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Hear the Silence

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“Be careful, Kyo,” tou-san said solemnly, picking her up and wrapping her into a tight hug.

Kyo hugged him back as hard as she could, burying her face in his shoulder. “You, too, tou-san.”

Kou chuckled hoarsely and pressed a kiss against her hair. “I'm not leaving until tomorrow, and I do believe you're going in the opposite direction, kitten,” he said, voice far lighter than the situation called for.

“It's just a week-long mission,” Kyo muttered against Kou's shirt, not sure if she was trying to reassure her dad or herself. “We're going to one of the villages to pick up a merchant's son and then coming back here.”

“Listen to your sensei, and do your best to stay safe,” Kou said, putting her on her feet. “Let me get dressed and I'll come see you off,” he smiled, ruffling her hair a bit sadly. It made his left eye squint almost completely shut. The bruise around it was starting to fade to green, but it was still too swollen for Kyo's taste.

“I'll go say bye to kaa-san and Genma,” she said, before scurrying off towards her parents' bedroom.

She supposed it was Genma's bedroom, too, for now. Though kaa-san had asked her if she'd mind sharing with her brother in a few months, and when Kyo had said no, plans had been made.

“Kaa-san,” Kyo whispered, causing the woman in question to stir. “I'm gonna leave now.”

“Oh, you should have woken me up,” Isshun sighed, sitting up in bed to pull her into a tight, sleep-warm hug. “Finish your mission and come back home,” she whispered.

“Okay,” Kyo said weakly, feeling a bit like she might cry.

Taking a deep breath, she stepped back from her kaa-san and leaned over Genma's crib, running quick fingers along his cheek, and then returned to the hallway.

She didn't have to wait long for Kou, who picked her up, settling her on his hip and then left, using the rooftops to get them across Konoha as quickly as possible. He didn't touch back down on the ground until he reached the main gates.

“Hey, sensei,” Kyo greeted from her father's arms, managing a small smile at Katsurou, who took in the sight of her and Kou and gifted her with a faint, barely noticeable smile back.

“Good morning, Kyo. Shiranui-san.” He gave her tou-san a nod.

“It's nice to meet you,” Kou sighed, managing a bleak smile, raising a hand to smooth over Kyo's hair, as if to ascertain himself she was still there, even if it was just for another few minutes.

“Hey, sensei!” Taku came running up to them, wearing an excited grin and Kisaki hot on his heels. “Oh, morning, Kyo,” he added when he spotted her, blinking at the stranger holding her. “Ya dad?”

“Yeah. Tou-san, this is Inuzuka Taku and his partner Kisaki,” she introduced, perfectly happy to remain in her dad's arms a bit longer.

“Maki's not here yet? Man, I though I was gonna be last,” Taku mused, crossing his arms over his chest with a slight frown.

“That's because kaa-chan didn't want me to step out the door,” Maki said as he trotted up to them. “Morning, Katsurou-sensei,” he added at the Yamanaka. “Where's Kyo?”

“Right here,” Kyo piped up, putting her head down on tou-san's shoulder.

Maki turned and blinked at her, looking suddenly troubled. “Sensei, maybe Kyo should stay in the village?” He muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

Kyo raised her head to stare at him, raising one eyebrow.

“Kyo's your teammate,” Katsurou-sensei answered simply. “We'll need her.”

“Well,” Kou sighed, setting her down on the ground in front of him. “Good luck on your first mission, kitten. If anyone gives you any trouble, you stick your most potent needles in them, okay?”

“Okay.” Kyo smiled, feeling her lips wobble just a little. Instead of bursting into tears, though, she just wrapped her arms around his neck for one last hug and then followed Katsurou-sensei when he walked over to the guard desk to show them the procedure of leaving the village on official business.

Kou slipped his hands into his pockets, watched her a moment longer and then headed back home. No doubt to enjoy what little more time he had with Isshun and Genma.

“Your dad didn't look too well,” Maki commented once they'd set out and the village was twenty minutes behind them.

“He gets less and less time to recuperate between border patrol missions,” Kyo said with an unhappy frown. “At least he hasn't gotten seriously injured in the last few years.”

