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Hear the Silence

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“What is it this time, sensei?” Taku asked, mostly back to his normal self.

Admittedly, it'd been quite a few weeks since their sleepover, having run three missions in between. Two in-village and another short escort, this time bringing a man to his home village rather than a pick up.

It'd been pretty interesting when Taku's mother had come to wake them all up in the morning and Kyo had found herself in the middle of a big puppy-pile. Even Kisaki had joined sometime during the night.

“Courier run to a border station and back,” Katsurou-sensei said, and Kyo didn't think he looked very happy about it. “A more experienced Genin team was supposed to get it, but their sensei got pulled for another mission rather abruptly.”

“Why are you explaining this so thoroughly?” Kyo asked, peering up at Katsurou.

“Because I need all three of you to realise how serious this is,” the man said firmly, steering them to their claimed training ground. “We have a few days until we need to leave, and I plan to use them wisely.”

“More training,” Maki sighed.

“You'll be glad for it when we're out there,” sensei said sharply, giving them all an intent frown. “The closer to the border we get, the bigger the chance of enemy action. You all need to step up your games, which is why we're running extensive team exercises and doing stealth and evasion manoeuvres until you drop.”

It was a sign how serious they took it that none of them groaned.

It was a close thing, though.

Three hours later, they were all lying stretched out panting on the ground, grateful for the break Katsurou had so generously granted them.

“I still can't believe you've been teachin' my ninken stealth shit, Kyo,” Taku huffed, bordering on indignant.

Kisaki huffed right back, managing a snort, too, despite the fact she was just as wiped out as the rest of them.

“I had to do something with my time when you two were busy fighting like idiots,” Kyo returned, without an ounce of regret. “Also, girl-power,” she declared, raising one fist half-heartedly in the air above her.

“Yes,” Kisaki agreed amusedly, kicking her paws until she'd gotten close enough to lick Kyo's cheek.

“Betrayal,” Taku muttered, trying to suppress the grin that was threatening to break out on his face.

“You two should try and pay attention to the girls,” Katsurou-sensei interjected, watching them all with far too much amusement. “Kyo's the only one doing decently at the stealth exercises.”

“I've never heard of some of those techniques,” Maki mused. “Seems useful, though. Could you teach me?” He asked hopefully.

Taku slapped a hand over his mouth, eyes wide and looking slightly panicked. “You can't do that!” He hissed at his teammate, sending Kyo a quick, deeply apologetic look. “He doesn't know what he's on about; ignore him, Kyo!”

“It's okay, Taku,” Kyo smiled a little bemusedly, “I'm not offended.”

“I don't get it,” Maki admitted, pushing Taku's hand off his face and sitting up.

“Obviously,” Taku all but growled at him, and even Katsurou-sensei sighed heavily.

“Is this another unwritten rule?” Maki asked, tiredly. As if he was wondering if he'd ever learn all of them.

“Yes. Don't ask about Clan techniques!” Taku enunciated clearly, leaning forward to point his finger in Maki's face. “It'll get you killed! And us by association!”

“It can't be that bad,” Maki objected weakly.

“It's not something that's encouraged, but if someone did kill you over a secret Clan jutsu, no one would really be all that surprised.” Katsurou shrugged. “Not to mention it's pretty stupid to try something you're not sure how it works.”

“Some jutsu only work for certain families, dude,” Taku explained when Maki looked largely clueless. “I heard kaa-san say once that the last person who tried to perform a Yamanaka Mind-Walk who wasn't blood lost his mind.”

“But,” Maki blinked at Katsurou, who nodded, “I though that was just kekkei genkai and stuff?”

“Some Clans have special abilities that aren't quite blood-line limits,” sensei explained. “Like Kyo, here.”

Kyo blinked at being mentioned as an example. “What about me?”

“The Clan her mother comes from have always worked with poisons. She's already immune to a frankly staggering variety of poisons. She's worked on it for years, but if anyone not of her heritage would've tried the same, chances are they would have died painfully long ago.” Katsurou eyed them all in turn. “That doesn't mean it's classified as a kekkei genkai, though.”

Kyo peered at Katsurou. Had kaa-san told him that?

