"You of course, informed them of the illogical behavior that would be?" Shino phrased it as a question but truly, it wasn't. "Most peculiar. Such a fixation on the future act of mating. I still can not understand it despite my own chemical imbalance." He was referring to his own fondness of Hinata. "Appreciation of potential should be less distracting. Likewise fixation upon appearance. There is, of course, no way at this point to gauge suitability much less our own full capabilities."

"I do not think less of you." Kucho assured him, sensing the faint softening of the agitated buzz of his insects. As Heir Shino often thought as the insects did, adored them, their variety, wished to emulate them more. Dreamed to find them all, discover and help meld, grow, nuture. However, he was still very much human and did not have the benefit of being female to help sync his thought process at times with his Queens.

"There are times I wish I could just turn it off." He meant, of course, the reactions.

It was a curios notion. Kucho herself felt no interest beyond Hive adoration and protectiveness over her soldier's and drone. Maybe Shino was confusing his signals then? "Perhaps, the young girl simply needs a protective figure?"

"Exactly!" Shino huffed again. "As a Queen host, I feel protective and nurturing. As a human male, I feel drawn. It is entirely frustrating and pointless." Oh. He was interpreting the same reaction in two different ways. Yes, Kucho could see how that would be...annoying.

The very fact he was confessing such reminded Kucho of when she'd opened up enough to ask Shino to stay when she fell apart. When she needed the combined swarms of Shino and her mother to help settle her own instincts. She could do no less, especially before such an event as the exams, then clasp their fingers together in a soft press of constant streaming chakra. Where their tenketsu lay in their hands she felt her kikaichu fluttering, the sensation ticklish and comforting. A soft sound of relaxation came from Shino before he returned the gesture. In a way, they were letting their Kikaichu say hello without emerging. The coursing energies from a fellow Queen helping to settle his own hive's agitation.

Gently all the other Aburame nearby shifted slightly away, sensing the pheromones mingling of two greater Queen hosts and not wishing to intrude.

In response, Shino handed over one of the berries he had brought when sitting down. By the time Naruto and Sasuke were done gorging on fruit, a luxury outside of the orchards the Aburame maintained as a necessity for some strains of kikaichu, Shino had left with a much more pleasant countenance.

Oddly, neither of the boys had even been aware Shino had visited with her. Thinking with their stomachs only apparently.

"Huh, Kucho you look like a boy with your hair all knotted like that," Naruto exclaimed as he plopped beside her.

"Oh?" Kucho's head tilted, looking out of place without a flop of her usual upper pigtails.

"Yeah. No. But yanno, not like you. Can I touch?" Naruto blinked then, but since he had asked and Kucho did not mind tactile interaction, thrived on it, in fact, she nodded. Gently Naruto ran his fingers along the criss crossing braided patterns with a soft whistle. "Neat. Think it'll help protect your head if you get hit?"

"Not likely. Removes a chance of an enemy hand hold though." Sasuke piped up in approval. They were all attired and fed, at this point, there was no reason to delay. Arriving early would only assist them.

"Ready?" None of the three blinked at the fact they'd asked simultaneously. Giving waves to those nearby Team Seven stepped out of the compound. It was time to deal with the exams.

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

Walking towards the building was an unusually silent group, putting Kakashi-sensei's lessons to work. Each step had them mentally repeating their rules, protocols, methods. Reviewing in their thoughts and in doing so helping to separate from their carefree civilian selves. They were not aware of how their foot steps went silent, eyes glancing about and back swiftly so as to not be obvious in the action. Hands brushing near weapons pouches. Their muted attire was uniform half on accident since it was mostly supplied from the Uchiha Military Police storage at the Uchiha compound in all wearing pants and ninja sandals in black, long sleeved shirts on under their pouches and jackets in brown with Naruto wearing a single orange stripe down the sides that wouldn't be visible. All three had their clan symbols on the back of their shirts, courtesy of one of the Aburame elders who had surprised them with the gifts. The dark grayish green jackets though were from Sasuke's family storage, likewise altered to fit them better. Technically once they had been military police all weather coats but they worked very well for them, going to their knees but left open as they were and with the Uchiha high collars helping to protect the back of their necks from the sun.

Kucho had been very amused when the boys had pulled the garments out, jackets and shirts and pants alike after getting them from the Aburame civilians who had offered to do their laundry once they returned from wave and then help repair the bags and jackets found from Sasuke's lost clan.

"They..uh..shrank?" Naruto had blurted out confused before he noticed something. "Hey, my names on the inside of this one!"

"When did they get our measurements?" Sasuke had asked as he tried on his jacket which fit perfectly.

"Kikaichu walked your length and breadth." Kucho had reminded them, testing the stretch to her own. It would have to take place of her sweat shirt of course.

"Wait. Your Kikaichu took our measurements?" Naruto blinked. "When we were sleeping or something?"

"Of course."

Sasuke had sent an unamused glare at Kucho. "Is that why they kept crawling on us so much the other night."

"Mmmhmm!"

Exchanging looks the two boys had just dropped the subject. Clean, repaired, and tailored clothes. They could deal with 'measurement taking nee-chan's'. Not like they could stop them anyways, how did you tell a bug no? How did the Aburame even use that information anyways? Did they think in meters and centimeters or footsteps? What was that then, seven thousand little steps? It was best to just drop the subject.

Now though, Team Seven was apparently the first team from Konoha to walk in even though they were only planning to get there precisely on time (Unlike their sensei) and found a couple of guards blocking their way.

"Heh..little brats don't know what you are in for. Early too, so eager to get beat up and destroyed." One started. As they had walked in sharp bites from the genjutsu protecting insects had alerted Naruto and he never was caught into thinking they were on a floor they shouldn't be. Instead, he shrugged.

"Meh. I got this one, you guys?" When neither brunette argued Naruto casually spammed Shadow clones to push the startled guards and they walked through the door way. No violence, no real effort, and no retaliation could happen before they were long into the hallway.

"That was pathetic," Sasuke muttered before pausing to blink. "Hn, I wonder how many will be fooled?"

"The more that do not pass the less competition we have. Correction, the less competition that would waste our time dealing with when we could be focusing elsewhere." Kucho suggested.

Kakashi was waiting for them in the hallway with a chuckle. "Not even five minutes until you can report and here you are. I had a feeling you three would want to show up early." His eye was closed in that smile he liked to give, the one that pulled on his mask, revealing he must be grinning underneath.

"Well, our commanding officer did make certain we knew the value of getting the feel of opposition and layout of any location we would be stationed at. Tardy and messing with their minds is for after you are certain you have already completed a mission and to buy time for the results to happen." Naruto snorted in amusement, arms crossed. "Good morning, Kakashi-sensei."

"I like the matching uniforms, your doing, Sasuke-kun?" Kakashi asked even as he ruffled Naruto's hair. The blonde said nothing as he felt the piece of paper tucked into his pocket in the process. Naruto did know better than to look at it, and figured it was just because Kakashi would not be as likely to initiate contact with the two more reserved members. So, someone was watching.

"Yes." A short nod but less curt and holding less pain at the idea of his families legacy being utilized, even if just for uniforms for his team made Kakashi quite proud of the young Uchiha. Besides, his team looked professional. He would be certain to rub that into the other jounin's faces.

"What are our orders, Kakashi-sensei?" Kucho asked, looking over her glasses and once more the three straightened out. Kakashi took the moment to snap a picture of the three of them.

"Maa such cute little subordinates..." There may have been a few disbelieving eyebrows raised but the three beyond that did nothing to break their attentive positions. He had trained them well. "Winning is not the most important part, despite what you think. Pay attention and follow the orders as they are given. As always." Kakashi shrugged then, at least the Uchiha had clearly caught on to his hints. He was the strategist. "Beyond that just do your best. I'm proud of the three of you for getting this far and I want you to remember I would never have suggested you if I did not think you capable."

"Sensei?" Kucho beamed at him then and the other two boys took steps to the side away from her. "Would you hold on to Squirmy for me while we are in there? They haven't assimilated properly with me yet as they are too young to safely move to my chakra coils and I just would rather know they were with a teammate."

It took all that Naruto had to not burst out into laughter at the stillness of their sensei. Finally after a moment came the familiar drawl. "Well, that depends on one thing Kucho-chan, is this Squirmy a spider?"

An offended gasp came from the girl. "No, sensei. Don't be silly, a spider would eat my kikaichu!"

"Liable to kill me if I twitched wrong in a misunderstanding?" One brow went up at that and Naruto had to hide a laugh by coughing.

Kucho hesitated, thinking. "No. No, sensei, that won't happen. If you do not pet them that is." At this point now Sasuke and Naruto were hiding their laughter and determinedly not looking at either of the two conversing.

"I do not like that pause, Kucho-chan." That was a slightly more menacing tone. The kind that demanded they hurry up and complete the last stage of their trek without a real break for twenty-four hours. The sort that removed any sympathy what so ever from all three of his minions.

"Squirmy would not harm you, but someone else perhaps" Kucho then beamed at him. "However, I have complete faith in my superior officer's ability to avoid any unwanted contact which may startle my friend."

Well, dangit. Kakashi was in for it now, he could tell by the amused grins that Sasuke and Naruto were not hiding they knew it too. Backing out would be something they were sure to never allow to drop in future harassment. It seems they were learning to troll just fine. "Before I agree..." And yes Kakashi saw the smirk on Kucho's face as she picked up that was a yes all in itself. "Anything else about..Squirmy..I should know?"

"They like sweets."

That could prove entertaining with the proliferation of snacks and sodas in the Jounin lounge. "Very well." Kakashi held out his hand and while it didn't shake, he was certain reluctance was evident in his visible eye.

"Thank you Kakashi-sensei! Oh and don't pet it or you may get hit with the spines, just let it crawl on your shoulder or on and off your hand to move them and it will behave!"

Before Kakashi could get a good look at what was in his hand, the three bolted through the door behind him. Looking down Kakashi blinked as the faint tickle of tiny feet ran over his palm. For some reason, there was a large exceptionally furry caterpillar now on his hand. He blinked. It sort of resembled an orange mustache. A very bushy mustache.

"Spines?" Kakashi sighed but set the insect on his shoulder with great care after giving it a funny look. "You do anything you shouldn't and I'm telling your tiny mistress." Yes, it was probably in his mind but he could have sworn it wiggled in agreement. Hm. He had time. He should probably go check in with Gumoko..just because this was the same little girl who cooed over deadly spiders.

Chapter Text

AN: Expect the next update Wednesday. Credit to Slyfoxcub for inspiring part of Kakashi's trolling.

