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Hear the Silence

Chapter Text

The morning of the test, ANBU-try-outs, whatever you wanted to call it, Kyo got up especially early and dressed with meticulous care. All without waking her sleeping brother.

After eating a large breakfast, tou-san keeping her company, Kyo wandered to the hallway to put on her sandals.

Done and ready to leave, she stood still for a moment, nerves trying to eat her alive from the inside out.

“Knowing you, you'll do better than anyone other than the Hokage and Katsurou was expecting,” Kou said softly, voice still perfectly audible in the sleepy silence of early morning. “Go take them by storm, kitten.”

“Thank you. Love you, tou-san,” Kyo returned, throwing her arms around Kou's middle for a fierce hug. “See you in a week,” she added and then left with plenty of time to spare.

The village was quiet and almost deserted this time of day, caught somewhere in the awkward transition between night and day.

Kyo made good time as she ran across the village, jumping from building to building with an ease she would have found amazing in her past life, but now was nothing more than normal. Ordinary.

Reaching her destination, she landed in front of what looked like a simple storage unit. A large, plain building that looked like it could house an impressive amount of food, weapons or whatever the Hokage chose to use it for.

She knocked on the door.

A minute later, it was opened by a wrinkled, grey-haired, whipcord-thin man who gave her a scrutinizing once-over before ushering her inside. He was missing two fingers on his left hand.

“Gear on this table, clothes on this one,” he ordered quickly and succinctly, skipping greetings and small talk entirely.

Kyo couldn't really say she minded.

Instead of dwelling on her own nervousness, she began to unstrap her various weapons pouches, her poison pack and all the gear she had tucked away on her person. It made a rather impressive pile, to be honest. Far more than looked like it could fit comfortably on her small person.

Without much care of the old man -she assumed he was a professional- Kyo continued by stripping out of her clothes until she was standing around in nothing more than her underwear, having removed even her mesh-shirt.

“The small ones are always tricky,” the old man muttered to himself when he came back from his venture into the long aisles between the shelves taking up the enormous room, carrying a stack of black cloth in his hands. “Here, try these one,” he said gruffly, tossing the stack onto yet another table, this one previously empty.

Without a word, Kyo did as asked.

It was a perfect fit. Which she found mildly impressive, considering the old man had only given her a brief glance before wandering off to find clothes in her size.

When he returned the second time, she had finished dressing herself, fastening the legs of her trousers to her shins with one roll of bandages for each.

Having her shoulders bare felt weird, to be frank, but at least she'd been provided with gloves that ended above her elbows, which she secured in place with yet more bandages.

“Here,” the man said gruffly, thrusting a grey thing into her arms. “Let's see if it works.”

Kyo examined the heavy, matt grey thing she'd been handed, realising quickly what it was. Armour. ANBU armour to be exact.

Trying it on proved that it was slightly too large, and the old man snatched it back the moment she'd pulled it off.

“Put this on while I try and find a smaller one.” He scowled, and Kyo could sort of understand.

There couldn't have been many potential ANBU as small as she currently was. Finding something that fit her appropriately would be challenging.

While she waited, she fitted the grey arm-guards on her forearms, unused to the sensation and the extra weight, but she figured she'd adjust quickly.

That done, Kyo pulled on the black, knee-high sandal-boots she'd been provided with and then moved on to the meticulous task of transferring all her weapons into the new, black holsters that had been brought to her at the same time as the arm-guards.

At least her poison pack was already a nice, subtle dark grey, and would fit in very well with the rest of her new, potentially temporary, gear.

“This one's no doubt slightly big, but it's the closest I've got,” the old man muttered when he finally came trudging back. “If you end up measuring up to the challenge, I'll get you something custom made.”

He didn't look like he thought that'd be very likely, though, and Kyo couldn't help but silently agree with him.

“Here,” he said once she was done, throwing something at her face.

Kyo caught it reflexively, blinking a bit at the plain white mask in her hand.

“Put it on before you leave,” the old man said, placing a simple, standard issue tanto on the table and then wandered off, probably not intending to return this time.