She'd known, of course, because Isshun had told her shortly before she became a Genin, during one of their lessons. She'd gone more into their history while she'd been unable to handle any poisons herself, in addition to the theory lectures.

“The Yamanaka, Nara and Akimichi abilities aren't considered kekkei genkai, either, but that doesn't mean just anyone can use them,” Kyo added, feeling rather singled out. “So be careful, okay?”

“Okay,” Maki replied faintly. “So does that mean your stealth techniques are secret?”

“Not really, I just don't know how well they'd suit you.” Kyo shrugged. “Kaa-san said they're adapted to fit our kind of chakra.”

And she wasn't entirely sure what the woman had meant by that. Because Kyo and kaa-san's chakra weren't all that similar.

Sure, Kyo's secondary element was water; which matched kaa-san's primary, but...

“But Kisaki's chakra was okay?” Taku asked, sending her an annoyed frown.

“She's well-suited for stealth.” Kyo smiled sweetly at Taku, knowing he was more inclined for large-scale, up close and person attacks, rather than small and sneaky. “I can still give the two of you pointers if you're willing to listen,” she promised.

“You still need to work on your stamina, Kyo,” Katsurou-sensei reminded.

“I know.” Kyo sighed, slumping resignedly. “Being younger sucks,” she summed it up quite nicely.

Katsurou ruffled her hair and got to his feet. “Break's over. Come on, brats; back to work.”

“If you keep this up we're gonna die before we even leave, sensei,” Maki groaned as he pushed himself to his feet, having rested just long enough for his muscles to have begun to stiffen up.

“You two really need to start stretching properly,” Kyo muttered as she, too, rose.

“Dodging practice,” Katsurou declared. And that was the only warning they got before he threw his first volley of shuriken at them.

.

“Which border, sensei?” Kyo asked while they waited on their turn to sign out of the village early the day they had to leave. It wasn't even dawn yet, the last stars still dotting the sky far above them.

“Kawa,” Katsurou said evenly.

Kyo felt her mouth go dry.

Most of the second war was supposed to be fought in Ame, but that didn't mean it was the only battle-field.

And no matter their relationship in the manga in some far-off, obscure future that might never even happen any more, Suna and Konoha were currently very much bitter enemies.

And their team was going to run straight to the Fire Country border closest to the desert nation.

Great.

Once procedure had been taken care off, Katsurou led them into the trees surrounding Konoha in a mostly west-ward direction.

They ran for about ten minutes before he slowed down and then stopped.

“Sensei?” Maki asked quietly, voice barely more than a whisper.

“These scrolls are our package,” Katsurou-sensei began, pulling three scrolls from his vest. “Our job is to deliver them to the border station or die trying,” he told them grimly. “Do any of you three feel up to the task of carrying them?”

“What?” Taku blurted, eyes widening. “Why the hell won't you take them, sensei?” He hissed, sounding a bit like an offended cat.

“Because I'm the most obvious target any enemies out for the scrolls will aim for,” Katsurou explained evenly, not so much as blinking.

By that logic, the least obvious target would be... “Oh, no.” Kyo paled, shaking her head in denial. “No. Sensei, you can't be serious-”

“I am,” Katsurou said firmly, holding the scrolls out to Kyo. “No one would expect it, and despite your less than ideal stamina, you're the best at stealth out of your team.”

“Because kaa-san's been teaching me how to be an assassin since I was old enough to walk!” Kyo hissed at him, feeling increasingly cornered. “I don't- I can do support, sensei! I know poisons, but I have no idea how I'll hold up in a real fight!” Against shinobi. Not just the glorified slaughter they'd committed on those bandits.

“You know your stealth, you can orient yourself; you won't lose your way. If we're confronted by enemy shinobi and it looks like we'll lose,” Katsurou-sensei told her unflinchingly, “I expect you to slip away and do your best to fulfil the mission objective.”

“If they can kill you, then what sort of chance would I have, sensei!?” Kyo couldn't help but demand quietly, eyes wide as she stared imploringly up at Katsurou, who met her gaze with solemn eyes.