Taku hummed pensively where he was running beside her. “Teki-nii almost died last year,” the boy offered, shrugging casually before he leapt from one tree to another. “An' Akashi-nii almost lost an arm and Tenshi three months ago.”

“I'm sorry,” Kyo said, and she couldn't help but sigh quietly to herself because how could this be her life now? How could this be life, period?

It was horrible.

“Pay attention, brats,” Katsurou cut in, giving them a sharp but understanding look. “Just because we're close to the village doesn't mean there can't be enemies around.”

With that encouraging reminder, Team Six continued their trek in silence.

It would take them two days to reach the village they were picking up their client at, and a little over double that time on the way back. Because of the civilian, they'd have to set a pace he could actually keep up with unless Katsurou-sensei opted on carrying him.

Something Kyo didn't think would've been very wise, considering he was by far their strongest fighter.

When they made camp that night, they easily settled into now familiar routines, taking up certain tasks without the need for words.

“Don't think about keeping watch,” sensei said, settling down by the fire-pit Maki had dug and started a fire in. “I'll take care of it.”

“Okay,” Kyo said with a nod.

It sort of made sense; this was their first real mission and Katsurou probably wanted them as alert as possible, even if that meant little to no sleep for himself. He'd most likely be able to rest up in the village they were meeting the merchant's son in.

Taku and Maki both got out their sleep rolls and settled down on the other side of the fire.

Kyo took one look at them, weighed her own roll in her hands and with a nod, marched over and settled herself quite firmly between them.

“Uh, what are you doing?” Maki asked, sitting back up to give her an incredulous look.

“Going to sleep,” Kyo replied as she wormed her way into her blankets.

“Yeah, but why are you over here?” He tried again, shooting Taku a look.

For all that it did him, because the Inuzuka just snorted and moved closer to Kyo, kicked his feet a few times to find a comfortable position and then went boneless.

Kisaki took the opportunity to settle mostly on top of him, draping her body along his legs with her head cushioned on his stomach. Had she grown? Kyo couldn't remember the ninken being that big when she'd first met her.

It looked both pretty nice, and also a bit painful and restrictive, Kyo thought.

It made her miss her dogs from Before something fierce.

“We're children, Maki,” Kyo told him quietly, doing her best to snuggle into Taku's side for comfort and warmth. “We might die on this mission, so I'd rather just cuddle if that's okay with you.”

Maki was silent for a long time, and then let out an aggravated sigh. “Fine,” he relented and lied back down, awkwardly shuffling closer to her.

Before she fell asleep, Kyo could've sworn she heard Katsurou mutter something that sounded suspiciously like 'puppy-pile'.

.

They reached the village with minimal fuss.

Kyo took in the wooden buildings, looking rather primitive and practically medieval compared to what she was used to. Konoha had definitely progressed far beyond this point.

Did these people even have electricity? Running water? She highly doubted it.

The people they encountered all watched them warily, as if they were terrified they'd start killing people with no provocation. Or, if they were slightly more rational human beings, sent Kyo and her fellow Genin wide-eyed looks.

Katsurou took them to the biggest building in town, which looked like it might be an inn, a restaurant, or perhaps a combination of both.

Kyo felt rather self-conscious about the amount of stares her hitai-are attracted. It felt weird to have people's gazes fix themselves on her forehead rather than her eyes, or even face in general.

While Katsurou-sensei went to talk with who she assumed must be the owner -an older, greying woman with a straight back and firm lines around her mouth- Kyo, Maki, Taku and Kisaki waited near the door.

The patrons of the place had all hushed when they'd entered, and no one seemed comfortable enough with their presence to resume their conversations while they were still there.

Taku frowned, scanned the room and opened his mouth.

Kyo elbowed him lightly in the side, stopping him before he could utter a word.

In response, the Inuzuka boy sent her an annoyed look, but thankfully decided to be patient and wait for sensei.

When Katsurou finally finished talking to the rather impressive-looking woman, he strode back to them and mentioned them back outside without a word.