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

There was no one else in the room. It looked just like a large classroom, longer than it was wide. A blackboard at one end, a single wall with windows. A long line of chairs on either side of the room and desks with their built in seats. Not very good lighting, but there. It was a sound proofed room too, interestingly enough. They could tell but the utter silence letting them hear each other's soft breathing and the hum of kikaichu under Kucho's jacket. No doubt still annoyed at giving up their 'sibling' Squirmy, even if they well knew that the caterpillar hybrid wouldn't be able to go into Kucho's chakra coil link to whatever subspace the insects dwelled in until it was fully in the butterfly stage.

Naruto kind of understood it, after all one of Squirmy's parents was the orange butterfly Naruto had helped find on the return from their mission Albatross along with some form of a fuzzy moth that Sasuke had later discovered. Not that either boy was quite sure how to take it when Kucho had shown up and cooed when holding the caterpillar the other morning with 'Look who hatched while we were gone! Say hi to your uncles Naruto-kun and Sasuke-kun!' Naruto had, however, won the ro-sham-bo game to see who got to name the bug. Squirmy just suited it. He'd gotten used to having the orange fuzzy critter on one of their shoulder's while studying at Sasuke's home, but Kakashi's face when left 'buggy-sitting' was pretty funny. He'd really thought it would be a spider or something.

The urge to look at the paper in his pocket was killing Naruto, but he knew better. It had to wait for later and sneaking out for a 'bathroom' break wasn't a good idea when they had the place to themselves as a tactical advantage. Instead they examined the room, calmly, quietly; well after bursting in to escape their sensei and the surprisingly potentially deadly little caterpillar they had been quiet. No one was there yet.

"First?" Sasuke muttered before nodding and started perusing the room. Naruto scratched his nose but nodded.

"No exits. Well except the windows..so just the way we came in. That means anyone else is either here, going to do that shunshin with the leaves trick Kakashi-sensei likes.." Naruto smirked and eyed the door behind them. "Or through the door."

"Thoughts?" Kucho piped up from where she had moved to check out the windows, tapping them lightly. "These do not open, only the one by the front of the room. Ah, no, the latch is busted."

"Just the desks and chairs, yeah? There isn't really anything else here.." Sasuke nodded. "Kucho-chan, Eyes up."

At that announcement Kucho leaned against one wall across from the windows and pretended to yawn, even as Naruto moved over to fuss. Or rather, pretend to fuss over Kucho. By being so obvious it wasn't likely someone would notice the tiny little kikaichu now creeping along the junction of wall and floor and slowly moving around the room. If something happened, they would be prepared for it. Also the ones hiding by the door would sneak onto any who entered. Sasuke had taken to Kucho's hiding a tracking beetle on Haku out of habit, as a new thing to insist she do. After all, it had let them identify an enemy on the bridge. Much as Naruto now spammed clones that looked like those on his side instead of himself only, and how Sasuke was better about using combined attacks and not forgetting to look out for his teammates.

"So, now what?" Naruto huffed as he stood there, though his body was angled more towards the door. Sasuke took Kucho's other side, angled slightly towards the direction that the largest window in the back was. It was the best they could do for being prepared for a surprise attack.

"We wait for the others."

"...Man, I sure hope they set their alarms."

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

It was a long morning. Though most the others came in groups of three to six, soon there were people standing and sitting in most parts of the room. Originally as was too be expected they were scattered, tiny groups warily looking at the others. After a few hours with the steady influx of people however that was pointless and now it was a massive herd of sorts. Though the members seemed to be sticking to their respective villages, Kucho was noticing something perhaps..concerning.

There were not many groups with varying ages. Oh certainly plenty within the four or five years of her own team, but more than that? Yet Kucho knew that numerous ninja were older genin, did they never go through the tests? It was something to find out later.

"Ah! Susuke-kuuuun! Where are youuuuu? Dangit I know he's here for the exams.." Came a loud holler and Kucho had to suppress her snickers as she and Naruto both moved without thinking to barricade Sasuke behind them from the direction of the cry.

"What's wrong little leaf nin, scared of a girl finding you?" One of the nearby older teens sneered. Knowing that Sasuke's pride would not handle it well, and neither would Naruto's, Kucho found herself speaking up and not at all amused. It was already annoying her senses to be in such a crowded place with potentially hostile ninja all around them.

Instead, she looked over her glasses at the laughing strangers and scowled. "Fan girl."

That one combination of words silenced the laughter of the boys who had been ready to make fun of Sasuke further and a few awkwardly cleared throats.

"That sucks, kid. I'm glad mine couldn't follow me from my village." The aforementioned boy shrugged. No few others in the crowd were shivering at the mention either. "Delusional type?"

Sasuke blinked several times in surprise at the obvious sympathy. Then again, a second glance at those who had been laughing showed no few of them were conventionally attractive as well. In villages, there was only so many potential ninjas, and the kunoichi tended to latch on early. "Highly."

The shift in the crowd around them was subtle, but just enough they would be harder to spot. That had Naruto snickering and mutter softly. "Go figure, one of the main points of the exam is to foster good inter-village relations. All we have to do is moan over fan girls."

That broke up the tension and the group within hearing there in the room started to laugh, though it did not apparently go as far across the room as the door where for some reason it seemed all the rookie's of Konoha were gathering. Solidarity perhaps? Kucho tilted her head slightly, trying to understand it. Yes. Most likely it was. Shino entered and Kucho let one of her flying beetles leave even as she soon felt one of Shino's curling against her ear lobe. The soft scent of the pheromones Shino used conveying several messages for her Aburame senses. Secure, safe, unharmed. Perhaps a bit frustrated and yet excited. Yes, all of these she knew her own scent would bring him by her own kikaichu.

They were ready.

Well, until Ibiki showed up and announced the type of test.

"Written exam.," Naruto mumbled in concern at her side even as they were told to take their seats.

"Hey, hyperactive brainless one," Naruto looked over as Sasuke smirked and held out his fist. Chuckling Naruto and Kucho tapped it with their own. That's right. They were to just do their best. Kucho though waited for everyone to be distracted before she wagged her finger, much like their sensei.

"You are smarter than you give yourself credit for, act like it, Soldier."

Naruto felt his lips curve into a brilliant smile, catching sight of Sasuke's smirk even as the brunette turned away. "You got it, Queenie." Using his clone's endearment was worth it to hear the sudden buzz of delight as Kucho stepped away with a giggle.

From behind them, someone muttered "Hey...who's the girl with the glasses on? She's kinda..."

Naruto didn't hear what was next as he beamed in excitement seeing who was also at his assigned station. Well, he'd lucked out. A friendly face was going to be sitting by him! One of the ones who had never picked on him, too! Even if she got all weirdly turning red and stammered. Well, just for her he'd play up being a goof, maybe he could help with her nerves.

"Hello, Hinata-chan! Long time no see, how are you doing? Aren't you on team eight? With Shino-kun? Don't you love having bugs around, they're so neat! Well except the spiders, I hate spiders. I made Sasuke-teme teach me the fireball jutsu just because of spiders but Kucho-chan won't let me use it, she's so uncute! So good luck, okay?"

Whatever her answer of blushing nonsense was supposed to be, and he pitied her that she felt so nervous about speaking up, surely Shino could do something about that with his pheromones? Was cut off as the orders began. Of course, this was the year that someone who wanted to fail them all forever was in charge! Why him!?

Right. He could do this. Naruto gulped as he stared at the complex problems. Okay. He really could. His team believed in him, Kucho told him to Soldier up so to speak and he didn't want to see her pout. She may deny him Squirmy visitation otherwise! Sasuke clearly thought he was more capable than when in the academy, he'd even initiated fist bumps. What was it his teammate's had walked him through when helping to fill out the teme's old case paperwork from the military police for practice? Look for a starting point. Look for the first thing that seems familiar..

Trajectory of a kunai. A whole lot of words he didn't understand but he paused. Right, this was a comment about how the wind and angle would change throwing something. They wanted angle, speed, and numbers for it all. Naruto hated numbers. He was a kinetic and visual person, Kucho had told him to picture things as if they were happening, to day dream them real in a way. Sasuke had agreed it was probably useful with the way Naruto learned. Closing his eyes he took a breath.

Break the problem down.

So, throwing a kunai, wasn't ninety degrees if you had your arm out and bent at the elbow? Okay so from there..the angle they wanted him to throw at..yea, he could picture it. On the training grounds. He built the image up in his head, just like when planning one of their specialized attacks that used the three of them. They had to plan before they could try it after all. So if he was throwing the kunai at that angle, and Sasuke was using that wind jutsu..and Kucho had another coming from another spot...got it. He couldn't give numbers for an answer but he could draw the angle. The distance they quoted, yeah, he knew it'd take less time than it would to yell out something specific to cross. So he would do that.

Then he heard the sound of someone getting busted for cheating. For the second time. Why would you try to cheat if you knew you..could...only...

Naruto sat back for a moment, eyes closed only so he wouldn't get accused and waste one of his three shots, heels of his hands pressed to his temples as he ground his teeth. Seriously? Seriously!? All of this was to see if they either could cheat, or how well, or needed to? That was it! Inwardly, Naruto groaned because if he had known than he could have planned the most epic of pranks to not only win but troll the whole lot of people taking and giving the exam. It was a lost opportunity and if it turned out Kakashi could have told them all along he was going to find a way to put itching powder in all his sensei's underwear. Hm. Better yet, wonder if Kucho-chan could talk to biting gnats?

Well fine. He could improvise. No doubt Sasuke was using his eyes of 'overcompensating for personality deficits' as he'd come up with, thanks to Kucho helping provide alternate words when he wanted to expand from sounding childish. It helped that Sasuke even started laughing and then returning the insults in greater ways. Kucho had just rolled her eyes and said if the only way to make them come up with new ones was to help them, fine. Nor was he worried about Kucho either, likely she had the insects getting her information or some other method. He'd get both his teammate's in on grilling their sensei later though to find out if he could have told them it was a written test to start.

The trolling they could have done..the pranks. It was really a pity.

But for now, Naruto smirked and cracked his knuckles. He had a test to cheat on.

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

"Kakashi is that...what is that?"

"Hm?" Kakashi lowered his book from where he was lounging in the back room enjoying his soda. If he just so happened to have chosen a cushioned chair in a corner that kept his back covered and was also by one of the only plants in the room, well, it was to be expected. "A book. A rather good one, you may like it Asuma. Certainly, it may give you some better ideas."

Seeing the man turning red and spluttering was highly entertaining, almost as much so as the way that Kurenai turned and he could have sworn she was watching now. Ah, were they on again or off again this week? Kakashi never could remember.

"The orange.." Asuma started and Kakashi smirked, holding up the book.