“A small one,” he said honestly, pressing the first of the scrolls into her hand. “Put them in your pack; we need to get going.”

Movements stiff and feeling entirely off kilter, Kyo jerked her hand out of Katsurou-sensei's and stuffed the scroll into her poison pack.

“I don't even know if all of them will fit,” she muttered under her breath as she rearranged her containers and extra needles to make room for the two remaining scrolls.

“Let's go,” Katsurou said once the last scroll had disappeared into Kyo's pack, turning back in the direction they were heading.

Kyo ran after sensei, Taku and Maki on either side of her, but she wasn't paying as much attention as she ought to.

Her heart felt like an erratically fluttering bird in her chest, and anxiety was threatening to make her stomach turn. If an enemy saw them now, she didn't doubt that they'd be able to guess what she was carrying from just the look on her face and the stress she was all but radiating.

So Katsurou figured Kyo would be the least likely person on their team pegged by enemies to carry their scrolls.

Sure.

All nice and dandy.

Didn't change the fact that Kyo felt like she had three lead weights in her pack, pulling on her and threatening to make her hands tremble.

Hours passed as they ran, and nothing happened.

Four hours in, Katsurou-sensei glanced over his shoulder.

“Kyo,” he said, making her snap to attention. “Come on, I'll carry you for a while.”

There'd be no breaks on this run.

“Okay, sensei,” she said, and the next branch she landed on, Kyo gathered her legs beneath her and leapt onto Katsurou's back.

It mostly worked because he'd slowed momentarily, waiting for her to make her jump, like they'd practised.

No longer moving by her own power, Kyo noticed just how tired she was.

Pulling an energy bar from a pocket, she peeled the wrapping off and stuffed it back in another pocket and then quickly ate the thing. She washed it down with a mouthful of water.

After she'd offered her water canteen to sensei, she finally relaxed against the man's shoulders.

“But what if I fail, sensei?” She asked quietly.

Kyo didn't feel like his strange and daunting trust in her had any basis in reality.

“That's always a risk. Even for me,” Katsurou returned after a small pause. “We can only do our best; even the Hokage acknowledges that.”

“I don't like it,” she admitted softly, well aware that the only reason sensei heard her at all was because she was speaking right next to the man's ear. “It feels like it's too much.”

Katsurou sighed. “It's only for the absolute worst case scenario,” he reminded her. “We're all going to do our best to stay alive and finish the mission together, and I'm not telling you to abandon the rest of us at the first hint of danger.”

“Okay,” and strangely enough, that did manage to make her feel a bit better.

The chance might be there whenever they left the village, but that didn't mean it would happen, not necessarily this time, and maybe not even the next one.

But then again, it might...

With a quiet sigh, Kyo rested her chin on Katsurou-sensei's shoulder and focused on the forest around them. She wasn't running, but that didn't mean she could just zone out and leave everything to the rest of her team.

-

They didn't draw near to their goal until dusk that night, and Katsurou had ended up carrying each of them in turn to give all three Genin a chance to rest.

He'd carried Kyo three times, all in all, while Maki and Taku had only gotten one hour's rest each, but neither of the boys had complained about it.

They hadn't really talked during the run, all of them too tense and apprehensive for casual conversation. But there was still a marked difference to the air between them when they were about an hour away from the border.

“Everyone try and clamp down on your chakra,” Katsurou instructed quietly, proceeding with more care than he had so far.

Kyo knew that if anyone planned to ambush them, this would be the easiest stretch to do so.

Dampening her chakra was something of a second nature by now, but Kyo concentrated and smothered her own signature as much as she could, all but erasing her own presence.

Sensei gave her a pleased nod and then glanced expectantly at the boys.

Maki was doing fairly well with the stealth exercises their teacher had introduced him to; all he needed was practice.

Taku was having a bit more trouble, but he tried his best.

The forest was starting to look different, Kyo mused as she scanned their surroundings, following Katsurou forward.

The waning light didn't exactly help, making her even more unsettled and on edge.

From Academy lessons on the Elemental Nations, she'd learned that Kawa no Kuni, the Land of Rivers, was less deep forests and a bit more... hilly. With plenty of rock and rivers to cut through the landscape until it became more sparse and dry the closer to Suna you got.