“He wasn't there?” Kyo asked quietly, hurrying her step until she was walking almost next to him.

Katsurou briefly glanced down at her, before he went back to scanning their surroundings, taking in the people moving about and anything else he might find interesting.

“No.”

Kyo sighed. Because of course their first real mission couldn't just be easy.

With a shiver of dread trickling down her spine, she dearly hoped this wouldn't turn out like Naruto's first C-rank.

This may just be a D-rank, but it was quite a few years until that point in time would come to pass, and war changed the rules.

When it became clear Katsurou-sensei wouldn't explain anything anytime soon, Kyo fell back to her fellow Genin, exchanged a look with both of them and simply followed their sensei as he walked towards what seemed to be the edge of town.

The moment they'd cleared the last of the buildings, sensei took to the trees with the rest of them hot at his heels.

Katsurou jumped a small distance and then stopped, coming to rest on a large tree branch that was wide and sturdy enough to hold all five of them.

“Our client never made it to the village, and there hasn't been a caravan through in weeks,” he told them evenly, crouching down to be more at their eye-level. “The woman I talked to informed me they've had something of a bandit problem in these parts for about a month or so,” Katsurou sighed, pale green eyes flicking from face to face.

“So it's most likely he's dead?” Maki offered tentatively, frowning. As if the thought of failing their first mission didn't sit right with him, even by a technicality. “We're going back home?”

“He may be dead, kid, but we should at least try to find him,” Katsurou explained patiently. “Konoha doesn't have a reputation for half-assed shinobi.”

“It would be bad for business to not even try,” Kyo explained when Maki still looked confused. “Wouldn't inspire confidence from our clients if we gave up right away,” she muttered, a frown growing on her face.

“So we're going after the bandits,” Taku summarized succinctly, crossing his arms over his chest with a speculative look on his face. There was a spark of excitement in his eyes, but he also looked ever so slightly wary. “Do we even know they're nothin' more than bandits?”

“No, we don't,” Katsurou shook his head, an unhappy look creeping onto his features. “It's most likely they are, though. We're deep in Fire Country and the borders to the other major Villages are far from here.”

“There're no guaranties, though,” Kyo muttered, absently running a finger over her needle-cuffs.

Katsurou-sensei nodded shortly. “I need you three,” Kisaki huffed and he corrected himself with a twitch of the lips,” four, to do exactly as I say. If I tell you to run for Konoha, that is exactly what you will do. Kyo,” he fixed her with his pupil-less gaze, “I trust you'll do your best to keep these three in line.”

“Yes, sensei,” Kyo replied firmly, even as her insides threatened to freeze up.

Why was he putting HER in charge!?

When neither Taku nor Maki contested their sensei's decision, Kyo was a little thrilled but mostly felt like she was in the twilight zone. It didn't help that they were about to hunt down bandits.

“We need to track these bandits down, scope out the situation and decide what to do based on what we find. Any questions?” Katsurou gave them each a weighty look. “Very well, then. Taku, Kisaki, I have a scent sample of our client; I want you to memorize it and try to find any hint of it as we move on from here.” And he pulled out the mission scroll, opened it enough to reveal a small, basic storage seal in one corner.

Soon enough, he held a square of fabric in one hand, looking like a very small handkerchief, which he held out to the Inuzuka and his ninken.

Kisaki pressed her snout to the piece of cloth and took a few deep breaths.

“Okay,” she said when she stepped away from it, watching as Taku brought it to his face to do the same.

“Maki, Kyo, stay close to Taku and make sure to guard him while he focuses on trying to track our client down,” their sensei instructed next.

“What about you, sensei?” Maki asked, nervously gripping the handle of the short sword, a wakizashi, strapped to his side.

“There are more than one way to track people,” Katsurou said, lips stretching in a small, humourless smile. “If anyone isn't ready for this, I need you to tell me now.”

Kyo felt like her heart was beating so hard against the inside of her ribcage she was sure sensei would be able to see it. Her breath was loud in her own ears, but she didn't think she'd be any more ready a year from now.

She'd been training for this since she was two, never mind what she felt about it.