"No, no. That's the other Icha Icha. This one is quite clearly mustard yellow. But, if you want to borrow the other one, I suppose I could bring it by." Really, flustering his fellow nin was such a pleasure. Asuma was highly capable too, he just chose not to go as far as he could because of his family issues. Kakashi certainly wouldn't fault him there.

A strangled sound left Asuma before he pointed. "The thing on your shoulder."

"Oh." Kakashi nodded once. "Don't point at Squirmy, Asuma. It's rude." Technically so was leaving off all the honorifics but it was a sort of normal event when he was really feeling like trolling.

"Squirmy?"

"Yes. I'm Squirmy's caretaker for now." Kakashi blinked and then turned to the orange fluffy caterpillar that was half on his shoulder, half off and steadily eating the plant he was by. Kakashi had recalled Kucho saying it liked sweet things and had smeared soda on the leaves, clearly the very enthusiastic caterpillar approved. It had already consumed two large fronds to the nubs from the massive fern. "Hungry aren't you.."

"Caretaker? Like..watching..what, babysitting?" Really Asuma was trying but it was hard to be serious when a large bright orange mustache looking caterpillar was perched on the infamous copy nin's shoulder.

"Caretaker, the defender..whatever term you like. Buggy-sitting is probably the most accurate." Kakashi calmly reached over and nudged the plant so fresh leaves were in the range of the small creature. "Be glad it's Squirmy."

"Okay, I have to ask. Kakashi-san, why do you have a caterpillar?" Kurenai finally gave in and came over to ask.

"Because, if you recall, I also have an Aburame on my team. Doesn't Shino ever leave some of his new projects with you?" Kakashi grinned at that, okay so he was rubbing it in a little. Crazy as his team was the copy-nin was touched to be entrusted with the newest breeding project happening. Kurenai blinked.

"That's no Kikaichu, Kakashi."

"You have met my uncute little Kucho-chan, haven't you Kurenai? I do know she is fond of Shino." Kakashi inwardly was now cackling. Oh, he'd introduce them all right. Maybe even give Kucho permission to bring one of her spiders, not the deadly ones of course. He'd learned later Kucho had a fondness for tarantula's too because some came in lovely bright colors and were fuzzy looking. Really. That kid. No wonder Gumoko had informed him that some of the Aburame thought she was odd. She was a happy Aburame that was the first sign.

"I have not had the pleasure..does she not have the beetles?" Kurenai asked slowly but they did not have the lounging room to themselves. Anko was there setting up the viewing equipment so she'd knew precisely when to barge in on Ibiki. It was something of a tradition at this point and there was a half bet on the two being lovers. No one wanted to take that bet, no one wanted to know.

"Ha! She does. Bubbly baby maggot just happens to be trying to breed something special. You got the newest attempt at her babies, eh scarecrow?" Anko smirked and gave the Television one last good whack, finally getting it to work.

"Indeed." Kakashi was not at all surprised that the other kunoichi knew of the breeding experiments. Considering the peculiar fangirling that his female student had over the ostracized special jounin, it was even probable Kucho had received advice on terrifying others with her spiders from Anko. Scratch that, he was positive of that one now.

"Bright orange..really bright." Anko narrowed her eyes across the room before nodding. "No touching?"

"I was advised not to, yes. Might you know why?" Kakashi lifted a brow but could tell Anko was having just as much fun in carrying on a civil relaxed conversation with him that was freaking out the dozen or so of their fellows. Most of them were proctors, guards, and the like as well as Jonin without teams in this batch of exams but they all still came to watch. The Exams were entertaining after all.

"In Nature the brightly colored things mean danger. I know Kucho's trying to breed that out of them but the last five batches all had bright caterpillar forms as well. Not that bright though. May not be possible and keeping the lethality of them. Wonder if she finally got them to initiate full immobilization?" Anko grinned evilly as she saw the momentary pause to the copy-nin, and the utter shock on their audience.

"I was unaware she was working on that."

Oh Kakashi did well, Anko approved, but there was a faint lack of reaction really and that was a tell. Anko would have to kidnap the happy bug user after all this and make her clean out the snake cages to pull out details. Because he may not have known but he wasn't reacting like it was the worst case scenario.

"So, can't you just pop that bug in a box or something?" One of the other jounin asked and promptly dodged over the back of the couch to avoid the kunai Kakashi threw. It went through the fabric and they all heard the screech of metal scratching the floor. Having gone entirely outside of the couch with the force used.

"Look, just be grateful it's not the giant spiders. Squirmy stays." Kakashi mumbled and reopened his book. After a moment he sighed, and while everyone there was still mulling over 'giant spiders' Kakashi took the chance to ensure no attempts at stealing the caterpillar would occur. Because he knew how much Kucho loved her insects and if anything happened to her precious caterpillar? Especially with Anko's thinking it may be one of her prototypes for her breeding program to create a new fearsome form of butterflies? Eventually he may wish she never found those spiders as clearly they were giving her 'ideas'. "No one touches or annoys Squirmy. I fear what my uncute little Kucho-chan would do to the perpetrator otherwise, and I would not hesitate to give a name out in order to save myself from horrific nightmares and perpetual infestations. Or the spiders." Kakashi snorted then and Anko started bawling in laughter hearing Kakashi's continued complaining.

"Calls them adorable. And the boys are no help bringing her anything they find. Creepy little uncute students of mine." No one knew he had a fond smile under the mask.

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

Sasuke had finished all the questions easily using his eyes. Behind him a few rows Kucho quirked her lips as her insects were bringing the answers. Once she realized what was happening she spent a few moments talking to the kikaichu she had seeded in the rooms, if the goal was to cheat she not only wanted the right answers, she wanted to ruin the chances of their opponents. A Queen was not above playing dirty, especially not a ninja one! It wasn't hard, make some of her beetles bite, a few yelps, few swats..many were loosing available points for looking like they were cheating. A few even were fully kicked out. She was so focused on directing softly with little finger movements and not taking her eyes off her test that the sudden shift caught her off guard.

"Ah!" Came the screams to either side of her, one more familiar than the other. Bewildered, Kucho looked and saw Hinata.

"Oh, Hinata-chan!" "Kucho-chan!" The two girls eeped at the same time, both looking baffled.

Ibiki roared "Get back to your seats!" and too startled to do otherwise, Kucho did just that. It took a moment for her heart to stop racing, the sound of Naruto's laughter easing her pulse rapidly. Behind her glasses, Kucho's eyes went wide and she grinned, slipping back into her seat.

Clever soldier.

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

No one was prepared for the tenth question, but since Naruto had figured out the truth of the exam he settled for just growling at Ibiki for making him try and do math. Still, he sobered up when he saw the scars. His hands clenched. Yeah. Naruto knew about missions going bad. Jiro had lost his life, that civilian who wanted to be a ninja, hired them so that he got to play at it while they escorted him. Died. That same mission where he had killed. Thank god he had Kakashi there to help them through it.

Any annoyance faded as he listened to Ibiki's reasoning. He didn't want a ninja on a mission with him who didn't press on either, there was a difference, as Kakashi had taught them, to abandoning a mission, falling back if new information became evident -like Wave but they had kept on with Wave when the other team had faltered the first team had done the right thing- in the future it could happen too. Kakashi had drilled into them, over and over, that if you had information you stumbled on that seemed more important than the mission you reported it immediately. They'd found plenty of examples of such in the Uchiha Military Police files of people even among civilians who didn't report things. Later on, it was usually a second report of a body or a crime.

So yes, Ibiki was a jerk, but Naruto had respect for him. The man must get a lot of hatred but still did what was best for them all.

On the other hand when Anko crashed through the broken window -and he had a guess now as to why the latch was broken!- with a banner and a speech threatening to reduce those who made it by half, he groaned.

Because, of course, he heard the gasping 'Anko-sama!" that could only be Kucho. Sure enough, Kucho was the first to practically race over and smile up at Anko, beaming widely. "You're our next proctor, Anko-sama? Is it scary? Is it dangerous? Is it going to be hard?"

"This is me! It's going to be terrifying, eat half of you, and we may not recover the bodies for the rest! Don't die, brat." Anko beamed back at her and for some reason, the ensuing squeak as Kucho bounced knowing that was Anko for 'I'm going to challenge you but yeah there's people watching because they aren't stupid but we have to scare everyone to think so' only saw a lot of those who had currently passed looking nervous.

"What kinda sickos are these leaf kunoichi anyways?" Sasuke heard someone mumble and he snorted. Catching Naruto's eye he shook his head before gesturing to their still bouncing and..was that a genjutsu of sparkles Kucho had going? No, it was her bejeweled looking kikaichu returning to her now that they didn't need them in the room. He wasn't certain of which was probably worse for their onlookers not familiar with Kucho. The scrambling of many away from the little girl was only entertaining the adults around them and Sasuke sighed, walking up to Kucho.

"Kucho-chan, the exam?" Sasuke reminded her with a snort as Kucho pouted at him. "Uncute."

"Come on maggots, I'm gonna remove over half of you before I'm done! Follow me!" Anko sneered and her fearsome exit was rather ruined by the happily bouncing form next to her, followed by her two resigned teammate's. Hey, they'd picked up Anko's underwear and diffused traps for a mission some time back, she didn't really scare the boys of Team Seven anymore.

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

In the jounin back room, the entire group turned to look at Kakashi silently. Kakashi just turned the page to his book before holding up another leaf for the caterpillar dipped in his soda. If he was smiling smugly, it was only to be expected and hidden behind his giggles. Let them think it was from the book.

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

Ibiki blinked down at the page. Only half the questions were answered in a normal fashion the rest seemed nonsensical. Only under the strange answers were simple correct ones. As he raised it up to eye level however, it became clear. A drawing of an angle, 'Time it takes to yell 'You suck senseiiii-' before it hits target. Wind not an issue, just aim further to the side and let it help direct.' Technically, almost correct. Ibiki's smile grew and wicked laughter started to spill out. It was always nice to see the ability to think differently in potential chunin. Of course, this was the same brat who had the guts to use the substitution Jutsu once with each of his teammate's to get the answers correct. The first time must have been for those he didn't know, the second to clarify those he tried.

Only two points off for cheating. That he had known his teammate's would have the correct information only raised Ibiki's idea of how skilled the blonde was. He'd read the situation and had trust in his teammate's to get him through. A gamble. Ibiki rubbed his head, familiar scars under his fingers as he laughed again. And if he was correct, the girl on the team was sabotaging others. At least two teams were disqualified thanks to her actions. And none of the three had either been surprised by or scared of Anko.

"What an interesting team you have, Kakashi..."

Chapter Text

AN: Pointless Filler episode 26! The actual genuine update is next Wednesday and over half done. Someone had asked if the boys would ever see Kucho be cute, and this idea was born. For the image that inspired Kucho's little henge go to: ap3x-phantom. Deviantart art/ Kimono-Kucho- 627602897

Remove the spaces of course. The hair is tame but otherwise, I adore it!

