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Hear the Silence

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Kyo was on a mission deep in Tetsu no Kuni when she turned nine, trying to find any information they could scrounge up on a potential alliance between Iwa and Kumo.

It was interesting to see Hawk, Hyena and Horse at work, doing something they were quite clearly very skilled at.

She learned a lot.

But ANBU team 23 weren't the only ones she ended up working with; Kyo felt like she got assigned to all sorts of teams, and quickly found that border patrol as an ANBU was both boring and far more interesting than she could have imagined.

So far, she'd experienced another battle like that first one and two occasions of enemy teams trying to sneak across the border. And that was just when Kyo had been there; she couldn't imagine how often that happened on average.

In between, there were hours upon hours of just running through Konoha's forests, of course. Which was both exhausting and somewhat mind-numbing after enough hours had passed.

Back in the village, Kyo was in serious need of replenishing her stocks, both for pure poisons -she'd made several batches that were stashed in Ryota's house while they dried- and coating needles in various substances.

With the new turn of her career, Kyo was going through a lot of them.

All of it made her realise just how shielded from the war she'd been before, how far sensei had gone to try and protect them.

Within the scope that he'd been able to, at least.

So Kyo settled down in one of the ANBU training grounds to coat several bundles of needles in various poisons and sedatives.

Home wasn't really an option, because tou-san was back in the village, so Genma spent a lot of time there, being the ever-curious almost-three year old.

Kou and Kyo had both agreed that it would be best to keep the sharp, lethal things away from Genma for a while now, since he'd taken up the habit of putting almost everything in his mouth if it looked interesting enough.

It hadn't helped that he'd seen Kyo hold a few of the needles between her lips and had wanted to try it for himself.

Ryota's house was out, because the man had grudgingly conceded to the Uchiha Elders' demands and had begun to at least meet their potential bride candidates. Her dad's teammate would no doubt have embraced Kyo's request to work there had she asked, but she hadn't thought it would have been a good idea.

That would only draw out the inevitable. And it wasn't like she could change someone else's Clan; that sort of change had to happen from the inside.

So! She had settled down in one of the ANBU training grounds. She'd thought it was quite the clever solution, despite the fact that she'd had to change into her uniform and don her Scorpion mask for it.

Kyo had spent hours on her task, having gone through almost all of her new needles, the already laced ones laid out beside her to try in the sun.

Looking forward to be done with it and go home for some well-deserved lunch and then play with Genma for a few hours, maybe take him to the park? Kyo didn't think much of the pair of ANBU who had joined her on the training ground about half an hour ago.

She'd made sure to sit herself down off to the side where she wouldn't be in the way if someone else came along, so it wasn't like it was an issue.

Absorbed in her work, Kyo didn't think much of the build up of chakra behind and to the side of her; these people were comrades, she shouldn't have to watch her back.

That all changed when cold, unexpected water cascaded down over her head, and -more importantly- over her work station.

Ruining hours of work and several batches of poison.

Kyo's fingers slowly curled into fists, even as the rest of her was still frozen in shock.

A pair of quiet sniggers behind her was all that was needed for her temper to snap. She could almost hear the sound of it echoing in her mind.

Dripping wet, Kyo slowly stood to her feet and turned around.

The two idiots didn't even try to act innocent, or hide themselves. They were just standing there, huddled together, laughing.

Oh, Kyo would give them something to laugh about!

Giving no warning at all -they didn't deserve one- Kyo calmly walked towards them, taking care to keep her body-language relaxed and amicable. Hyena had been giving her pointers.

When she was just a few paces away, she stopped, tilted her head and said, “You really shouldn't have done that,” in a mild voice.

One of the boys -and they very clearly were- snorted, but she didn't give them a chance to say or do anything.

She flicked the fingers of both her hands, at the same time, and three needles buried themselves in each of the boys' shoulders.

There was a beat of surprised silence, where the two boys looked down on themselves, blinked at her a bit, or so she assumed; they were wearing masks of their own. One of them took a step towards her, stance beginning to lean towards the aggressive, while the other one growled.

That was about as far as they got before both of them stumbled, and the shorter, slighter one fell on his ass.