“Then let's go,” Katsurou said, turning and continuing in the direction he'd started them in. Presumably heading in the general direction the townspeople thought the bandits resided in.

As they ran, Kyo checked over her equipment, meticulously going through her weapons with sure, quick fingers.

It felt natural. Normal.

She did it every day. Most often several times.

She knew exactly what was where, without looking and without much, if any, thought.

Finishing off with the cufflinks, holding a selection of her needles, Kyo knew without pause which ones were lethal, which ones were sedatives and which ones would merely make someone immensely miserable and probably wish they were dead.

When had that happened?

The impact when she pushed off from the next tree-branch jarred her back into the present.

She couldn't afford to get lost in her own head right now; she'd die.

She wanted to go back to kaa-san and Genma, she wanted to return to the Village and wait for the next time tou-san came home.

She even wanted to see Inoichi again so he could show her his stupid greenhouses.

Taking deep, slow breaths, Kyo felt herself settle, little by little.

There hadn't been much choice involved, but she'd been overall happy in this life. She'd enjoyed most of the training she'd been doing, and a lot of it had been outright fun.

She could do this.

That wasn't even in question, really. Kyo highly doubted she was the kind of person who'd rather kill themselves than hurt anyone else.

She was too selfish.

She wanted to live.

Even at her worst moments in her past life, suicide hadn't even been a conscious option. She'd been crying her eyes out, had panic attacks and felt like things were never going to get better. But the idea of ending it had never so much as popped into her head.

What she was really afraid of, she mused distantly as she did her best to scan the forest around them, making sure to be prepared to protect Taku and Kisaki while they focused on filtering through whatever scents they found, was that it would be... easy.

Kyo had never been a very emotional person, now or Before, and-

She didn't particularly miss people when they were gone, she didn't cry often or easily, she didn't worry particularly much in general.

There had been moments when she'd wondered if she was actually a normal human being. If she was somehow defective because she didn't react the same as other people. So many people seemed so overly emotional to her and she just didn't understand.

No matter how much she'd tried.

Before-her had lost both paternal grandparents, and she hadn't even cried. She had felt a bit sad of course, however briefly, but it hadn't been... what she'd been supposed to feel, had it? Hadn't been anywhere near the emotional reaction she felt she should have had.

Clenching her hands a few times before relaxing her fingers, Kyo firmly pushed her thoughts aside.

She could have a mental crisis later, but this certainly wasn't the time for it.

She'd promised kaa-san she would do her best to come back, and tou-san expected it of her.

This was her second attempt at Life, and Kyo had been determined to do the most of it. That would mean doing her damn best to survive as long as she possibly could, even if that meant painting herself in other people's blood.

Lips twisting in a wryly amused expression at her own morbid humour, Kyo swallowed and pressed on.

Katsurou-sensei looked like he'd actually found something and was leading them along his chosen path with a new sense of purpose and determination.

Taku hadn't said anything, but they had no idea where their client had been intercepted and potentially killed, so there were no guarantees the guy's scent would be present.

.

They'd been running for about an hour when Katsurou-sensei slowed to a stop, mentioning for them to be silent.

Kyo automatically checked that her chakra was fully concealed and crouched down in front of the man to hear what he had to say.

“What do you see?” Katsurou asked in a barely audible voice, gaze flicking to the area in front of them.

“Trees,” Maki breathed in a rather weak attempt at humour that fell entirely flat.

“Signs of people,” Taku interjected tersely, sharp eyes scanning the forest floor, which was located startlingly far beneath them.

Kyo was still sometimes startled by just how huge the trees around here were.

There were paths in the foliage beneath them, though, and they didn't look like they'd been made by the local wildlife. Dead branches and other debris that usually littered the ground was absent, and the animal presence seemed to be minimal.

All signs suggesting there were people nearby. People who had been staying here for a while.

“How close?” Katsurou-sensei asked idly, and he hadn't let up on his vigil for a second, seemingly aware of everything around them.

“I can't hear anything,” Taku grunted quietly. “So not too close.”