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

Naruto gaped as they walked up to the massive trees. "Whoa..now that's someone who likes to garden."

Kucho nudged Naruto in his side. "Shhh, Anko-sama is talking!"

Not that her words on it being the Forest of death made anyone feel better. "Uh, Kucho-chan..you know..I don't like the sound of this." Naruto grumbled but he took a deep breath. Right. Now was no time to get cold feet. It was just then he heard a shuffling sound.

Blinking Naruto turned, only to see a familiar fake rock. Chuckling he grinned bashfully over at his teammate's who just nodded at him. After all, they knew there were still some stragglers following, even as Anko went up to the gate. Probably to tell everyone what she had just passed on to them. So, he had time. Pretending nonchalance he started walking away, of course the rock following.

"..predictable idiot," Sasuke mumbled but he looked amused.

"Our predictable idiot." Kucho agreed.

"...Hn." Sasuke grunted. "He needs more training so he stops being predictable." Sasuke thought about what he said before sighing. "Outside of battle, that is. Gods know he's anything but predictable in battle unless in one of our combo attacks." Sasuke smirked a little as he heard Kucho snort at the truth.

Much to their entertainment, Naruto was soon running back and forth around the grounds chased by the box. Patiently, the two brunettes hopped up on a nearby stone, a real one, to observe. Sasuke took out a water bottle and sipped from it to hide his smile. They were in public and he had learned form being around the Aburame that old lesson of pretending to be cold and unfeeling in public. Warm in private, it was certainly something the Uchiha had never managed as cold as ever in his memories. He had loved his family, he had; yet, compared to the steady constant that was his team and sensei it often seemed a pale imitation of family. Twisted as that was. "At least he is going to make everyone else think we're easy pickings." Sasuke finally gave in, admittedly it was funny to watch the charade.

An explosion of gun powder and this time the introduction has changed. Instead of their names they just announced themselves "We're the Konohamaru Ninja squad! Feared by Iruka-sensei, Konoha beware!"

"Better!" Naruto agreed with a huge grin. "Much better. So what is up guys? We're in the midst of exams and I don't want you three in trouble for being here."

"Well, we got sent on business, boss." Konohamaru piped up and brought out a camera even as Moegi had a pad and paper in hand. Udon was hefting his own pad, but he then seemed to have misplaced his pen.

Naruto had a very eloquent response. "huh?"

"Oh! I had forgotten about that.." Anko came over, her manner completely unusual for what they were used to. No one could say the jounin wasn't capable of faking being pleasant. "Right, well everyone from Konoha be polite and respectful, the rest of you guys go wait over there!"

"Anko-sama?" Kucho piped up from where she was sitting. "What is happening?"

"Ah some assignment for the academy newspaper since it seems every year none of the examinees know what is going on, we figured it may help out a little. Not that we can reveal much of course, but it should help with graduation expectations." Anko responded with a smirk. "Lord Hokage's orders." The last bit told them the truth. The Hokage probably was indulging his spoiled grandchild while hoping to gather intel on the visitors as well as start to hint at what lay in wait. Not a bad tactic, if definitely poor in timing.

That was how a few minutes later Team Seven ended up in front of the eager trio.

"All right Boss! Tell us about yourself and your team!" Konohamaru urged. Naruto paused, and looked back at the other two with him. They had a nice shady spot and Kucho smiled at him with a little hand motion 'go on' while Sasuke just nodded. It wasn't like they were much for talking.

"Well, what would you like to know?" Naruto started as he rubbed his ear. "I'm Uzumaki Naruto, one of the three genins on Team Seven. My teammates are Aburame Kucho and Uchiha Sasuke." Naruto grinned. "Well and all of Kucho-chan's little nee-chan's of course."

"Come on, give us more!" Moegi insisted and so Naruto decided that the formula Kakashi had given them would work well.

"I like gardening with potted plants, practicing my jutsu and spending time with my teammate's. I really love ramen of all kinds, but I've gotten pretty fond of other noodle dishes too like Yakisoba and Oden and some weird thing Kucho-chan makes with whatever is fresh in the market. I hate spiders, they are super creepy and evil and dangerous- but I'd never kill one because Kucho-chan would be mad at me!-"

"Yes."

"Told you." Naruto laughed at Kucho's little interruption.

"Go on. What about the others?" This time Konohamaru was urging him again.

"Well letsee..Sasuke-kun gets ignored for who he is all the time, people just see his clan symbol and his name and it's not fair to him at all. He's a total jerk and doesn't like people or being crowded but he's also very smart, brave, and a great person to have at your back when the world is going to hell. He also can be very evil in getting revenge pranks and has a short fuse, but keep the fan girls away and he's all right." Naruto rambled on, not seeing behind him the surprised wide eyes of his teammate before it settled, and Sasuke instead had a smirk on his face. How different this was than just a few months ago when they were put on a team. Also, it did not escape Sasuke's notice that none of his favorites were mentioned. Naruto took fan girl protection seriously. Just as seriously he was avoiding any information that could be used against them.

"Kucho-chan is super scary. You know her whole clan use bugs right?" When Naruto paused to make certain the three interviewing him nodded he continued. "Well she may only use some bugs but she likes all of them. Including the spiders, which now is why Sasuke-kun and I can't stand them. Not only that she's super uncute but scary smart and she kinda makes sure we take care of ourselves. She's the first to jump into a situation we don't want to handle and has a weird way of looking at things. Honestly though, I can't imagine a kunoichi I'd rather have on our team."

There was a soft buzzing sound and while Moegi, Udon, and Konohamaru jumped Naruto just turned around to beam at Kucho who was smiling. "Well, it's true Kucho-chan!"

"Wait, that's coming from you!?" The trio asked and pointed at Kucho. Kucho found herself nervous at the attention, as it wasn't mission-related and they'd already been through one part of the exam, besides she always got a little shy about her insects with strangers, and nodded with a smile.

"My Kikaichu tend to react when I am emotional. Right now that's a happy sound." Kucho explained. "Naruto-kun and Sasuke-kun have been around me long enough to understand the different pitches."

Moegi wrinkled her nose, unaware that they were being watched by curious onlookers as Naruto had still been rather loud with his declarations. "You use bugs, but you're a kunoichi, right? How does that work?"

"Well..." Kucho smiled happily at that, her head tilting to one side as she shifted the conversation, she did not wish any of her abilities to get out after all, they were competing. "I don't only use the beetles everyone is used to, but even then.." Kucho brought her hands together and soon several brightly colored beetles were there, fanning their wings. "That doesn't mean they cannot be beautiful! I like pretty things after all."

"Oh!" Moegi took a step closer. "They are pretty! What else...?"

"Don't ask that." Sasuke deadpanned, his eyes amused. At the sudden attack of watery eyes from the trio he slightly yielded. Better he do so than Kucho try to bring out any she may have hiding in her pouches after all. As much as she was a capable kunoichi, mention insects and sometimes her preservation skills vanished in the enthusiasm. "Butterflies, fireflies.."

"Dragonflies, beetles, centipedes.." Naruto chimed in, making it a bit of a song. Sasuke raised a brow but chose to return his in the same drawling tone, despite Naruto pouting at not getting him to sing along.

"Millipedes, glow worms, moths.." Sasuke continued, tapping off on his fingers after a while.

Kucho laughed at them. "Don't forget my spiders and honey bees!"

"Trust me Kucho-chan, we really want to forget the spiders," Naruto whined. That brought out a genuine laugh from Kucho and even Sasuke had to join in. The sudden laser focus of fangirls at the sound had Naruto adjusting his position to flank Sasuke and help block the line of sight from any would be flirtations.

"Why do you wear glasses?" Moegi asked. "I mean it kinda looks cool but I liked your outfit the other day more and they still didn't look like they meshed."

"It makes more sense to have my hair tightly bound where it can't be in the way, likewise as this is being treated as a mission, not casual, so does our attire vary." Kucho pointed out. She paused then before pulling off her glasses, blinking. "For the other, well, Aburame have sensitive eyes. As we are in the shade I do not need them, but reflecting surfaces can make my eyes water."

"Whoa! They don't match! That's cool!" Konohamaru pointed out.

Kucho felt her lips twitch. Honestly, why her eye color sometimes caused a stir she had no idea. "Yes. They are different."

Moegi hummed and then grinned. "Well I think it's photo times, ladies first! Hey, Kucho-chan! Can you do a cute face? Like this?" She propped her head to the side and beamed like in her pose after jumping out of the box.

Kucho blinked. "Cute face?"

"For the picture! Come on, girls relate better to cuteness! Say cheese!" Moegi pleaded, at that both Sasuke and Naruto had to laugh.

"Wrong girl, Moegi-chan. Kucho-chan is uncute and super practical." Naruto snickered.

Kucho looked at him, then at the laughing Sasuke who were not facing her at the moment as they laughed together muttering uncute every so often at her expense; and pouted before her hands formed the sign for a henge. With a soft puff of smoke Kucho was in a formal looking Furisode, hair up in two high pigtails with the lower part down as normal, all in her favorite peachy pink hue before she tilted her head and smiled sweetly. "Buzz!" She said instead and giggled, with Moegi snapping a picture before Kucho dropped the henge, replacing her sunglasses.

The boys hadn't turned around in time and Kucho held up her finger to the giggling trio in front of her. "Shhh.."

Konohamaru promptly began laughing as he watched Naruto and Sasuke turn back around and tease Kucho about being uncute. "Hey, Moegi-chan..good job!"

Moegi sniffed. "Of course. I'm fantastic!"

"So, hey boss?" Konohamaru started again. "What would you say has been the worst part of being a ninja?"

"Paperwork." Naruto grumbled. "Definitely paperwork. I get Sasuke-kun to do most of it for me but in exchange I do a lot more of the heavy lifting and such. It's still awful stuff. Next to that is it take a long time to get used to the D-ranks and adjusting to your proper authority and how to respond." Naruto unconsciously shifted his body language. This was a serious topic as Kakashi had impressed upon them many times. The idea of when and how to handle protocol and missions had been laid into them at every opportunity and not a one in the team would dare ask why. "You have to learn to report, take orders, and respect your superior officer. There's a lot of information you need to get into your head as second nature, such as listening even if the command doesn't seem to make sense. Only then are you ready for harder missions. I'd say that almost even seems to take precedence over fancy flashy jutsu!"

Behind him, Kucho and Sasuke exchanged a glance. It had gone from light-hearted to serious, but this was good information to try and pass on to the next graduates.