Kyo watched dispassionately as they succumbed to the pretty volatile mix of sedatives.

They'd feel like shit when they woke up. Utterly miserable.

Kyo relished the thought.

Not having the patience to deal with her ruined work right now, Kyo grabbed the two idiots by the shoulder straps on their body armour and began to drag them back to headquarters.

Taking pity on whatever person was responsible for the hapless morons, Kyo generously dragged them face up, heads clear off the ground.

It was hard work, and she had to strengthen her muscles with chakra to manage, but like hell was she going to let that stop her.

She hadn't removed the needles from their shoulders. They were going to have the worst hang-overs when they eventually woke up.

“Scorpion? What is the meaning of this?” Gecko asked sharply.

It was the same person who had handled part of Kyo's selection, though she'd referred to him as 'Lizard' in her head at the time, before she'd been informed of his real code-name.

“They decided to ruin four hours worth of work for me,” Kyo told him calmly, absently wondering why everyone was staring at her. Sure, she was dripping water all over the floors, but at least she wasn't smearing blood everywhere.

It wasn't like something like this couldn't ever have happened before. There were idiots everywhere; shinobi and ANBU were no different.

“Are they dead?” Gecko asked curiously, poking at one of them with the toe of a sandal.

“No.” Kyo smiled. “But they'll wish they were when they wake up.” And she unceremoniously dropped the two of them to the floor. “Excuse me while I go salvage hours and hours of work now, and I might have to go visit training ground 44 to replenish my stocks after all the poison they just ruined,” she all but hissed, sending the two unconscious assholes a scathing glare. “Oh, and I would remove those needles from them, if I were you. And find a medic. Or you can just leave them as is, I don't care,” she said blandly to Gecko and then shunshined out of ANBU headquarters without further ado to go assess the damage back at the training ground.

Kyo was furious.

So much time and effort just carelessly destroyed because -what? They wanted to haze her? They thought they could do whatever they wanted because she was a kid?

What the hell!?

Giving a frustrated huff, Kyo took in the state of her previously carefully ordered needles, wanting to weep when she saw the current mess.

Her needles had been washed all over the area, the poison no doubt washed off, or at least mostly and they might have mixed and- she was going to have to carefully clean every single needle and then do all of this all over again.

Kyo felt a few tears of pure frustration and pent up aggression leak from her eyes before she took a deep, trembling breath and shoved her useless emotions aside. That wouldn't help anything or anyone, least of all her.

With angry efficiency, Kyo set about gathering up her scattered needles, fully realising that she would have to go through everything, what she had on her person, too. Just to be sure that hadn't been ruined, as well.

Thank all the Gods her poison pack was water-proof.

But the needles in her cuff holsters were useless now.

The different poisons, never mind the sedatives would have all mixed together and seeped into the fabric, so she would have to wash those carefully as well.

And using needles she wasn't sure what they did would just be stupid. And reckless.

Feeling like she was going to cry, Kyo gathered everything and brought it back home. All of a sudden, she had so much more to do.

Genma would be disappointed.

.

Kyo was in a lousy mood.

The Incident the other day was still pissing her off, and she hadn't gotten to work it off any, since she didn't want to take her frustrations out on her friends and family.

Katsurou had taken one look at her and snorted amusedly, muttering about 'those poor fucking idiots' the moment she'd told him about what had happened.

She'd been helping him home, cleaning out his house for him since he'd finally been released from the hell that was the hospital.

She'd even cooked him several large meals, portioned them into plastic containers and thrown most of them into the freezer for him, to make sure he always had something to eat even if he didn't have the energy to cook.

Katsurou may be well enough to leave the hospital now, several months after being injured, but that didn't mean he was perfectly healthy.

Kyo hated the way his hands shook when he got tired, and how his breathing was still suffering from the inhaled poison. Even though he'd breathed in just a tiny amount, the long hours before he'd gotten help ensured it had left lasting damage.

At least the medics were hopeful they'd be able to fix it given time. Most of it.

They weren't sure.

“Konoha needs every man she can get,” Katsurou had told her, ruffling her hair. “So try not to kill them, okay?”