“They're close enough they traverse this part of the forest often enough to make paths,” Kyo observed, trying to keep her voice clinically neutral. “It should be easy for Taku and Kisaki to pick up their scents and track them down that way. Unless you have other plans, sensei?”

Katsurou sent Taku and his ninken a considering look. “You think you can do it without forgetting the client's scent?”

“No problem,” Taku returned firmly. “Ground level or from up here?”

“If you can pick up the trail from up here it would be preferred,” sensei said, implying it wasn't the most important issue at hand.

“We'll do our best, sensei!” Taku promised, exchanging a look with Kisaki, who nodded.

“Yes,” the ninken agreed, tongue lolling out of her mouth in a doggy grin, before she flicked her ears and turned her full attention on their task.

Kyo followed silently when Taku and Kisaki took the lead, Maki at her left and sensei bringing up the rear.

It made her feel safe; having Katsurou behind her, even if it felt slightly irrational at the same time.

She hadn't known him that long, and while she got the feeling he was somewhat fond of them, Katsurou-sensei had been rather distant with them so far.

Which was perfectly normal shinobi behaviour, in her experience -Ryota still tried to go with the emotionless robot routine with her sometimes- but it did leave something to be desired. Sensei was a Jounin, though, and he must have survived a lot of friends and colleagues and such, so... Trying to protect yourself from any potential future loss was only natural. Human.

“Unwashed bandits up ahead, sensei,” Taku murmured over his shoulder, making Kyo look over her shoulder at the man, too.

Katsurou nodded. “I'll go in first, you three on my six. Understood?”

“Yes, sensei,” Kyo and the boys chorused, Kisaki nodding along, eyes and ears fixed on the group of men they could see between the trees now.

There was a camp. Of sorts.

Part of Kyo was a bit offended to claim it as such, because it was hardly more than a large fireplace surrounded by rocks in front of a small rock-face, which turned into something of a very low hill. Possibly made by a potential earth jutsu, once upon a time.

“Don't get killed,” Katsurou-sensei said, giving them each a heavy look, and then jumped off the branch towards the bandit camp.

Kyo took a deep, trembling breath and followed him.

The first man had already died by the time she touched the ground, lying on his back a little to the right of where she landed, with his throat cut cleanly.

She hadn't expected the chaos.

This felt like a small affair; a far cry from the battles she had been envisioning her father fighting in the few times she contemplated tou-san's missions.

Katsurou-sensei had felled the first man, though, which had sent the rest of the bandits into a frenzy, grabbing all sorts of weapons -makeshift and otherwise- and scrambling to defend themselves.

Kyo didn't think they had much of a chance against Katsurou, no matter how much they struggled.

Taku rushed passed her, teeth bared and a snarling Kisaki at his side, fingers curled like claws before he began to flash through seals to what she recognized as one of his Clan techniques.

The second she'd lingered had been more than enough -would have no doubt gotten her killed if their opponents had been shinobi- so Kyo rushed after her teammates, determined not to fail to do her part.

She could feel Maki close behind her and when one of the men, eyes wide with panic and thoughtless fear, turned towards her, a rusty old sword already swinging at her head, Kyo reacted.

It was reflex at this point.

Muscle memory ingrained so deeply into her body she didn't even have to think.

One moment, the man had been trying to take her head off, the next, Kyo had a kunai in her hand and was slipping beneath the bandits' frankly abysmal guard. Burying her knife in his groin -there were large blood vessels there that would ensure he bled out in seconds- before she headed for the next one, barely waiting long enough to make sure her first target had gone down.

By the time silence returned, Kyo was breathing hard enough the air almost wheezed through her windpipe, and her hands were sticky with blood.

Feeling particularly wide-eyed, Kyo quickly looked around to make sure everyone was alright, focusing exclusively on Taku and Kisaki, Maki and Katsurou-sensei.

The ones who counted.

“Everyone alright?” Sensei asked calmly, voice even and smooth and just as normal as it'd been since the very first day.

Kyo managed a nod.

Glancing at the boys, both looked relatively calm but pale, though Taku had blood smeared across his face which made it a bit hard to tell.