It didn't take long after that for the group to toddle off not nearly as interested in the more serious realities of their career; simply getting poses of the two boys before running to the next team. It had been a rapid retreat and Naruto blinked back at his teammates. "You don't think I went too serious there, do you guys?"

"You said what they wanted, and then what they needed. Well done." Sasuke replied and then scowled at Naruto's grin. "Cut it out."

"You love me Sasuke-kuuuuun..." Naruto mocked him and pretended to faint.

Sasuke looked over at Kucho. "We're leaving him in the forest."

Chapter Text

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.

 

No way.

 

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.

 

“NooooOOooooo...”

 

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

 

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.

Chapter Text

It was almost laughable how easy it was to traverse the terrain when letting Sasuke lead, his eyes giving a massively unfair advantage. They had continued to move, and then upon location, work, in silence only eventually broken as they lay in wait by Naruto.

 

“Whoa..that's...a biiiig bug.,” Naruto whispered as they looked down from a tree. Their first set ambush was at three varying heights in the trees, ground, and middle where the branches would be easiest to rush through. It was nothing spectacular, ninja wire that was set to trigger a variety of traps and snares. There were some of Naruto's 'clone army' as the joke had come out now, all ready to spring and none of them looked like Team Seven to be on the safe side. Generic ninja, easily forgettable. No reason as Sasuke had pointed out to damage their own chances later.

 

“If they know it was us, and by some chance move on, they'll want revenge.” Had been his exact words. They had learned a lot from observing Kakashi. As known as he was, he still was easily ignored when spotted on the street and most the time it took a rare breed looking for him. He was so noticeable to be almost unnoticed. He was also a member of ANBU for all that he had retired, a Jounin. They as genin could not afford to come near that level of notoriety.

 

So that had left them nearby, planning to use long-range attacks or let the clone's deal with it, but of course, it was not a team that ran into their first trap. But a massive centipede. Shock turned to sudden panic as both the boys looked at Kucho.

 

“No.”

 

Kucho blinked and then smiled. “Can I just...?”

 

“No, Kucho-chan. Nuh uh. Mission first, remember?” Naruto reminded her and with a sigh, their third teammate fell silent again. Fortunately, the centipede had only dislodged the log trap and Sasuke went to set it up again with the other two keeping watch.

 

“Can you at least admit it was pretty?” Kucho asked softly and Naruto snorted.

 

“Pretty creepy and big.” Naruto grinned but didn't look at her. He didn't need to, there was no doubt that elbow to his side was coming as gentle as she kept it. Sasuke had the trap set and back over soon. They had decided to wait and see if the first caught anyone before moving on, but after a while decided it wasn't worth the time they had spent.

 

“Maybe it will do some good while we are gone. Let's go to the next spot, would suck if we just missed one, you know?” Naruto suggested and Sasuke led on.

 

None of them knew that this far into the forest there was no video cameras watching. There wouldn't be again so far from the perimeter until they reached the tower that was their goal.

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

 

Kakashi had made himself scarce the moment his team went off live feed. He did intend to go and ask Gumoko about Squirmy. Surely there was something else he needed to do for it. The said fuzzy caterpillar had once more migrated to his shoulder and Kakashi minded his speed as he slowly meandered towards the Aburame compound, infamous book out and providing cover as towards his leisurely pace.

 

It was fantastic as he could dart his eyes around and one would simply surmise he was reading the pages within. Konoha was crawling with foreigners thanks to these exams and the part of Kakashi which had never retired was analyzing and cataloging everyone he passed that was not familiar. The ninja who had failed the first exam did not yet know that they did it to themselves, part of the reason they shuffled the group to the second portion immediately. When they did, there would be a good number of teams likely fighting amongst themselves angry at whoever had cost them their chance. This was also one of those times of year where shopkeepers dealt with increased theft and harassment, from natives as much as the visitors.

 

In short, there was nothing 'peaceful' about most these peacetime activities. The numerous threats of death they gave the hopefuls was part of that, trying to impress upon them the real danger. Not that they were ever quite as lax as the exams would seem. The second part was the most dangerous, but the time frame and subsequent goal would have most looking to incapacitate and steal or beat up rather than slaughter for the necessary scroll.

 

There was always a few casualties but just as often it was from not knowing anything about how to survive. Smoke inhalation from not knowing where you shouldn't light a fire or that certain woods and leaves were dangerous to burn, for instance. Oh, a lot of teams would return hungry and dehydrated, probably a few with various medical issues from eating or drinking something that they shouldn't have, but rarely outright murder.

 

Not that it was forbidden, either. Just that was rarely the first instinct of gennin looking towards chunin. They were still at the posture like peacocks and being enamored of flashy jutsu, seeking praise for everything stage of their careers. Kakashi knew many genin of this generation had not even killed yet. His own team had and he helped them move on, cope with the aftermath. The guilt, the ease that it came with when the act was finally done was sometimes the very cause of the guilt. Because it was easy to take a life. Too easy. It was building up to the action that was hard, and Kakashi had carefully coached each of them on his own through coming to terms with that.

 

Zabuza with his casual disregard for life had done most the rest of the work for him, and Haku. Two at the extreme end of shinobi existence that helped Kakashi's little ducklings figure out where they were now, and that it was okay to not wish to follow orders to that extent. It didn't mean they couldn't, wouldn't..but it meant they could push that off for now.

 

Honestly, Kakashi did not wish to see them so steeped in the darker missions of ANBU they would be at risk to losing themselves. However, they were so talented as a group that he knew he would continue training them as if that was the end goal, even if it was so that they could be granted the freedom to act without permission from the Hokage when on their own. It would take work, and Kakashi sighed.

 

Because first, they needed a reminder, a real one, that they were not invulnerable. They'd failed when Jiro had died on that escort mission but protecting him had not been the goal, it had been that scroll they were escorting. But those calloused murderers did exist in the exams and the second stage was where they'd be loose. Kakashi had given the only real tool he felt he could justify if brought before a court of the various kage's in that map for his team. The rest, they needed to handle on their own.

 

Kakashi paused and closed his eye for just a moment. Huh. He'd...not felt such concern for a comrade on a mission without him in …

 

A very long time.

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

Gumoko was waiting for him it seemed, as Kakashi entered the home he had no doubt that a number of tiny insects had relayed his coming to the mother of his uncute student. Nor did she waste words as she set tea out for them both. “You are curious about the newest caterpillar.”

 

Kakashi wondered what it said about him that the almost lack of small talk and tact was part of why he felt more comfortable around the Aburame woman. He didn't need to fake social skills he didn't truly have. Instead, he nodded, taking the tea as was polite though both knew he would not drink it. Neither would Gumoko. She had been quite the operative in her own days before she gave birth and chose to retire from active missions. Rather Gumoko handled much of the information, going over reports, looking for things that her unique mindset may catch that those without the benefit of their hives may not.

 

“Circumstances may negate the wisdom in bringing, Squirmy,” here they did both share an amused twitch to their muscles at the creative naming process of Team Seven. It was nice to know in some ways they were still children. “With me.”

 

“You were trusted with it.” Gumoko pointed out, fingers circling the warm teacup as neither drank. Instead, they'd enjoy the scent, the steam, the lingering warmth. Neither would drink what they did not prepare themselves or in the presence of another so lethal. In a way, it was a flattering regard of just how dangerous the other was. It was this ritual that was more comforting, better for one's ego, than if they had just sipped the blasted tea.

 

“With a warning.” Kakashi let his eye crease as he smiled, hearing the buzz of amusement from Gumoko. He'd known her only as 'Mei' before he later learned it was to hide the obviousness of her true name. Much as they had mask names it seemed that Aburame females would go one step further and chose additional names to differentiate those they may pretend to be. In the case of Mei, she was a woman who did not act or dress Aburame for the sake of catching her target.

 

It honestly was still something that bemused the copy-nin that she'd waited yet longer to ensure she was pregnant on the off chance some of the man's skills may be hereditary. Though, it did seem Kucho was bearing out that hypothesis which only made Kakashi wonder if the Kikaichu had a way of telling what was honed talent versus hereditary. He didn't dare ask.

 

“Of course. Kucho-chan is most respectful of her sensei.” Gumoko deflected with a tiny motion of her fingers that sent a small form whisking away. No doubt to patrol and report. “Her hive is welcome here, regarded fondly, and they speak often of the strenuous training and exercises they are put through.”

 

A comfortable silence fell then for he heard what she was implying. As hard as he pushed his team, often he felt it was too hard in these few months, they appreciated it. Bruises, fatigue, and all. Still, he did not wish to risk one of Kucho's special breeding hybrids and if he had to go fetch them or stand as they fought, he may just end up doing so.

 

“When they pass the second exam there will be battles, I would prefer not to have any distractions there, as fond as my three uncute little students are of their fuzzy friend here.I imagine it would be just that.” Kakashi drawled out.

 

“Uncute?” The buzzing was unmistakable. Highly entertained. “Still. I see.” And Gumoko, of course, knew that the boys called her daughter that, her daughter who ran around with hair ribbons and happy colors, tended to giggle and bubble with joy. The same daughter that danced in formal furisode's with fans and winged insects of all sorts alight around her? Oh someday, they would realize that Kucho had every bit as much of a girly demeanor about her for all she hid her flesh and enjoyed those with exoskeletons and the like.

 

“So, may I pass your..grand-pillar...what would Squirmy be?” Kakashi mumbled. Gumoko buzzed once more before she easily plucked the large furry orange beast from his shoulder and set it on her own, clearly not worrying over any said spines.

 

“He is a caterpillar, Kakashi-san. No more, no less.” She then hummed once. “I will not be having grandchildren for some years yet. Unlike many, my daughter is fully aware of the pitfalls of bearing young too early and will wait.”

 

“Don't remind me. I still have to give the boys the talk.”

 

Gumoko smirked, but did not offer. It would do the copy nin well.

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

 

“SET!” Came the bellow. Once more their unusual combination attacks were proving useful as Naruto slammed his hand down, all but throwing a clone with the action with an active 'chakra bomb' ready to go off. It just needed a trigger.

 

“ONE!” Sasuke roared out as a flurry of shuriken went with their wires, he didn't even wait to follow with his fireball.

 

“Two!” Kucho was softer but agreeing and her genjutsu took place disorienting the ninja who had tried to sneak through the last trap. It was just a single one, but they were taking no chances.

 

“Fire!” Naruto ended with the bomb going off, the genjutsu Kucho had laid being a large perimeter one enhanced by her nee-chan's as towards the distance capable, the hive out in a large circumference to make it possible to hide evidence of what had occurred. Not as if they needed someone to come look at what the sound was. It was kind of scary, really, Naruto mused as he walked over to the unconscious ninja who had faltered under the chakra bomb, his companions also revealed as having been in hiding but felled by Sasuke's attack. All of them worn out. But scary? It was when you realized a genjutsu could hide almost anything. With her nee-chan's as in tune with Kucho as they were, they could cover an area in a swarm and set up an actual sort of base to hold the genjutsu the Aburame girl sent out so it took a lot less chakra, and was a lot more effective.