Kyo had given some light-hearted, cheery answer along the lines of 'No promises!' but that was actually pretty close to the truth.

She'd never been the kind of person who held on to her anger, to any grudges she might have. But Kyo was having a really bad year, and this had just... been the last drop.

It was too much.

Having most of her fellow ANBU keep a respectful distance to her when she walked into headquarters was both weird and somewhat pleasing, but Kyo mostly didn't care. It wasn't like she would take out her shitty mood on people who hadn't done anything.

“I heard you're having an interesting week,” Bear commented casually where he was lounging on the couch in what Kyo had taken to call the ANBU Common Room.

It was more of a large meeting room, actually, but it was also used by people who needed to wind down and couldn't do it alone.

Sometimes, it helped to just have people around you.

“I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about,” Kyo said back, entirely unamused. She wasn't having an interesting week; she was having an awful one.

Bear hummed. “Well, as long as you don't kill anyone. I'm not anyone's nanny.” He shrugged, got to his feet and strolled off.

Kyo felt a reluctant grin pull on her lips. That was all but permission, wasn't it?

Awesome.

Those two fucking assholes better pray they didn't come across Kyo anytime soon.

After running through team exercises with team 23, Kyo and Hyena went to the cafeteria for some much-needed sustenance before they'd continue with sparring -urgh- and Kyo studiously ignored the way some shinobi eyed her with twitchy unease.

It was even more obvious on the ones who were walking around without their masks on, having opted to wear them clipped to their belts inside the safety of ANBU headquarters.

“Man, you're one small package of terrifying whoop-ass,” Hyena cackled quietly.

He was the one she'd connected the most with so far, both in ANBU in general and on team 23. He had an awesome sense of humour.

“Thank you,” Kyo returned evenly, scanning the crowd and, of course, spotted one of her new least favourite people. “Let's eat before Hawk changes his mind,” she muttered, mood instantly plummeting again.

If he knew what was good for him... he better stay away from her.

Kyo had just sat down next to Hyena, fully prepared to focus on her food and nothing else, when Idiot nr 1 walked up to their table, looking generally disgruntled.

“Hey, I get you might be a sore looser and everything, but there's no reason to drag this out to unreasonable proportio-”

Kyo stabbed him quite casually with one of her needles. Right into the back of his hand.

The guy swore, snatched his hand away from where he'd placed it on the table close to Kyo's food tray and backed away several steps.

It was far too late for that, though.

Ignoring him completely, Kyo ate another bite of her lunch.

Hyena was shaking with silent laughter next to her, watching Idiot 1 stagger once the sedative began to affect him.

It was another one of her less-than-kind ones, but at least she'd just dosed him with one sort this time. She was so kind and generous, she mused wryly.

Seriously, where had this vindictiveness come from? She couldn't remember being like this once upon a time in the Before.

The guy finally collapsed and Kyo, quite amusingly, had finished eating. “Let's go back?” She asked Hyena, stubbornly ignoring the silence and the excessive attention fixed on her.

She was not the one in the wrong here, damn it!

Did people seriously not realise how much time and effort went into her poisons? Did they think she just bought the stuff? Kyo felt like scoffing.

“Of course, little Scorpion,” Hyena agreed amicably, not bothered at all by the display. If anything, he seemed thrilled.

They put the trays with their dirty dishes away and then stalked off.

.

“You've got a mission, Scorpion,” Hawk said, tossing her a scroll.

Kyo looked up from the scroll she was already reading and caught the slow projectile easily. “Oh?”

“Not with us,” Hawk clarified, a bit redundantly.

Kyo had gathered as much when he said 'you' instead of 'we'.

Rolling up the scroll she had been reading with a small sigh, Kyo climbed to her feet, waved good bye to Horse and followed Hawk out of the room.

“Do you know with who?” She asked once they were in the corridor.

Hawk shrugged. “I doubt you've worked with them before.”

And there was just something about the way he said that that put her on edge. Not necessarily because she was scared, but Hawk sounded almost... amused? Vindictively smug? Entertained?

Regardless, it made her wonder what sort of situation she was about to walk into this time.

Hawk led her to one of the spaces teams frequently used to meet up in, only for her to come to an abrupt halt in the door.