Maki looked green.

“Good, because we need to try and figure out what they did with our client,” Katsurou said, and his voice was almost relaxed, slow in a way it hadn't been before their attack. “Kyo, look through the things they've got stashed over there,” he directed smoothly. “Maki, go sit down before you faint. You two, help Kyo.”

“Yes, sensei,” Kyo said and turned to the pile of what looked like haphazardly stacked merchant goods.

She latched onto the new task with something that felt like relieved desperation.

Deep breaths, slow and easy.

Ignoring the way her breath trembled ever so slightly, Kyo clenched her teeth and set to it.

It turned out to be mostly food, fabrics and a few luxury items Kyo absolutely could not see the reason for the bandits to have kept. Other than for foolish vanity and possible gloating rights?

Once they'd gone through everything, Kyo, Taku and Kisaki returned to Katsurou, who they found crouched next to a bent over, heaving Maki.

“That's okay; a perfectly normal reaction,” sensei was murmuring quietly, though he sent them a look when they approached, showing he was aware of more than just the boy in front of him.

“Nothing that particularly stands out, sensei,” Kyo reported firmly, keeping her lips from wobbling with nothing more than stubborn bull-headedness and the promise of later. “Mostly food and fabrics, a few spices and some salt.” She shrugged. “There's also a few things that look like they stole from a noble or something.”

“Couldn't find anything that smelled like our client, either,” Taku added, and he was staring fixedly at one of the corpses littering the area. As if transfixed.

It made Kyo wonder if it was one he had killed himself.

Then again, it might have been her, but she sure as hell wasn't gonna look to find out.

In combination with his still pale face, it looked like Taku might end up joining Maki in his quest to empty his stomach of all contents.

Kisaki let out a small whine and pressed herself up against her human.

Kyo returned her gaze to Katsurou-sensei, who was an island of familiar calm in a suddenly rocky and unfamiliar world.

She felt a bit light-headed. Not like she was about to faint, but rather like she was floating a foot off the ground, not quite flying but threatening to drift away at the slightest breeze.

“You can put your kunai away now, Kyo,” sensei told her kindly, rising from his crouch next to the still-gagging Maki, and approached her.

Katsurou leaned down to slowly and deliberately close his larger hand around hers, and oh, look at that.

The kunai was still clutched in a white-knuckled hold in her hand. She hadn't noticed.

With slow and careful movements, Katsurou-sensei peeled her fingers off of the handle and then slipped the sharp steel knife back into her thigh holster. Wiping as much of the drying blood off it on the grass, first.

“It's alright, Kyo. You can let it out now,” Katsurou-sensei said softly, putting a hand on her head.

Kyo took a sharp breath, tried her best to keep back the flood, but. It was a losing battle and she knew it.

Her face screwed up and a heavy, painful sob wrenched itself from her chest.

Trying to breathe somewhat evenly despite the hysterics, Kyo brought one hand to her face to rub at her eyes and she couldn't help but relax infinitesimally at the somewhat familiar feeling.

Ah.

She'd experienced this before.

Not killing people, obviously, but shock. This was shock.

There had been an incident in the Before, in her past life. She'd been working with elders for a year, and one of them had died when she'd been with her. It had been very sudden and unexpected; massive heart-attack, she'd learned after the fact. The old woman had died instantly.

Hadn't made it any less traumatic, though. Especially considering she'd only been on the job for a month at that point.

She'd been so relieved to note her own reaction afterwards, because it had confirmed her as solidly human. Affected by the world around her just as much as anyone else.

“He was going to kill me if I didn't kill him, right?” Kyo sobbed, managing to get the words out between breaths. “Or they'd killed Taku, Maki or Kisaki, right? I did the right thing, right, sensei?”

Katsurou sighed and his hand on her head slid down to her cheek, tilting her face up so that he could look at her.

“I don't know if what we do as shinobi can be classified as the 'right thing', but it's certainly the truth that there are countless people in this world that won't hesitate to kill you and people you care about for no other reason than because of the insignia on your hitai-ate,” he said, tapping a finger gently on the stylized leaf on Kyo's forehead, nail clicking against the metal.