 

If he had the skill he didn't doubt he could do that, but genjutsu was like trying to thread a needle behind his back in the dark in the rain. Just, not happening.

 

“Does he have a scroll?” Sasuke asked as he rolled up the wire. They were all a little tired, it was their fourth ambush site and a few other teams had found them though as they had been Konoha they had left them alone before being noticed. This one though had badges from another village, Stone it looked like or was that the signal for ..oh Naruto just wasn't as good at recognizing such things as he knew he needed to be.

 

“Yeaaaah. Not what we need.” He huffed but pocketed it anyways. It was one less team to deal with and one more shot for them. “Let's move on, shall we?”

The other two nodded and they vanished, once again pulling their chakra in tight as had become a habit thanks to that long ago mission Albatross. The benefit of that harsh mission was swiftly becoming obvious the longer they were in the forest and being bypassed by other groups. It was like they were invisible.

 

“They learn it later on I think, maybe when we hit chunin or jounin,” Sasuke had mumbled. No one knew but that was as good a guess as any.

 

“Hey, I was wondering-” Naruto started but then they dove for cover as a massive blast of chakra wind slammed into them.

 

“What..” Sasuke started before there was an eerie echoing laugh all around them.

 

“Such...sneaky...prey,” The laughter began to taunt them in an almost singing lyrical fashion. It made the hair on their necks stand up and swiftly the three clustered together, backs together and hands already drawing weapons.

 

“Oh, now that won't do now..no, no, no...” It was on the final no that a figure stepped into view, smiling just a little too wide under their large straw hat, the three set of eyes watching noticed how little the grass below the stranger was disturbed. Kakashi had told them it was a way to see how much practice a ninja had, what they did with their feet.

 

 

This was not good.

Chapter Text

AN: This is the chapter that is why Carapace did not update for a year. I had no less than ten different scenarios's written out, expanded on, tossed away. Finally, this is the one that I decided was the most suited to the team as they are. Feedback would be greatly appreciated but I do ask you be kind, I almost couldn't get to the end of this.

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

Orochimaru smiled beneath his stolen skin, hat undisturbed as he meandered forward. The face he wore of a woman, her skin and attire, was hardly a problem for him. Long ago he had learned the finer aspects of body snatching and indeed wearing the stolen flesh and sinew of his victims to smother his chakra, allowing him to infiltrate on a level ANBU could only dream of. His feet barely moved the grass, tiny, minuscule amounts of his chakra cushioning said steps so that the bent blades would not betray his passage later when inevitably the knowledge he had come into Konoha happened. Not, mind, that they would ever see him. He'd have another face by then.

"Naughty little prey..running, running.." He continued his singing tone, knowing it tended to unnerve others far more than if he spoke normally. The three children shifted slightly, in flawless formation he noted approvingly. Though truthfully, his eyes were only for the Uchiha. Itachi had spared his little brother, told him to seek him out. What secrets then, what potential did the baby Uchiha hold within to merit such an action?

The blonde he dismissed, the boy had been loud and foolish so far for both the written exam -who cheated with substitution jutsus? No subtlety at all that one- and hollering without a brain for the time they waited to enter the forest. The girl? Generally weak for all they may have good chakra control, the mismatched eyes and rich hue to her skin while admittedly striking were of no interest to him. Those two were useless, expendable, he was here for the Uchiha.

Now, first to test his mettle.

"So quiet. When faced with a predator.." Orochimaru began, intending to use his words to unnerve them. He had not expected for the three to start flashing through hand signs and then attack off the bat.

Naruto and Sasuke detected the slightly too sweet smell right before they could feel their brains kick into gear. After all this time they'd become attuned to the differing pheromones that Kucho's kikaichu could put out and this one was specifically to keep them level headed when the adrenaline would surge in battle. It would help keep from reacting like idiots even as their reactions sped up and their strength would increase, but their brains would not have the negative side effects. Instead it let them focus, think, and plan as much as they could because they were clearly up against someone far beyond their level.

Kakashi had warned them, repeatedly, to never give their enemy a chance to act. Against Zabuza had been the first. "I shouldn't have let him talk so much." Kakashi sighed, the team huddled around the fire cooking their meal on the way back to Konoha. He'd set a grueling pace but always ensuring they could still fight if need be. "In doing so yes, they may reveal information, valuable intel no doubt, but at the same time you provide them too much time to get in your head. To mess with you thoughts or even for them to have set off a powerful jutsu while you listen to the rambling of their partner. If you ever seem to face an opponent you suspect as beyond you, do not hesitate to act. Do not hold back either. You hit with everything you have, as fast as you can and then?" Kakashi narrowed his gaze at them, serious, three sets of eyes locked onto him as though every sound from his lips was their nindo and carved into flesh and bone and so Kakashi swallowed any reservations he had about teaching them as he had been taught. He was alive, and those who had not learned as he had, no matter how precious to him, how capable -Rin, Obito, Minato, Kushina...- were not.

"You get out of there. You understand me, Team Seven?" The serious black eye had been joined by the Sharingan, headband pushed up so he could fix them all with the serious glare. This was an order by their superior officer and he would have it branded into them as such. Had his own team listened, obeyed as they should have, they may still be alive. He would not see history repeat itself. The longer he stared the more the three before him straightened and nodded, hands clasped subtly with each other.

"Hai!"

There were no words. No codes, no flashy titles sent out. There was not the time for that. Instead each of them knew the others best and worst attacks and could guess what would be sent out. Naruto flung clones and chakra bombs, wave after wave of them. Sasuke let fly all of his shuriken and wires held tight to them, fireballs chasing them down. Swarms of Kikaichu were let out, four clones of Kucho appearing and helping to direct genjutsu that would ideally disorient their opponent. Her Nee-chan's were still darker, unable to help that slight change even now, but there. With a good portion of her chakra at their disposal each of the Nee-chan's would focus on disrupting scent, sight, sound, balance of the enemy ninja, one sense for each as they went. They were more support than for battle but if needed could intervene with just as much skill as Kucho had, their union drawn taut at the moment so they would be able to use the human's instincts as well as their own if it came to a fight.

Earth jutsu's hid explosive tags and smoke screens went off before the three did the second smartest thing they knew. They ran, taking to the trees with the quartet of insect clones and a small army of Naruto made ones following them.

Bounding from tree limb to tree limb they only got a short ways before another hurricane wind jutsu slammed into them, a massive snake chasing behind it and swallowing Naruto whole.

Sasuke felt his chakra pulse, almost darkly and his lips curved into a snarl as the Sharingan activated. He knew the idiot would pull through, such situations were his forte. That did not mean they could just wait around for him to do so. Whatever this enemy shinobi was saying sounded distorted, ignored by Sasuke as he began charging up one of his attacks. There was nothing he could say that would matter, not when it was clearly a monologue by someone who thought themselves so far above his team as to not be threatened. They were about to learn that was a very false conception.

"Shut. Up." He bit out, cutting off whatever foolish speech the sound ninja had started. The dark flash of their eyes told Sasuke they were used to being listened to, obeyed. It didn't matter. Dissonance filled his ears as his chakra rushed forth, the surge from tiny bites along his ankles, legs, the familiar rush of Kikaichu passed chakra that had once been his own overloading his limits and yet...he didn't ignore the scent of the pheromones keeping his senses in the here and now. Pressure from the other's killing intent easily ignored as pain from bug bites caused subtle surges.

"If you carry on like this, challenging a superior predator..." The stranger sang before they smirked wickedly, the skin cracking. "You're going to die.."

It was almost perfect, that just as it was said there was a wet splurching sound as the massive snake ripped apart from the inside, too many clones for it to constrict ripping through. Ignoring the fluids he was covered in Naruto snarled, vicious. "You're gonna pay for that ya freak!"

While the two boys kept the attention from their attacker Kucho and her nee-chan's had been in communication, their buzzing now filling the area to the point it was likely ignored by all three. The five Queens there, four composed of insect clones and one human Queen though were absolutely livid. How dare this interloper threaten them, their Solider's, their hive? Kucho narrowed her eyes, unprotected as they were with her glasses off and a single insistent command pulsed through her coils, relayed via her connection to her Queens.

Her soldiers were to be protected, all other bets were off.

Naruto felt his anger rousing to the surface even as he saw Sasuke suddenly fighting off the weirdo in close combat, they moved fast. Too fast. Faster than their sensei did, but that didn't mean it couldn't be countered. Haku had moved too fast as well. Naruto lunged towards the ninja's exposed back, his brain rapidly cataloging the hand signs Kucho and her four Nee-chan's were going through knowing that their opponent would be fighting off serious sensory alteration. He heartily approved. They needed time though. "Eat this!" Naruto yelled out, drawing the attention of the attacking ninja just long enough for Sasuke to substitute with him, Naruto's fist slamming in with all the chakra he could push forth into one of those failed chakra bombs that always exploded spectacularly.

Out of direct line of fire, Sasuke skidded back to a safe distance, his own attack getting ready. Up here in the trees they had found themselves in while dodging he couldn't exactly use Tornado, but what kind of idiot didn't utilize that with other jutsu's? "Storm!" Sasuke screeched out and following the blazing shuriken he sent out towards the recovering figure -Kakashi's voice echoing in his mind that the only safe enemy shinobi was one without a pulse- hid the following explosive tags.

"Sasuke! This jerk's a pain in the neck." Naruto slammed into the branch next to him, snarling, and only moments later he felt Kucho at his other side.

"We can't risk this one following." Kucho hissed, her own adrenaline coursing high.

A deep breath was shared by the three, each of them absorbing the rushing pheromones they knew were being flooded out. They could abuse that little edge they had without shame.

Naruto snorted in agreement. "Plans?"

"Well now.." And the figure stood. Facing them, eerie smile still in place despite the peeling flesh falling from them even as it ripped it away. "Shall we fight for our scrolls?"

The three narrowed their eyes. Kakashi's words back when they took the test flowing through their minds. Come at me with the intent to kill.

Orochimaru smirked wickedly and reached up, clawing away his face. He'd not even needed to swallow the scroll to encourage the brats. Nor however, had his copious levels of Killing intent felled them as it should, how curious. Why would such little mice have exposure to levels that made even his fearsome attention seem something they could brush away without causing themselves physical harm?

Oh yes, he wanted the Uchiha. Though admittedly had had not expected either of the other two to fare on equal levels. This was interesting.