“You have got to be fucking shitting me.”

It took a moment for Kyo to realise it was she who had just spoken.

But... it was true enough.

“I feel like I ought to tell you to mind your language, but,” Hawk tilted his head. “Feels a bit out of place.”

And there was definitely a smile in the bastard's voice.

“You,” Kyo said flatly, pointing accusingly at him. “Putting you on my shit-list as we speak, taichou.”

“I'm not the one assigning missions,” Hawk returned in a mildly offended manner.

“Shit-list. Hawk added,” Kyo grumbled. “I'm poisoning your water canteen the next time I see you.”

Hawk eyed her warily. “I'm going to assume that since you're saying this out loud, you're merely venting your emotions,” he said. “Hopefully,” he added in a quiet mutter and left with a quick, comforting pat on her shoulder.

Kyo eyed Idiot 2 for a second, and then approached the team of four. Which meant she was an add-on this time around.

“Nice to meet you,” she bowed politely to three out of four. “I'm Scorpion, I really don't like that guy,” she said by way of introduction, jabbing a finger at Idiot 2, who twitched minutely.

“So I've heard,” who was most likely the taichou drawled, making Idiot 2 shrink into himself a fraction. “I'm Wolf. The moron over there is Crow. These two are Stag and Sloth,” he introduced.

Kyo nodded at Stag and Sloth in turn, wondering if either of them was a Nara. Both names were remarkably fitting for that particular Clan.

“So what kind of mission is it? I just got this and haven't had time to read it yet,” Kyo said, wiggling her hand holding the scroll.

“Border support, we'll be gone a while, so pack accordingly,” Wolf answered promptly. “Meet back here in half an hour,” he added, dismissing them.

Kyo nodded and shunshined to her room.

It was a good thing she'd stashed enough gear here she didn't have to run home every time she got an unexpected mission.

Tou-san knew what it was like, but Genma was having trouble understanding why she just disappeared sometimes.

And now it looked like she'd miss his birthday, too. He was turning three in just four days and if Genma had gotten to decide, she and Kou would be home all the time. Always.

Grabbing the things she wanted to bring, Kyo checked over her uniform and the weapons and provisions she had tucked away on her person, and then hurried back to the meeting spot.

Wolf-taichou was already waiting.

“I'm gonna have to ask,” Kyo said, feeling mildly apologetic. “Have you read my file?”

“I have,” Wolf replied, thankfully not sounding like he had taken offence.

“Oh, good.” Kyo sighed. Not everyone read it all that carefully. Or so it seemed.

Instead of saying anything else, Kyo sat down on the floor, opened the mission scroll and began to speed read everything that had been written inside.

Great. They were going to patrol the border to Ame. Kyo was going to die.

Awesome.

The one stretch of border that was seeing the absolute most enemy action, and Kyo, all of nine, was being sent there.

Yup, she was definitely going to die.

Wolf crouched down in front of her when she tucked the scroll away. She'd leave it with someone before they left; less useless weight to carry around.

“I'll carry you most of the time, so don't worry about that,” the man said. “I expect you to be honest about your own energy and chakra levels, too.”

Kyo nodded, not feeling particularly happy, but she was honest enough she knew it was best for everyone, but most of all her, if she didn't push herself too far before even reaching any sort of destination.

It would put extra strain on Wolf, though.

As if reading her mind, the man chuckled softly. “You're pretty small, so it won't be a problem.”

Kyo tried not to scowl.

She had grown taller, damn it!

“Should I be looking out for any other acts of stupidity from Crow?” Kyo asked grudgingly into the following silence.

Wolf shook his head. “No. He and his friend have attracted quite a bit of unfavourable attention with that stunt of theirs,” he said, sounding vastly disapproving. “Kasai gave them a formal reprimand.”

Which was news to Kyo.

At her no doubt discernible surprise, Wolf snorted. “Disregarding the fact that pissing off a comrade to that point is incredibly stupid, never mind a poison specialist, sabotaging a fellow Konoha shinobi to such an extent... it's unacceptable.”

“Glad to hear it,” Kyo muttered, feeling a bit awkward now.