They had their own shinobi village, too, but it was small and considered largely inconsequential by Konoha and the other major villages.

“Almost there,” Katsurou-sensei told them in a barely audible voice.

Ten minutes later, Taku and Kisaki both cocked their heads, almost simultaneously.

“I can hear sounds of fighting, sensei,” the boy informed them tersely, though he looked more determined than scared.

Kyo wished she could say the same about herself.

Katsurou shot him a sharp look, but nodded. “Where?”

“A bit south-west of our current direction,” Taku answered after a brief pause, pointing.

“Change of plan, kids,” sensei said, adjusting their course accordingly. “You four stay out of the fight and stick to each other, understood?”

“Yes, sensei,” all of them chorused quietly.

It felt like time sped up, because they reached the battle-field far too quickly for Kyo's tastes.

The first thing that registered other than the outright terror coursing through her veins was; chaos.

This place was complete and utter chaos!

There seemed to be shinobi everywhere, men wearing the Konoha hitai-ate and the standard uniform, but also shinobi dressed quite differently.

Suna, Kyo noticed faintly, and then she had to get her head back on straight, because Katsurou-sensei jumped right into the thick of it without hesitation or pause.

Kyo grabbed the boys and pulled them closer to her, tugged them deeper into the shadows.

Everyone was moving faster than what should be physically possible, flitting around the forested area, clashes between opponents making the noise close to deafening.

There were shouts and screams, that sharp clang of metal on metal and the loud roar of jutsu being executed, fire, wind and earth.

As she watched, Kyo saw a Konoha Chuunin struggle against the beefy Suna shinobi he was fighting. He didn't look like he could be more than fifteen, and before she realised what exactly it was she was doing, Kyo had sent off one of her needles.

She watched wide-eyed as her harmless-looking projectile buried itself in one of the Suna shinobi's calf muscles.

He might not know it, but she'd just killed him. That was one of her lethal needles.

“Remember what sensei said,” Taku hissed at her, barely loud enough to be heard over the sounds of battle all around them.

“I'm staying out of it,” Kyo returned dazedly. “But some of them look like they'll die,” and she threw another needle.

Taku eyed her a moment and then with a shrug, withdrew a handful of kunai from his holster and tried to hit the enemy shinobi closest to them.

With varying levels of success.

Kyo didn't hit with all of her needles either, but a needle was harder to notice than a kunai, and most shinobi wouldn't be used to register things that were smaller than a senbon and didn't carry any chakra.

The first man she'd hit staggered and his Konoha opponent took the opportunity to slice his throat with the short sword he held in one hand, and then immediately rushed to help one of his comrades.

“Can any of you see sensei?” Maki asked from beside them, having taken up the job of look-out without prompting in an attempt to make sure no one attacked them while Kyo and Taku were doing their best to support the fighting Konoha shinobi.

“No,” Kyo answered distractedly, scowling as she threw another needle at a guy who flitted around enough he was really hard to hit. “But he looked like he was heading into the thickest of it,” she added when her latest needle finally grazed the guy's arm.

A scratch was enough.

“He's kicking ass in the middle,” Taku agreed as he threw a shuriken at what must be an enemy Chuunin.

The Jounin all moved too fast and were too experienced for them to have much chance of hitting.

“Look out!” Maki shouted, grabbing both of them and pulling them backwards off the branch they'd been perched on a second before it was cut to bits by a violent wind jutsu sent their way by a Suna Jounin rushing passed them.

Katsurou-sensei was hot on the guy's heels, though.

“Thanks,” Kyo panted and threw another two needles, barely taking the time to right herself on the tree trunk she was now sticking to with chakra.

Maki was too distracted by watching the chaos to answer her.

She had no idea how much time had passed since they'd gotten there, but it could be anything between ten minutes and two hours -she honestly couldn't tell- when the Suna shinobi finally started to back off, successfully pushed back towards Kawa by the Konoha side.

The Suna shinobi grabbed injured and their dead and turned tail, leaving panting Konoha shinobi, injured, dead or just exhausted in their wake.