Kyo stared after him a second. He could at least have told her how to put this thing on, she mused irritably.

With a small sigh, she turned her attention to the mask, taking in the smooth, blank porcelain. Featureless. She imagined it would've been cold against her fingers, but the gloves now on her hands ensured she didn't know.

Turning it around, Kyo peered at the backside, which had been stuffed with a bundle of black cloth.

Pulling on it, Kyo was curious to note it was quite firmly stuck to the mask.

It took her barely a second to figure out what it was for.

In this world, hair could be very distinctive, and Kyo had always thought it was pretty stupid to keep it uncovered when your identity was supposed to be a secret and all.

Then again, from an author's perspective, it was hard to convey a story when the reader couldn't make out who was who, so... And she'd already established that the manga she'd read, once upon a life, hadn't been accurate.

Glancing over the inside of the mask, now that it wasn't hidden by the cloth, revealed countless sprawling black marks inked into porcelain.

Deciding to just go for what felt the most logical route, Kyo slipped the cloth hood over her hair before pressing the mask to her face.

It was smooth and pleasantly cold against her skin.

Focusing, Kyo directed a thin layer of chakra to her face. Which was something she hadn't really ever tried before, but she managed.

The mask warmed slightly and stuck to her face. As if someone had applied glue when she wasn't looking.

Great.

Now she just had to do something about the cloth over her hair, because it was far too loose to be practical.

Kyo ended up tying a small knot on either side of her head, one behind each ear, and tucking them in under the hem to make them less obvious.

That done, she picked up the tanto, weighed it in her hand and then strapped that on as well.

As ready as she would ever be, Kyo walked out the door she had entered from, not really surprised to see someone waiting for her.

The ANBU took a second to inspect her before he nodded, mentioned for her to follow him with a subtle twitch of one hand and then turned on his heel and leapt away.

Kyo followed.

.

You'd think it'd be hard to breathe and see with your face covered by a solid porcelain mask, nothing more than two small eye-holes cut into the thing, but Kyo wasn't having any trouble at all.

Which made quite a lot of sense, even if she didn't have a clue about how that actually worked.

She suspected seals. Fuuinjutsu.

Aita always went on and on about the beauty of the art whenever they got a chance to meet up, rare that it was.

The ANBU led her to a part of the village she'd never been before. Up the face of the Hokage mountain and into the forests behind it, until they reached a series of training grounds she hadn't known existed.

They weren't the first ones to arrive.

“Line up,” the ANBU told her quietly, voice blank and giving away nothing.

Kyo did as directed without a word, feeling far too nervous for something she knew she probably wouldn't pass anyway.

She joined the line of other blank-faced ANBU prospects, feeling awkwardly out of place. Like she'd taken a wrong turn and ended up in the wrong place by mistake.

Kyo was half the size of everyone else, barely reaching up to the elbow of the very tall man standing at attention next to her.

It didn't help that her skin itched with the weight of the attention on her, either.

No one said a word while they waited, presumably for the rest of the potential new recruits to arrive.

Fully fledged ANBU were all around them, some coming and going, and some felt like they swung by just to take a look at the line of prospects.

It was all very awkward and nerve-wracking.

Two more arrived after Kyo and then, finally, something shifted when one man in a mask depicting what looked like a bear stepped forward.

“During this week, none of you will remove the mask on your faces. If you do, you're automatically disqualified for a spot on the ANBU forces,” he said in a quiet but firm monotone.

Which, Kyo mused, was an excellent way to intentionally drop out if you absolutely didn't want to become one.

“You will be given a number that will be the closest thing to a name you'll have until we say otherwise,” Bear continued evenly, and then waved a hand at one of his colleagues, who stepped forward.

“Scroll?” The lizard masked ANBU said softly, beginning at the other end of the line from where Kyo stood.

She waited patiently for him to reach her spot.

“Scroll,” he asked, and Kyo readily placed it in his waiting hand, taking note of the way he'd cut the fingers off of the cloves he was wearing.