It wasn't useless platitudes, and while it wasn't what she wanted to hear, perhaps, it was the truth.

Kyo would take the truth over soothing lies any day.

“Okay,” she managed, breaking out in another burst of near-hysterical crying.

Katsurou sighed and, after a brief hesitation, curled his arm around her and pulled her close to his chest in a slow, awkward manner that still made Kyo want to smile, despite everything.

With no hesitation at all, Kyo threw her arms around sensei's neck and buried her face in his shoulder.

Katsurou twitched, but he accepted the hug readily enough, arm still curled firmly around her back.

After a few minutes, she managed to calm down enough that she was just sniffling rather than the gross sobbing she'd been doing prior to the hug.

“I didn't even think to use my needles,” Kyo admitted, wiping the back of a hand at her cheeks.

That first man had come at her with a sword, and Kyo wondered if some part of her reptile-brain had gone for the larger, less-fragile weapon she had access to in response.

“There's always room for improvement,” Katsurou-sensei said simply, patting her back a few times and eyeing her like he wondered if she'd burst out in new tears if he'd try to stand up. “It will be easier next time.”

Not exactly comforting words, but Kyo accepted them all the same.

“Taku, sit down a few minutes and take a breather,” sensei added, giving the Inuzuka a seemingly-casual once over before he turned back to Maki. “Feel better?”

“No,” Maki muttered, though he had collapsed down to sit on the grass, no longer throwing up and the colour of his cheeks had improved quite a bit. “That was horrible.”

“It was easy,” Kyo admitted quietly. “Like killing rabbits with tou-san,” only the thought of cooking this kill for lunch made her sick to her stomach.

“Yeah,” Taku agreed at a whisper, fingers buried so tightly in Kisaki's fur Kyo suspected it was rather painful for the ninken.

The dog didn't make a sound of protest, though.

“Actual shinobi opponents will be harder,” Katsurou warned, surveying the area with something like grim satisfaction. “But you all did well,” he praised.

Kyo sort of hated the way her insides warmed at the compliment.

She took a deep breath, wiped her puffy eyes one last time and straightened her back. She was a Genin, she'd known this was coming since the start and she could deal. Better sensei spend more time helping the two boys who were actually just as old as they looked.

“What now, sensei?” She asked, wondering where they'd go from here.

It might be the recent trauma, but she couldn't see any obvious actions from here to find their wayward, most likely deceased, client.

“Think you'd be up to searching the bodies?” Katsurou asked idly, eyeing her almost curiously.

Her cheeks felt cold, as if the blood had drained out of them quickly, but she gave a jerky, determined nod.

“What am I looking for?” She asked.

Katsurou shrugged. “Who knows? Anything that looks interesting,” he said, sitting down next to Taku. No doubt to offer whatever comfort the Inuzuka would currently accept.

Which would no doubt not be that much, judging by the look on Taku's face.

Kyo nodded, took a deep breath and then took a firm step towards the closest corpse. The following ones came easier, and if she didn't think too hard about it, it was like the man was sleeping rather than dead.

Ignore the blood, and she felt more like a thief than a murderer.

Or, she mused with a small dose of highly inappropriate humour, like she was trying to find personal contact information for an injured person she'd found. To call for an ambulance, of course.

Biting her lower lip to keep from giggling quietly to herself -what the hell was wrong with her?- Kyo went through the corpse's pockets.

Finding nothing more than a handful of coins and a few odds and ends, Kyo went over to the next one.

If she happened to studiously avoid the ones she herself had killed, then no one mentioned anything about it, and Katsurou ended up checking those ones over for her, so it worked out for the best.

“Taku, I want you to check the whole camp over for anything with our client's scent, okay?” Katsurou finally ordered, bringing the boys back to their feet.

“Okay, sensei,” Taku replied, and he sounded listless to Kyo.

Not that it was weird or anything, considering the situation, but it still made her worried.