Wolf nodded and straightened out of his crouch, turning to the door a second before Sloth and Crow came walking in.

Stag arrived via shunshin a moment later.

“Let's go,” Wolf-taichou said, mentioning for them to follow him as he strode out of the room.

Wolf ended up carrying her all the way to the border, where she slipped off his back with a quiet 'thank you' and proceeded to run by her own power.

Sloth and Stag didn't seem to have any problems with this arrangement, but she could feel the glances Crow kept sending her, all throughout the first day and night.

When false-dawn lit the eastern horizon in a pale, greenish light, Wolf adjusted their course slightly and steered them towards what Kyo realised must be a border station.

Getting a few hours' rest sounded very nice.

As usual, it was easy to acknowledge that she never would have found the building without anyone to guide her there, which was entirely the point. Kyo followed Wolf as he entered, patiently waiting for someone to come meet them.

“Sloth, you show Scorpion to the closest bunk,” Wolf ordered when someone finally came to verify their identities and let them inside the station proper.

“Yes, sir,” Sloth returned calmly.

Crow gave a soft snort that Kyo was perfectly willing to ignore; wasn't her problem. And instead followed Sloth down the twisting corridors.

Sloth opened the door to a room and Kyo readily enough walked inside, finally taking off the ANBU cloak she had donned when they'd gotten close enough to the border, when it had started to rain.

As already established; water didn't agree very well with her needles.

Contemplating the question of if she wanted to bother with a shower, Kyo finally just let herself fall onto the closest bunk she came across, pleased to note that there were eight in this room. Which was plenty enough for all of them.

Throwing the blanket over herself, Kyo put her head on the pillow and closed her eyes to sleep.

.

It established something of a routine.

She could tell this was something Wolf's team had been doing relatively often, because all of them seemed familiar with the border stations they visited.

Kyo caught sight of Aita in one of them, and she perked up happily before she realised she couldn't approach him. Not as Kyo, and Scorpion had no reason to talk to the red-headed Uzumaki.

At least she got to see him; make sure he was alright. Note down how tall he'd gotten since they'd last met up. Then again, he was sixteen now? Practically an adult. Almost.

Definitely by shinobi standards.

Then they reached a border station that made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.

She couldn't say what, exactly was making her uneasy as hell because nothing looked out of place, this station just as hard to find as all the others had been.

Wolf came to a stop in a large tree, mentioning for the rest of them to be silent.

Despite it being second nature by now, Kyo checked to make sure her chakra was firmly under wraps.

'Crow, you see anything?' Wolf signed.

'Nothing,' the teenager replied in kind.

Kyo could tell that all of them were tense. Something about this place felt off.

There were no obvious signs of foul play, but then again; no one had come out to greet them, either, and there was always at least one team hidden outside a station at all times as sentries.

This was not looking good.

'Let's take a look,' Wolf signed, and he looked grim, the emotion conveyed through his body-language and the way his hands moved through the signs.

Wolf easily found the entrance, and cautiously creeping inside, they got their first confirmation that something was very wrong.

The second door, the one that actually led into the station proper, was stood ajar, and from what they could see, all the lights were off.

Hyper-alert, noticing every shadow, every hint of a noise, Kyo followed Wolf deeper into the seemingly deserted building.

Then they came across the first body.

He hadn't been dead long, judging by the state they found him in, and the Konoha hitai-ate on his forehead was very telling.

Kyo was pretty sure she already knew what had happened here.

Wolf mentioned for them to continue, leaving the Konoha Chuunin where he lay, for now.

They searched the whole building, finding more corpses, destroyed equipment and so much blood, but they couldn't possibly have found everyone that must have been stationed here. There should be more bodies.

By the looks of things, the attack must have taken place some time during the night, perhaps so far back as a day ago at most.

They couldn't find any sign of who had done it.

'Where's the rest of them?' Kyo signed when it felt like they'd looked everywhere. It was taking more time than it felt like it should, but they were being very careful, prepared for any traps that might have been left behind.

They'd found two already.

Sloth had meticulously disabled one, and Crow had warned them not to go into one of the back rooms, pointing out several things to Wolf that Kyo hadn't been able to make out.

She trusted their judgements, though.