“Wait,” Kyo said softly when Taku made a move as if to jump down from their perch and go look for Katsurou. “Not yet.”

Everyone was a bit too high-strung right now, and Kyo didn't want anyone thinking they were Suna shinobi waiting for one last sneak attack.

Friendly fire was just as dangerous as enemy fire. More so sometimes, because you weren't expecting it from people who were supposed to be on your side.

After another few minutes, Katsurou gave a low whistle and Kyo released her hold on both Taku and Maki's arms.

The boys and Kisaki jumped down to join their sensei and the shinobi who hadn't pursued the Suna nin to make sure they were really going back over the border and weren't trying to just circle around to attack them from behind.

“Kyo, you too!” Katsurou-sensei called when she took too long.

“Sorry, sensei,” she apologized, still feeling rather wide-eyed and shaky now that the worst of it was over, jumping down to join them on the ground.

“So this is your team, Katsurou?” One man, who looked to be around their sensei's age, asked, giving them all a quick, assessing once-over. “That one's a bit too small, isn't he?” He added, nodding at Kyo with a slight frown.

Kyo blinked at him and glanced at Katsurou, whose lips twitched minutely. “Don't mind him, Kyo. He's been out here so long his manners have slipped.”

“Who the hell threw the bloody needles?” Someone asked, reaching down to pick one up from where it'd gotten stuck in a dead branch.

“I wouldn't touch that if I were you,” Taku drawled, braiding his fingers together behind his head, watching the guy with idle curiosity. “Specially not if ya've got any open wounds or scratches,” he added with some interest.

“Kyo, go collect the needles you can find,” Katsurou-sensei sighed exasperatedly. “We don't want anyone accidentally nicking themselves, since I have this feeling you were using the actually lethal ones,” he muttered fondly.

Kyo couldn't quite defend the grin stretching her lips, but it just sounded hilarious. “Okay!” She chirped and began to track down the needles she'd missed with.

At least she'd tried to take note of where they landed, which she was grateful for now.

She didn't become aware of the handful of subtle stares on her person until she returned to Katsurou-sensei with a pretty hefty fistful of needles.

Oops... she hadn't quite realised she'd thrown so many.

By the raised eyebrow Katsurou gave her, he was aware of it too.

“Maki, can you hold them for me while I sort them?” She asked the boy, who froze, eyes widening and looking quite cornered all of a sudden. “Come on, if you stand still none of them will do anything. It's just for a minute!” Kyo cajoled. She didn't want to sit down out here in the open.

“Fine,” Maki grudgingly gave in. “But if I die, you get to tell my parents.”

Kyo smiled and placed her needles in the boy's raised palms.

The way he froze and looked more like a statue than a living human was far more amusing than it had any right to be, Kyo mused absently as she picked up the first needle and brought it to her mouth to lick it.

Ah, oldroot.

Kyo put it where it belonged and moved on to the next one.

Soon enough, she was done and Maki took a deep, relieved breath.

“Thank you, Maki,” she said, grabbing his hand in hers and swinging it a bit back and forth between them.

Maki snorted, looking embarrassed, but indulged her. He secretly love it, Kyo just knew it.

“Right,” the stranger said, sounding mildly perplexed, before he turned questioning eyes on Katsurou.

“Akaro, meet Shiranui Kyo; my poison specialist,” Katsurou sensei introduced with plenty of dry amusement. “Her teammates are Inuzuka Taku and Minami Maki,” he added, because fair's fair.

Kyo waved at the man, who raised an eyebrow ever so slightly, and then snorted.

“Alright, let's get back to base,” Akaro declared, shaking his head, most of the humour bleeding out of his eyes. “Bring the dead.”

Kyo glanced around and realised that the injured had already been whisked away while she'd been distracted.

...she needed to pay more attention to what was going on around her.

“Come on,” sensei said, mentioning for them to follow him when he jumped back up into the trees.

.

The border station was very well hidden, and Kyo had no trouble at all admitting that she would have continued right passed it if no one had been there to show her the way.

It was an underground bunker.

Katsurou and his team were led inside by Akaro, who seemed to know exactly where everything was, despite the pitch black room just inside the door. The only source of light came from the door, and that closed pretty quickly behind them.