Kyo resolved to do the same at the first opportunity, because handling her needles like this wasn't something she was overly interested in trying; she'd drop them.

Lizard, or whatever his designated name was, proceeded to paint what she assumed was the number thirteen on the forehead of her mask.

Kyo felt it was a rather solid assumption, because the tall man -teenager?- to her right was number twelve and slightly-shorter man on her left had just gotten fourteen.

Having to bite back an inappropriate giggle, Kyo focused back on Bear.

Lucky number thirteen. Hah!

Should she take this as a sign she was doomed to fail already? But then again, in these parts, four was more of an unlucky number than thirteen, so maybe not.

“The testing phase starts effective immediately,” Bear told them abruptly. “It's your job to evade capture,” he said, and several muted pops went off all around where the recruits were standing.

Kyo instantly knew the sound.

Exploding tags released whatever they'd been filled with, which, in this case, seemed to be some sort of invisible substance, either a gas, or a fine powder.

Kyo took a deep breath through her mouth, stubbornly shoving down the memories this had slammed to the forefront of her head.

She knew this taste, and her theory of it being essentially harmless was confirmed; potentially killing them would be a reckless waste of resources Konoha sorely needed.

A common sedative, fast acting and potent, with very little side-effects and short-lasting.

Kyo was immune.

Instead of scrambling to get away like the rest of her fellow Numbers, Kyo remained in her spot, absently taking note of the mixed reactions. Some had left using a shunshin, others had gone for the more basic technique of leaping out of the firing-line.

Kyo was the only one who hadn't moved at all. Other than for the fact that she'd begun to speed through a sequence of hand-seals she'd been working on the moment she realised just what had been released into the air around them.

Taking another deep breath, Kyo activated her jutsu, feeling it come into effect around her together with her exhalation.

Her range wasn't very good yet, but Kyo hoped to improve that with practice, and Katsurou-sensei had said to practise her proficiency until she dropped.

Three metres around her in all directions, in a decently sized circle, the air was Kyo's.

Chakra was very interesting. It was a constant presence in her body, flowing through her limbs like blood, only it could be manipulated in a manner blood couldn't, extended even outside your body. And like blood, it was a part of her.

That was true even after she'd moulded it into a jutsu and expelled it from her body.

Using it was like using a muscle; perfectly possible but required practice. The more practice, the better the mastery.

Someone scoffed derisively, and Kyo was very well aware of what this must look like.

The kid no one really understood the reason for being there, freezing up in the face of the very first challenge.

One ANBU shunshined to right in front of her, staggered and then collapsed to the ground, unconscious.

Kyo didn't give him -or her, but most likely a him- more than a brief glance, before she returned to focusing on her jutsu.

It was weird, and tricky, and it made her feel bloated in a way she knew wasn't real. But then again, her brain was trying to control something that was much larger than just her body, so.

In her little bubble, the air was hers.

And Kyo had made sure the sedative was still swirling all around her, rather than either dissipating or falling to the ground, where it wouldn't do any good.

The unconscious ANBU at her feet drew quite a bit of attention, but most of the watchers had taken off in pursuit of the recruits trying to evade capture.

Bear was staring intently at her, probably trying to figure out what sort of technique she'd used.

Every wind jutsu Kyo had ever heard of used the force of wind either to cut or hammer their target. Kyo had wondered if the opposite had been possible, which had resulted in this.

This jutsu didn't use cutting winds or gale-force gusts in an attempt to toss your opponents around, no. It was to hold the air still.

There were obvious drawbacks, of course. Like the fact that Kyo had to remain mostly motionless while using it, and unless she set the air inside her reach into motion, she'd run out of oxygen eventually, but... she thought it could be very useful.

Such as right now.

Another ANBU operative began to approach, visibly cautious in the face of this perplexing, unknown jutsu.

Which was another point in its favour, in Kyo's opinion; you couldn't see it. Didn't notice it until it was too late.

It greatly appealed to the part inside Kyo which had been carefully moulded into a silent assassin since she was old enough to walk.