Wolf tilted his head, as if considering something, and then mentioned for Kyo to come with him, sending the rest of the team off to continue the search.

Kyo watched curiously, walking right behind the man, as he took them deeper into the eerie place, walking confidently through twisting and confusing corridors designed to make you lose your orientation.

“There should be a hidden level beneath this one,” Wolf said in a barely audible voice, pausing to consider a perfectly ordinary-looking stretch of wall with far more interest than Kyo felt was warranted.

She could deduce there was probably something more to it, though.

“You don't think that one looks the same?” Kyo asked, keeping her voice just as quiet.

“Only one way to find out,” Wolf muttered and pulled a kunai from a holster, stabbing it into a seemingly random spot on the wall.

Which, with a quiet groan and scrape of stone on stone, slid back to reveal a narrow opening, barely large enough to let Wolf-taichou through sideways.

Kyo had no problem walking through normally.

On the other side, it was even darker, and it took a moment for Kyo's eyes to adjust.

It just... looked like an empty, dusty storage room, a couple of wooden crates stacked against one of the walls.

Which was a hint enough that it wasn't. Things very rarely were only what they looked to be in the shinobi world.

Kyo subtly fluctuated her chakra to make sure she hadn't walked into a location-based genjutsu, and then walked further into the room when she couldn't detect anything.

Wolf sent her an amused glance, but didn't stop his own inspection of the room.

“Here,” he said softly, crouching down in the left-hand corner closest to the 'door'.

Kyo walked over to see what he'd found.

There were faint marks etched into the floor. Looking like nothing more than random scratches at a glance.

“These places are made to be a last resort, and are almost impossible to get into from the outside,” he told her.

“Almost?” Kyo tilted her head. That word made all the difference in that sentence.

“If you know what to look for, there's a loophole,” Wolf agreed. “A small one,” he added giving her a pointed glance.

Kyo blinked. “They could kill me, thinking I'm one of the enemy shinobi,” she pointed out, rather flatly.

“Which is why we will be doing this very carefully,” Wolf returned, not so much as missing a beat. “There are air-vents, but they'll be impossible to so much as find. What I'm banking on, however,” he trailed off, wiping the dust away from some of the marks on the floor.

Fuuinjutsu. Of course.

Wolf cut his thumb on a kunai and dragged the small injury over some of the seals, which made them glow with a soft, eerie light.

There was another sound of grinding stone, and then a small section of the wall next to Wolf slid open, barely large enough for Kyo to fit.

She stared at it.

Well. She supposed it was a good thing she'd never been claustrophobic.

“They're intended for summons, if I remember correctly,” Wolf murmured quietly. He turned to give her an expectant look.

Kyo sighed. “Yes, sir.” She gave an absent salute as she considered how to do this.

With a mental shrug, Kyo kneeled in front of the square and went in, arms and head first.

If there were any people down there, still alive and conscious, she wanted to be able to defend herself at least somewhat if they decided to attack her before she got a chance to announce herself.

It was formed like a chute, going at a steep angle almost straight down.

It was nothing but rough stone, though, so there was no danger of her slipping uncontrollably, even without chakra.

It reminded her vaguely of that one time she'd gone spelunking in her past life, when she'd been in the United States. That had been an almost oppressively tight fit, too, feeling like she'd had the weight of the entire mountain pressing down on top of her.

Her hands finally brushed against a hard, smooth surface, which was quite neatly blocking her way. Her exit.

If there'd been room for her ribs to expand that much, Kyo would have sighed again.

Feeling along the surface, lid, whatever it was, she could feel faint patterns carved into it.

Going by what she'd witnessed Wolf do just a minute before, Kyo pulled a needle from a cuff holster and jabbed it into one of her index fingers.

Then proceeded to trace the pattern with her bleeding digit, hoping to hell and back she wasn't about to activate something that would kill her.

Instead of the increasingly morbid scenarios flashing through her mind, the edges of the square stone glowed softly, and then dropped away.

Smashing to pieces on the floor somewhere beneath, judging by the sound.

Taking as deep a breath as she could of the relatively fresh air, Kyo curled her fingers around the edge and pulled herself a bit further down.