Kyo automatically reached out to fist a hand in Katsurou's shirt, latching onto Taku with her other one.

It was a simple but effective enough first defence, she supposed, blinking blindly at the dark.

After the door closed, there wasn't any difference between having her eyes open and closed, which was a bit freaky just on its own.

The were led through what felt like a corridor, through a few twists and turns, and then a door opened in front of them.

Kyo clenched her eyes shut at the sudden bright light. She still hadn't gotten the worst of it, because she was right behind sensei, whose body worked like a shield.

“Crude, but effective,” Katsurou mused lightly.

Akaro shrugged. “'S not even close to all we've got, but it's something.” And he took them through what looked like it could have been any number of different buildings back in Konoha with one distinct difference.

There weren't any windows.

“Ya got any antidotes, kid?” Akaro asked after a moment. “The iryou-nin would be glad to take a look at them; Kami knows the Suna scum are fond of their concoctions.”

“Sorry,” Kyo said after a brief pause. “I don't.” It was the first time she'd felt really guilty about it. “I could give them a few samples of my poisons, though?” She offered hesitantly.

That would help, wouldn't it? If the medic got a chance to study her poisons they might be more prepared?

Akaro shrugged, though there was a speculative glint in his brown eyes. “Better than nothing, I suppose.”

And he opened the door to an office and marched up to the desk, taking the chair behind it and turning to face Katsurou-sensei.

“The latest missives?” He asked briskly.

Katsurou waved Kyo closer, and she quickly handed back the three scrolls, glad to finally be rid of them.

Akaro raised an eyebrow, eyed their team and accepted the scrolls with amused approval.

“You always were a crafty bastard,” he said fondly as he placed the important delivery on his desk. “I have a few things to send back with you, but I suppose you'd like to rest up here for the night.”

“It would be preferable.” Katsurou rolled his shoulders with a shallow nod.

Akaro inclined his head. “There's room in the barracks; I'll have someone take you to an unoccupied room once we're done.”

“Brats, wait outside the door,” Katsurou instructed promptly. “Kyo, keep an eye on them and make sure no one dies while I'm busy.”

“Yes, sensei!” Kyo promised with an amused smile and pulled the offended boys with her when she headed back for the door.

“He always does that,” Maki grumbled sullenly as soon as the door had closed between them and their sensei.

“We're not stupid,” Taku added hotly, crossing his arms and scowling at the opposite wall.

“You're just a bit impatient,” Kyo agreed. “And I think he mostly does it to mess with people,” she added thoughtfully. And because he no doubt thought it was great fun.

“People,” Taku repeated flatly. “You mean me an' Maki.”

“Not just you.” Kyo snickered. “Haven't you ever noticed the look on people's faces when he does that? It messes with their perception of us and makes them question themselves, whether they're aware of it or not.”

“Ah, you're a pretty smart cookie, aren't you?” An unfamiliar voice asked, dripping with good humour and suppressed laughter.

Kyo jumped and turned to face the... teenager that was suddenly standing in front of them. He looked a bit familiar, and she had just pieced it together when he leaned forward to peer curiously at her.

“I came by to say thanks, because that guy from earlier was really giving me trouble, and I might'a died or something equally unpleasant if you hadn't done your neat little needle trick, chibi.” He grinned.

Kyo could feel Taku bristling protectively beside her. “Hey, back off, creep!” He growled before she could do anything to calm him.

“It's fine, Taku,” she hurriedly placated her sometimes rather prickly teammate. “And you're welcome, I suppose,” she added to the stranger.

He had pale red hair and tan skin, blue eyes that were a shade more towards grey than her own.

“Say, how old are ya? Look a bit young to be a Genin yet,” the teenager mused, looking completely unperturbed by Taku's glare and Maki's growing uncertainty.

“Six,” Kyo answered honestly, peering with growing curiosity at the guy. He was a bit rude, perhaps, but he wasn't making her uncomfortable.

“Oh, you're just tiny,” the guy laughed, reaching towards her with his hands as if he was going to lift her up, but the door opened behind them, making him freeze.