She could feel the ANBU brush against her bubble of controlled air as they slowly circled her, trying to find any indication of what was going on. When they were right behind her, they stepped over the invisible line and Kyo only had to wait for them to breathe.

If they wised up and held their breath, she'd be screwed, but hopefully, they wouldn't figure that out quite yet.

The ANBU collapsed, falling victim to the sedative, just like their friend.

Bear crossed his arms over his chest, cocking his head as he considered her.

Ten minutes after the second ANBU had stepped into her bubble, Kyo was starting to get a headache. Not from lack of oxygen -not quite yet- but from the strain of having to concentrate so intently without letting up. She'd never actually held this technique this long before, not when it was this large.

Number one, three, seven through eleven and fifteen had all been captured and collected at that point, and Kyo wondered absently if anyone would notice if she deactivated her jutsu.

It wasn't like you could see a difference, but then again, Uchiha could see chakra with those annoying eyes of theirs, so. Urgh, her head was pounding.

Taking a deep breath, Kyo had to release the jutsu or risk throwing up, and the air was getting a bit stuffy and stale around her anyway, so she relented to the inevitable and let go.

One ANBU appeared behind her and clamped a firm hand on her shoulder.

The sedative still lingering in the air made him sway slightly before he compensated for the unexpected reaction, but that was it.

The second ANBU, lying on the ground behind her, twitched minutely and shifted an arm as the sedative began to clear from their system.

By the time they had sat up, looking around in a rather dazed manner, though the mask made it hard to tell, the first one was stirring, too.

“...right,” Bear said, looking the lot of them over when the last few stragglers had been collected. “That was an interesting exercise. We're gonna have to run you lot through evasion drills,” he drawled. “Let's move on to the Hide and Seek survival training combo,” he continued, clapping his hands together and giving off a sense of foreboding glee.

And thus, Kyo got her first real look at the Forest of Death.

.

They were run through the metaphorical gauntlet, so to speak.

When they were gathered up the second day, having spent the night being hunted all over training ground 44, number fourteen was no longer amongst them, and when Two asked about it, Bear said quite blandly that they'd been disqualified and weren't coming back.

Kyo didn't really have time to wonder what they'd done to deserve that, since they were then promptly divided up into teams and assigned mock missions.

Kyo ended up with Three, Five and Nine. Their mission; to gather as much information as possible about the other teams' abilities and skills.

Hanging back while the others in her team discussed tactics, Kyo was content to just follow their lead. Partly because she was well aware no one would listen to her when they didn't even understand what she was doing there, and partly because she was content to remain in the background.

Unlike Three, who had been doing his best to attract the full-fledged ANBU's attention whenever she'd gotten a glimpse of him.

And she was pretty tired, too.

She'd been awake all night, having been constantly on the move to stay well ahead of the black ops shinobi looking for her, clamping down on her chakra all the while.

The Forest of Death had been fascinating, though, and Kyo hadn't been able to resist collecting a few poisonous plants while she'd been there. Mostly the really potent stuff you could usually only find outside the village walls.

If nothing else worked out, at least she had quite a few roots and flowers tucked away in her pack now.

“Then let's go,” Three said, his voice rather hollow, and Kyo was fairly sure the masks they were all wearing distorted their voices.

Not that Kyo had tried it out for herself; she'd had no reason to speak so far. Which was strangely nice.

She fell into the lose formation Three had all but decided for them. And who had assigned him as their team leader, Kyo wondered.

She also wondered if he realised the scrutiny he'd be under would increase exponentially with the voluntary assume of command, their failure or success weighing more heavily on him than the rest of them as a result.

Well. Better him than her.

Nine seemed to be a tracker of some kind, because he took them towards the closest team, which kicked off their spying gig.

Kyo wondered if she was supposed to take note of her own team's abilities as well, and with a mental shrug, turned her full attention to the task at hand, taking in as many details as she could while still keeping herself concealed.

The exercise lasted for a full day, and Kyo felt like she was ready to drop by the time they were recalled to 'base', which was the training ground they had all started in, on top of the Hokage Mountain.