Kakashi was rumored to be their sensei, and Orochimaru knew of the brat. Had wanted to get his hands on the legendary White Fang's son once, deal in his white chakra, the stolen Sharingan, but it had been impossible. Still, he had never expected capable students from one rumored to be unable to focus outside of a ninja's realm in the shadows. To be a teacher would have been entirely unsuitable for the young prodigy, he expected half cobbled together over confident whelps. They had certainly seemed hopeless from all his observation thus far. Instead he'd actually had to be on his guard, the three working together in a way that made them a far greater threat.

Was this something Sasuke could do with any he was paired with?

Orochimaru needed to learn. To keep. To experiment. And for that, he would rely on the knowledge of what Itachi had done to his little brother to lure him to his side, offer him power, the downfall of so many before him. The trick of course, with those so capable, was not in words, but in proving he could provide. So the curse seal it was.

"Something from a nightmare..." One of the Nee-chan's spoke and just for a second, Orochimaru looked over at the darker shaped clone whose black eyes, no white at all, did not waver.

" you wake up and tell yourself it is only a dream..." Another clone spoke out and Orochimaru tilted his head slightly in the direction of the other, wondering at this. After all, until now the Team he had cornered had been rather, silent.

Kucho felt the curiosity of the two beside her but tapped her nearest teammate's arms instead, Sasuke nodding ever so slightly and tapping the same code again against Naruto. When ready, they were to attack and then flee. While Naruto didn't understand why he knew that the two brunette's wouldn't without good reason and he trusted them. Sasuke caught on swiftly that there was a genjutsu carefully layered, as only an insect could, in the area that would help hide their tracks once they left the area, one that had been layered ontop of layers and likely taken a good deal of Kucho's chakra to provide to the Nee-chan's but it would hopefully help them escape.

"Enough games." Orochimaru started his eyes back on the Uchiha, unerringly. "You have potential...yes, you will do..."

"Crap he's goin to summon again!" Naruto yelped seeing the blood drip from Orochimaru's thumb as he moved to sweep it downwards. He was not going to have any of that! Instead, Naruto spammed his clones and one of them threw him straight at the startled sound Ninja.

"You're getting in the way." Orochimaru mocked before backhanding the boy, ducking then from the mass of insects that tried to latch onto him. He almost ignored them before one jewel bright beetle bit deep and Orochimaru realized it was one of the chakra draining Kikaichu for all it looked different. Sneering he blocked another fireball from the Uchiha though spared a few moments to be impressed at the size of the blaze produced, surely the boy shouldn't be able to make such a thing? Not yet, and here it was anyways, burning, the flesh covering him as a disguise turning to ash.

"I've seen enough." Came the sibilant voice as the flames receded, taking the last of the disguise with them. Orochimaru actually felt pleasure at the wide eyes of the two dark-haired children before they narrowed. "Oh? You know who I am...?"

"One of the sannin...Traitor." Sasuke hissed out and his stance shifted. Softly his voice dropped, lips hidden from the way he lifted his kunai. "Kucho-chan...one hit, and we're done for."

"Then we don't give him that hit, clearly." Kucho responded and her even tone, hiding the fear rushing through her as the fury, the outrage that such a one would attack her soliders, her hive, burned any hesitation away. Her kikaichu moving back into her chakra coils for later, sated on the sannin's chakra so she could pass that information to Kakashi later if they lived through this. They had to. Konoha was in danger and didn't know it. They didn't dare set off flares either because of the nature of the exam? The odds of anyone coming were slim to none at all. This was the point of the exam, survive or perish. She forced an extra dose of pheromones through her own system and spoke softly, needing to be the rock for her Hive. The Queen had to be the steady one. "Soldier up, Sasuke."

"Heh." Sasuke grinned and his red eyes spun, foot sliding back. "It placed?"

"Just needs the right distraction." She agreed, both of them keeping their voices soft, weapons blocking the movement of their lips. The genjutsu was ready, a single large burst of chakra would set it off and hide the multiple layers as far as her nee-chan's had been able to spread it. Many layers deep it would take time to break thanks to the way the insects thought and they could tear off to safety in the process. Or at least regroup, plan an ambush. Though the minute the two had realized whom they were up against there was no doubt in either Aburame or Uchiha mind that this was a situation such as Kakashi had told them was one where they could abandon a mission. This was Intel, necessary, vital, and had to be shared with Konoha. Their mission objectives were changed.

"Good thing we have the knucklehead." Sasuke agreed just as Naruto flew to hit Orochimaru again, fist blazing with a chakra bomb. For all the good it did as he was suddenly caught, by the man's tongue no less!

"What's this?..." Orochimaru paused and grinned wickedly around his tongue holding the writhing figure, chakra burning the sensitive muscle as he saw the red slit eyes in the blondes face, the snarling fangs, elongated whiskers. So that is what happened. Instantly the sannin figured out what must be held within the Uzumaki. Of course it was an Uzumaki. How...predictable... "Hmm..the Kyuubi..." And his words only made the fury, the anger, hatred, fear that was a poison burn brighter in the visage of the young container and Orochimaru laughed deep in his chest. "Well, cannot have you interfering now..can I..."

Each of the fingers on one hand began to glow as he pulled the images of the seal to mind. The memories of Jiraiya working over them over and over in front of him only made Orochimaru's eyes widen madly. Yes, how fitting the work of his own teammate, to painfully corrupt a seal on the son of his teammates own student? The irony was delicious and worth the acidic burn to his tongue from holding the boy in place. Sliding his hand up the stomach to lift the jacket and undershirt and exposing the seal Orochimaru laughed just as he thrust his hand forward to burn the seal into flesh and remove the troublesome interference of the Kyuubi.

There was smoke, acrid scent and burning flesh with a loud buzzing, and a scream. The scream high pitched and wailing without words as pain clearly ripped apart a throat just before an explosion took over and Orochimaru was flung backward.

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

"Kucho-chan!" Naruto yelled as he dove for the suddenly unsteady form of his teammate as she lost her footing. With ease of long practice he twisted onto a lower branch, holding his hyperventilating teammate as her eyes were wide and she hiccuped back heaving sobs that wanted out. A phantom limb was missing, her body falling into shock and chakra instability. Hands clutching at his jacket as she tried to get air in, barely keeping from screaming. Blood fell from her lips where she was biting through flesh in the effort to not keep screaming. The chakra explosion had been massive, a huge storage let loose violently and the backlash had who knows how many side effects?

"We need to move," Sasuke spoke, his own voice harsh, biting and his hands clenched so tightly there were a few drops of blood spilling as he fought his own emotions back. He couldn't feel, not here, not when they were anything but able to fall apart safely. Questions would wait, comfort would wait. "Now. Make for the tower."

A snarl was turned on Sasuke and red eyes met red but it was shrugged off because right now it didn't matter as claw-like hands pulled the dark form of their teammate closer. "Bastard! Kucho-"

"Will be fine!" Sasuke bit back and then he slammed his hand into the tree and drew a deep breath. No. No, she would certainly not be fine. "We take turns carrying her until she can cope. Otherwise...Otherwise Nee-chan..."

Naruto closed his eyes and pulled Kucho towards him, feeling her shake helplessly in shock that was no doubt deeply painful. He barely even registered the swarms of insects covering him as they buried back into her flesh and chakra coils frantically. Because the jutsu Kakashi had drilled into them so much was the substitution and instead of him getting hit...

"Okay. Can you lead? I'm going to carry her. Don't argue with me about this Sasuke, I've got the better stamina." This time the anger had faded and Naruto could tell whatever pheromones had been being leaked out were gone but fighting wouldn't save them. Sasuke was right, they needed to get away before that creepy shinobi was back. Especially with a teammate less than capable right now.

Sasuke swallowed and nodded. "We should..let's go. I can figure out the fastest way."

Neither of them brought up the scrolls.

Behind them, in the forest, far from where Orochimaru had been flung, lay a pile of twitching but dead burned insects, the larger body of a queen in the center.

Chapter Text

AN: Sorry for the delay. Just distracted by my Nanowrimo 'Gooper' which as of now is only being posted to FF. Net and then I hope to keep using this momentum it's getting me into to carry over into my other stories.

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Crashing leaves and creaking branches echoed long after the three forms hurtled past. Sasuke was less concerned about sound giving them away than he was with just getting distance. Out of habit he had his chakra rolled up as tightly as he could, gritting his teeth against the discomfort from doing so. He knew Naruto had to be doing the same, unable to feel the usual roiling sensation of chakra from his loudest teammate. Kucho, naturally, was dead to his senses. Trust was all that kept the last Uchiha in the village from looking back over his shoulder in concern, to allay his worries of their being right behind them. Considering that...

 

Well. Sasuke knew plenty about loss. When he felt the first falter of his chakra and judged it safe enough to pause he drew up short. Naruto almost skidding off the branch as he did the same, awkwardly still balancing Kucho in a fireman's carry over his shoulder's. No matter how uncomfortable that was for both parties, it was the most effective for a reason. Naruto opened his mouth to say something, but then Sasuke sloshed a water bottle before taking a small mouthful. Catching on, Naruto gently, mindful of her likely bruised form from being over Naruto's shoulder's, set Kucho down.

 

There was a faint nod from Kucho, a glaze to her eyes as she shook slightly but took out her own food bar and chomped off large bites, softening it with her own water. Sasuke trailed his eyes over his darkest teammate as she swallowed, gagged softly. He remembered the feeling. The sensation food was ash and clay and wouldn't go down. Wanting to vomit every time.

 

Naruto had polished off two bars by the time Sasuke had gotten a few bites down. His tone was still soft aware they were liable to be near unfriendly company but still with an edged of cheer before it trailed off.“Hey, hey Kucho-chan..are you..”

 

“Not, not now. Please,” Kucho begged softly with a faint hitch to her words. The palm of her left hand coming up to rub against her eye, as if physically pushing back tears. Her very tone had defaulted to the dead one of most Aburame, a defense mechanism they knew and at least one that wouldn't offend either of the boys.

 

Confused blue eyes looked to Sasuke for help, not sure at all what to do with a nearly crying girl. Nor was this the time for loud yelling speeches and snarls. Sasuke had little experience himself, but he knew loss. He knew pain. And he damned well knew about compartmentalizing to just get through the current moment. Slowly he shook his head and mouthed clearly to Naruto 'Later.'

 

At least with a grumble the blonde did as he asked. They didn't have time for this now and Sasuke felt for Kucho, he truly did, but he also knew now was the worst time to fall apart. Fortunately, the three were used to trading off who was 'leader' when defaulting to another persons strengths. Right now it was falling to Sasuke as he was the one with the Sharingan and the best head for planning outside of a fight. Turning to try and glimpse what light was visible beneath the canopy Sasuke frowned to himself. They had been resting for just a few minutes, the sound of insects calling, skittering, familiar and comforting. Deep forest scents confusing his nose left Sasuke slightly ill at ease. There was just too much cover and they knew too well what lurked in the depths. “We're close. If we strike hard we should be able to ambush a few teams and get their scrolls.”