“Aita, good. You can show Team Six to one of the unoccupied rooms,” Akaro's voice said, and the man was eyeing the teenager with a slight frown when Kyo glanced over her shoulder. “Don't bother the Genin,” he added with a long-suffering sigh.

“Too late for that,” Taku scoffed irritably and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Come by my office before you head out in the morning,” Akaro added to Katsurou-sensei, who nodded and ambled out into the hallways to join the rest of them.

'Aita' laughed awkwardly and scratched at his cheek. “Sorry, sorry,” he apologized. “It's just, I've been the youngest guy around here for a while now, so it was just nice to see someone else who's not a stick in the mud, ya know?”

“How old are you?” Kyo asked curiously, trying to gauge the guy's age. She'd thought he was fifteen, sixteen maybe, but she could be wrong. She'd always been terrible at guessing people's ages.

“Almost fourteen!” Aita said, perking up. “I'm here with my uncle, but he's no fun. I'm Uzumaki Aita,” he belatedly introduced himself, a wide grin on his features.

“The barracks,” Katsurou reminded him, and he sounded resigned to the fact that this would no doubt take a while.

“Shiranui Kyo,” Kyo returned mostly without conscious input, because what?

He was an Uzumaki? What?

There were Uzumaki in Konoha outside of Mito and Kushina? Wait... was Kushina even in the village yet?

Had Uzushio been destroyed yet? That would be big enough news she was fairly sure she would hear of it, even before she'd become a Genin.

Kyo blinked and tuned back into the present only to realise that Aita had begun to lead them through the corridors with familiar ease, prattling on about nothing and everything while he was at it.

“Uncle gets sent out here a lot and he just dumps me on the closest border station whenever he does. It's pretty boring, unless I get to fight like today!” He fairly bounced. “Not that that happens very often,” he added, deflating again. “And there aren't really any interesting people around here.”

Which Kyo took to mean there weren't anyone around his age here he could hang out and or play with.

“How come you're sent out with your uncle, anyway?” Maki asked curiously.

“Oh, he's not really my uncle, actually. More like...” Aita scrunched his face up in though. “Eh, he's a relative. And I'm his apprentice, so he doesn't really have much of a choice, ya know? Only he says his missions are too dangerous to drag me along, so here I am.” He shrugged. “Well, here we are,” he stopped in front of a smooth wooden door, which stood open to reveal a simple room taken up mostly by four bunk-beds.

Big enough for two teams, Kyo realised.

“Bathrooms and toilets are down that way,” Aito pointed further down the hall, “and the Mess is down to the left at the first turn down that way,” and he pointed down the other way, the direction they'd actually come from.

God, this place was confusing. It was like a maze.

Which was no doubt entirely on purpose, she realised tiredly.

Thinking about it, she was exhausted.

Katsurou-sensei gave them a scrutinizing look. “Food, then sleep,” he decided after a brief pause.

“Want me to show you to the Mess Hall, too?” Aita asked, quite eagerly.

Sensei sighed, but waved him on in the direction he'd pointed at earlier.

The Uzumaki boy practically lit up and bounced ahead to show them the way, barely taking the time to breathe between the constant monologue he somehow managed to keep up.

Kyo frankly didn't listen to a word of it, too busy to keep awake and look like she wasn't falling asleep on her feet.

It'd been a long day; up before the crack of dawn, running all day and then the battle earlier.

Sure, Katsurou-sensei had carried her a few times, giving her semi-regular breaks, and she hadn't participated in the battle as such, but it had still left her positively drained of energy.

Someone placed food in front of her, and Kyo ate quickly and mechanically, hoping to finish before her eyes betrayed her completely and refused to open the next time she blinked.

“Come on, Kyo,” sensei murmured, picking her up.

Kyo jerked her eyes open, blinking around in confusion. “Hm?”

“Bedtime,” Katsurou said firmly, settling her on his hip with a sigh.

Kyo might have protested -they were on a mission- but she was too tired, and it was pretty comfortable.

Her head came to rest on Katsurou-sensei's shoulder as if of its own volition and she was out cold before they'd left the dining hall. Mess hall, whatever.

-x-x-x-