They were told to line up, not necessarily in order, and were then handed a stack of papers each and told to fill out the forms. One for each number of the people remaining.

Oh, look at that; Six was gone.

Kyo sat down on the ground, fished a pen from one of her pockets and set to it, writing down as much information as she could recall, adding her own temporary teammates, as well.

After some consideration, she didn't write one for herself.

Katsurou-sensei had always said that it was stupid to make things easy for people, that even though it felt like a kind thing to do, in the long run, it wasn't necessarily the best option.

It was a philosophy Kyo had tried to take to heart. At least in her professional life.

Bear collected all the papers an hour later, handing them over to an ANBU with tusks on his mask. Kyo decided to call him Boar.

Boar and Bear. Heh.

And that was the sleep deprivation, she mused absently. Too little sleep had always given her a poor sense of humour.

Waiting for further instruction, Kyo grabbed her water canteen and drank two small mouthfuls, contemplating the merits of eating one of her rations bars. She hadn't eaten anything in a few hours now, and she was hungry.

Before Bear could say anything else, Kyo pulled one from her pockets, removed the wrapping and broke the bar in two, slipping half of it under the mask and cramming it into her mouth. Followed by the other half as soon as she'd chewed a few times and swallowed.

Urgh, that'd been uncomfortable, but at least there was something in her stomach now.

While they were taken to what Bear cheerfully described as an obstacle course, Kyo wondered what tou-san and Genma were doing.

She still had five days left.

.

Day four, Three was disqualified for doing something stupid and reckless that resulted in Four and Seven getting mildly injured

Kyo had been glad to see him go, frankly, because the guy had been insufferably arrogant and had been the one of the recruits who had been the most openly derisive of Kyo's presence. Not that she'd done anything to actively slow the rest of them down, never mind how much she was aching and how exhausted she got.

She was doing her best.

When day six arrived and Kyo still found herself with the mask on her face, standing together with those who remained of the recruits, she was rather surprised.

About still standing, about not having been disqualified, and certainly surprised that no one had just taken her aside to tell her to go home and try again in a few years. Better luck next time, and all that.

“It seems you have all survived the preliminaries,” Bear told them, looking just as calm and unruffled as when Kyo had first laid eyes on him almost a week ago.

Kyo herself felt like she was dead on her feet, like she was floating a foot off the ground, she was so tired.

She'd gotten maybe one night's worth of rest combined in the course of this week, and she was at her limit.

Children needed sleep damn it!

“Wait in line for the medic to look you over and then you'll be given a tour of the facilities,” Bear concluded, waving a female ANBU over, the only marked difference the hint of curves under her body armour.

Kyo had come to the conclusion a long time ago that the male to female ratio was severely skewed when it came to the shinobi profession.

While she waited, Kyo ate another rations bar, having almost emptied her entire supply in the course of the week. She was so tired of the bland taste and texture of the things, but at least it made sure she'd been able to keep up somewhat to the older people.

Not that it was an acceptable substitute for sleep, but at least she wasn't starving herself.

Kyo knew better than most people just how important it was for your body to get the nutrients it needed to function properly. Being chronically ill in her past life had taught her a bunch of important life-lessons.

The ANBU medic finally reached her and Kyo remained perfectly still when a warm hand settled on the side of her neck, humming with chakra.

“I'll tell Bear to let you rest properly before the next part begins,” she said once she'd finished her examination, patting her encouragingly on the shoulder before moving on to the next one in line.

Kyo blinked dazedly, too tired to react to much of anything right now.

It was actually a struggle not to fall asleep where she stood.

She still managed to keep up, somehow, when Bear brought them to what he called the Barracks.

The quick, brief tour passed in a blur that Kyo didn't really remember much -if any- of, honestly. She just knew that she had been assigned a room, that would be hers for the duration of her stay in ANBU -provided she didn't get kicked out in the next part of the selection process- and she didn't even think to remove the porcelain mask from her face before she collapsed onto the simple bed in her room.

She was asleep before she could so much as formulate a thought.

-x-x-x-