Kyo, Maki and Katsurou-sensei watched as Taku and Kisaki began to circle the camp, inspecting every surface imaginable, with Kisaki sticking her snout in the most random places. Even if that happened to be one of the corpses' pockets.

Kisaki gave a low chuff-noise, instantly drawing Taku's attention from where he'd been poking through what looked like a bag of personal affects.

Taku removed whatever had been in the bandit's pocket, brought it closer to his nose and nodded.

“You're right. Sensei!” He turned to the rest of them. “Kisaki found what smells like our guy's wallet.”

“Charming,” Kyo muttered but followed Katsurou-sensei readily enough when he stepped forward. “You okay?” She asked Maki quietly, falling into step next to him.

“Yeah.” Maki sighed. “No.” He sent her a look. “How can you be so calm?”

Kyo gave him an incredulous glance. “You did see me crying earlier?” She asked a bit sourly. She hated crying.

“Yeah, but you're fine now,” Maki muttered uncomfortably, giving her a quick glance.

“Not really.” Kyo shrugged. “There's just not a whole lot I can do about it; I've been trained to do this since I was two.”

Maki sighed. “Sometimes, I don't know if I should be jealous of you Clan kids or not,” he muttered, and he sounded troubled.

Kyo reached out to take his hand, internally pleased by the physical contact and happy that the older boy didn't pull away.

They watched Katsurou-sensei gather up all the valuables and seal them up in a storage scroll for easier transport back to Konoha, and that was that.

They found what remained of their client a few kilometres to the north east, together with what looked like the remains of the merchant caravan he had been supposed to arrive to the village with.

“Do we bury the bodies?” Maki wondered in a slightly tremulous voice.

“It'll be hard to move them after so many days left in the sun,” Katsurou-sensei said, and he sounded like it was just another fact of life. “It'll be hard enough to collect our guy without him falling apart.”

“Sure smells like it,” Taku choked out, looking like he was a hair away from puking his guts out.

Kyo had to agree, having to force herself not to try and cover her nose, despite the fact she rationally knew that would do very little to help with the smell. She could only imagine what it was like for Taku, whose sense of smell was amplified many times her own.

“You're sure this is our guy, Taku?” Katsurou asked, crouching down next to the bloated, green-ish, near-unrecognisable form that had once been a living human being.

It was crawling with insects.

“Yep,” Taku grunted, both hands now pressing down over his mouth and nose. Little that it no doubt did to help.

“Excellent; well done. Kyo, Maki, get over here.”

Kyo forced herself to step closer to the closest source of stink of decomposition, managing to pull Maki with her as she went.

“This here,” Katsurou began, withdrawing a small scroll from one of his vest pockets and holding it up in front of them, “is what's generally called a body scroll. Black with red lining is for enemies, black with gold is for allies, and black with green is for anything else.”

Kyo nodded. It made sense.

And he proceeded to show them how to use it.

“You need to place any part of the body on the seal on the scroll, and then you activate it with a pulse of chakra, like so,” and their client's body disappeared in a cloud of smoke. “It will store the body without decomposition, or further decomposition, in this case, for up to a year.”

“So we're just gonna go back home now?” Maki asked, staring sadly at the carnage around them.

It looked like wild animals had eaten on a few of the corpses. Their guy had been mostly spared from that due to the place they'd found him; caught beneath one of the broken wagons, which had acted like something of a protective cage.

“We'll stop by the village and inform them of what happened here,” Katsurou said, shaking his head, but it was what it was. “They can do what they wish with the information.”

Which meant that these people would no doubt be left here; it was dangerous to travel in these times. And to do it for people who were already dead...

“At least it's beautiful,” Kyo murmured softly, taking in the nature around them.

The signs of the... she was loath to call it battle -nothing as sophisticated as that had taken place here- had faded in the days since the bandits had attacked and killed the merchants, and the trees around them were all tall and proud. Insects buzzed contentedly in the sunlight and birds chirped peacefully.

“There are far worse places to rest,” sensei agreed and straightened out of his crouch. “Let's head back.”

“Yes, sensei,” the three Genin replied quietly, and jumped back into the trees after Katsurou.

-x-x-x-