 

“Let's just get what we need.” Kucho said tiredly, her voice raspy from the effort of not screaming but her sleeves were damp from where she had clearly bit the fabric to keep silent when they had hurtled through the trees. “I can stand now.” Unspoken, and clear, she could also run and fight if need be. After all, Kucho was as much a ninja as her soldier's and her nature would not let her back down. She'd cry later. Mismatched eyes locked first on Naruto's, then on Sasuke's. There was still that glazed look, haunting, but they had all been taught by Kakashi. Prepared by him for what would be in their future, it just wasn't supposed to be this soon!

 

“Konoha needs to know.” Sasuke agreed and even Naruto gave a grunt of agreement. “Dobe-” It was comfortable to fall on the old insult and right now team Seven needed every scrap they could afford to huddle against. The flicker of warmth at the rolling eyes of his teammates was enough to let his voice soften. “-if we swarm an ambush can you leave enough disguised clones out to hopefully mess with the others?”

 

Naruto scratched his chin, like the other two just waiting for the bars and water to hit them all. Naturally possessing vaster reserves he was the least affected by the utter mayhem they had just escaped but it had still shaken his nerves and eating helped to calm that. “Yeah, Teme. I can do that. If nothing else I can make sure they open any opposing teams scrolls, not from Konoha, and get the lot disqualified that way.”

 

“Only if it can't be traced back to us obviously.” Sasuke agreed, and Naruto just smirked.

 

“I'll just make them look like that snake creep before the skin got peeled off. Better more remember that face, don't ya think?” There was a shimmer of red to his blue eyes just then and the exposed teeth as Naruto grinned were a bit sharper. Neither of his teammates missed it, but now was not the time for such things.

 

“Ready?” Kucho asked instead as she stood, taking a deep breath. They would not falter, they had a mission from their sensei to complete and information to pass on. This was just a far more lethal and nervewracking test than they had ever been expecting.

 

“Anything goes?” Sasuke asked, referring to the joke back on Mission Albatross when they had stumbled on something bigger that time too.

 

“Boom.” Naruto grinned in agreement and Kucho cracked a faint watery smile before her eyes narrowed. “Keep in formation, hey?” He didn't wish to risk taking one of them out in the coming mayhem but for an answer the two brunettes launched ahead, making Naruto snicker as he gave chase.

 

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

 

“Left!” A bellow came from Naruto's clone -suspiciously with bandages like Zabuza but otherwise more like an unholy meld of Naruto and his all brown civilian henge they used when hiding in the library- and obediently Kucho slammed her elbow out. The sickening crunch of a nose and the flying spittle and blood didn't slow her down either. Her insects stayed tightly locked up within her chakra and instead with a twisting of her body and a shunshin at the right moment to trade with the clone she twirled a kick to the back of the ninja's head dropping the unconscious boy like a rock. If he was lucky he wouldn't drown in his own spit.

 

The puff of smoke as Naruto's clone displaced itself from the body impacting it after the force of her kick let Kucho hide as she darted towards her teammate's. These enemies had rebreather's and the moment one had given away their position with the corny 'Lucky' phrase after trying to lecture them of all things on said ninja's team supposing 'awesomeness', team seven had collectively chosen to deal with their fear and frustration after Orochimaru in a far more productive manner.

 

A whoop from Naruto as he grabbed a startled Sasuke and launched him skyward at one of the ninja's attempting to get a literal drop on them; before headbutting his opponent only to rip into them with a chakra bomb, the sickening sound as a neck snapped in the distance from the force was drowned out by a roar of “Blonde IDIOT!” from Sasuke.

 

It was a rather twitching at the eyebrow and scowling Sasuke who glared at Naruto the whole time he went to ruffle through the downed forms after landing finally. Neither brunette chose to inform Naruto he had used excessive force, the last thing they needed was another shock to potentially overwhelm their sunny teammate. There was a nicely tied up unconscious ninja halfway up a tree wrapped in shuriken wire from Sasuke. Of course, said ninja was fairly singed but fireball was still Sasuke's default Jutsu when startled. Being thrown into the air by one of your teammate's generally tended to startle a person after all.

 

“Heaven.” Came the announcement from Sasuke and Kucho nearly fell as she felt her whole body shudder in relief. She did make a faint squeaking sound, however. 

"Finally."

 

“Okay. All out dash?” Naruto asked even as he was spamming clones, a variety of them, not just with Orochimaru's other guise but the team they had just beaten and a number of the other's they had run across. Team Seven wasn't precisely against long-range dirty tactics if they saw a lone party member getting water or trying to trap a perimeter. Besides, Naruto did need to work on his earth jutsu's and it seemed a good chance to practice. The only one who had the hang of grabbing the ground and pulling it was Kucho, Sasuke -who was usually determined to not rely on his eyes and tried to get a technique down properly without the Sharingan first- tended to make it crumble in such a way as what they had formed into the 'Tornado' attack which after fumbling the other two had learned how to do, and Naruto only seemed to be able to make it create stalagmites which frankly, all three agreed were awesome but the spike of chakra it needed was beyond the brunettes to mimic at this time.

 

The very fact he used it to 'goose' a few opponents long range had at least forced a laugh out of Kucho and if it sounded hysterical and she started to choke back tears, neither boy drew attention to it. The general use of the stalagmite was to startle someone enough that they didn't dodge the incoming attacks. A swift blow from a clone, down they went, a quick frisk for a scroll or not and after tying up the victim the three had moved on.

 

“All Out.” Sasuke agreed as he tossed the scroll p in the air only to catch it once before grinning, red eyes gleaming as he looked at his team. Dirty, determined, having faced a sannin and lived to tell the tale. They'd taken out two teams, set back or incapacitated members to a good dozen others. There were traps all over the forest from them running along. It wasn't even night fall yet on the first day yet. Yes. He was proud, he felt a rush of power, of strength. This is what a good team could give him.

 

Sasuke didn't think even his precious prodigy of a brother turned traitor could have faced down Orochimaru with his team at the age of twelve and lived.

 

The last one to respond was Kucho, who when the two looked at her simply brushed a finger against her nose, a habit for when she was wearing glasses not that she was in the darkness of the forest, and took off.

 

“Cheater!” Naruto hissed, he and Sasuke racing along side her swiftly but Kucho just snorted.

 

“Wrong. Ninja. You're just jealous you didn't think of it first.” The deadpan voice was there but she was teasing, interacting. Her mind kept everything not immediately important locked away in a box. Kakashi had spoken with them after their first kills, made them see a Yamanaka Sasuke had been able to recommend. While they of course, had counseling on everything that had occurred it was also when Kucho had been able to speak about the pain of not letting her kikaichu out. Gumoko had assured her daughter that she personally had talked to Kakashi about a few things, but her mother had also worked with Kucho on keeping her nee-chan's and their hive within for longer stretches of time. She wouldn't be able to do so for more than another hour, but right then she didn't want a single insect out.

 

That Yamanaka had also taught each of them how to properly compartmentalize trauma. Not at all healthy in the long run if they didn't have an outlet and allow a confrontation with those emotions later, but essential in their careers for short times. Right now, it was all that was keeping her on her feet when she wanted to just curl up trembling. Instead, Kucho kept her senses open, and focused on running as fast as she could between her soldier's.

 

At the fastest pace they had used since rushing from Orochimaru the three fell silent and pushed forward. It was fast enough they had to keep their mouths open, sucking in air and expelling it with the force of each jump, at times unable to clear branches they hadn't seen in time and soon were on the ground the tower in sight.

 

Kucho's fingers flashed out, Sasuke following her so rapidly it seemed in sync, the wonders of the Sharingan hard at work to identify what she was up to. Without yelling anything there was a ripple and for a fraction of a second it seemed like Naruto's eyes were instead seeing his teammate's veer off to the side. A sharp pain at the junction of his shoulders told him otherwise though and Naruto kept forward. Dual genjutsu's, mentally he whistled, not a bad idea. It would at the least give them minutes to be ahead of anyone actually awaiting an ambush and be harder to disrupt. Crashing sounds off in the direction the 'fakes' had run made Naruto direct a few of his clones that way just as the three skidded inside.

 

Naruto tuned out anything at that moment except to put his back against the other two, kunai at the ready, his other hand softly pulsing with chakra ready for either a clone technique or a chakra bomb. A shift of Sasuke's shoulder against his told him the other boy was doing the same, and Kucho was only a fraction of a distance further.

 

“Clear,” Kucho spoke first.

 

“This direction too.” Sasuke agreed.

 

Naruto had been kept facing the door, their best overwhelming force in case of someone coming up from behind. “Yea, clear.” None of the three dropped their guard, Sasuke and Kucho glanced up at the scroll, the obvious meaning ignored. This was a test that could be wrapped in pretty poetry but they knew better. You didn't have an ANBU member as your Jounin sensei who was treating you like actual subordinates and not pick up on a few things. They may couch this all in lovely haiku and soft words like 'duty' and 'improvement'.

 

Haku and Zabuza had ripped that blinder off the rest of the way for them and Kakashi had not tried to argue against reality. This was a test, a mission, one that they could kill during, and nearly been killed already.

 

“Scrolls?” Naruto finally asked. “They said not to open them before...so we do it now?”

 

“All of them.” Sasuke agreed with a sneer. “What are they going to do, dock us extra credit?”

 

That made Naruto snort in amusement and he pulled out the two earth scrolls he had on him, the real ones not the clone fakes. Those had dispelled a half hour ago. “Got two earth.”

 

“Earth.” Kucho agreed, still holding their original scroll.

 

“Heaven.” Sasuke hummed. “All at once? Ready?”

 

“Wait a minute, teme! I need a clone to do both of mine!?” Naruto huffed, having already done so and tossed the spare scroll before he thought twice. “Actually, make my clones open all of them. Who knows if they really are scrolls or booby trapped or something horrid is going to come out of them?”

 

“There's nowhere else to go, we reached the tower as the objective was stated.” Kucho pointed out. “As no one is present to give them to clearly we are to open them now. Anko-sama practically made us all determined to do so at the earliest opportunity with her wording before we had them turned over to us.”

 

“All the more reason not to be careless.” Sasuke nodded. “Anko is...peculiar.”

 

With no one able to argue that Naruto had his clones go to the middle of the room, and on three each of the four scrolls was unrolled.

 

The lunging forms of two ninjas actually rushing each other and one very startled Iruka screaming though at being in the middle, that they hadn't expected.