“Anyone in here?” She asked calmly into the darkness.

God, she hoped so, or she had gone through all this nerve-wracking effort for no reason, and Wolf would have to try and talk her through how the hell she was supposed to get out of here again.

“Identify yourself,” a soft but even voice said from off to her right, closer to the floor.

“Scorpion, Konoha ANBU operative, part of team 17 under Wolf-taichou,” Kyo replied promptly.

There was a heavy sigh and a soft, flickering light was turned on. “About damn time,” the same voice muttered.

Kyo blinked rapidly as her pupils contracted, taking in the single room beneath her.

It was smaller than what she had imagined, with crates stacked in the back. There were also injured men stretched out on almost all of the floor, with just a few who seemed healthy enough to be ready for battle.

It seemed to be luck more than anything else that the stone lid hadn't hit any of them when it fell to the floor.

A stressed-looking medic was tending to the injured and the man who had spoken rose to his feet from where he'd been crouched, drawing Kyo's attention.

“May I enter?” Kyo asked evenly, not taking anything for granted.

“Yeah, just don't step on anyone,” the guy huffed amusedly, giving her an interested look.

It was a look she was fairly used to by now, and knew it was because of her small size in combination with the ANBU mask.

Kyo exhaled and wiggled herself further out the hole at the same time as she pulled herself down with her hands.

Sticking her palms flat to the ceiling with chakra, Kyo pulled her legs free and dangled from the ceiling by her hands for a moment, before she swung her feet up to stick them to the surface instead, walking over to the wall and down to the floor.

All without stepping on a single one of her comrades!

“So,” Kyo said once she was stood on the floor next to the exhausted-looking shinobi she'd been talking to. “How do we open up this place?”

“You are one tiny ANBU,” the man mused, blinking slowly at her, having to look down as the top of her head barely reached his chest.

Kyo could forgive him the reaction, because he frankly looked like shit.

“Other than a couple of traps, we haven't been able to find any trace of whoever attacked this station. If they'd been lying in wait, they would have attacked my team and I by now,” Kyo said evenly.

At least, that was what she'd been able to deduce from Wolf's actions. She seriously doubted he would have been willing to lead any potential enemies to this sort of knowledge.

“Over here,” the man muttered after a few second, having clearly needed a bit extra time to process her words.

Kyo could sympathize; she knew what it felt like to be so exhausted you were barely capable of coherent thought.

And with no further fuss, he slapped a hand on a palm-sized seal carved into the wall, pulsing his chakra once.

Expecting it by now, Kyo didn't even blink at the sound of grating stone. She was pretty grateful for the normal-ish sized door that appeared in the wall, though.

Seriously, just the thought of having to crawl back up that stone chute was enough to make her shudder. No thank you.

“Wait here and I'll get taichou,” Kyo suggested before she slipped out and began to climb the narrow stairs.

Now that help had arrived, the shinobi who had assumed something resembling command had relaxed, and as such, would be deteriorating quickly, his exhaustion in the process of overwhelming him.

Kyo ran up the stairs and slapped a bloodied hand onto the seal in the wall leading into the dusty room Wolf was waiting in.

“Taichou,” she said to draw the man's attention, despite the fact that it was rather unnecessary, since the opening of the door had been anything but discreet.

Wolf gave her a nod and followed her down the stairs to assess the situation.

All in all, there were five shinobi who were as close to uninjured as you could get. Two of whom were medics and looked like they were on the verge of collapse.

There were three shinobi who were injured but clear-headed and well off enough that they could probably fight if it came to it, and six shinobi who were unconscious.

Fourteen men in total.

That was a depressing number of survivors, and that was if all of them even made it back to the village. Which wasn't anywhere near certain.

Once Wolf had gotten as much information from one of the alert shinobi as he'd been able to on short notice, Wolf left for the outer room again, Kyo at his heels.

She watched him flash through a series of hand-seals and then press a hand to the floor. A second later, a large wolf or dog stood before him, giving him an expectant look.

“Wolf,” it greeted idly.

“I need you to run a message to Konoha for me,” Wolf said without preamble, and proceeded to hand her the scroll he had been writing down the account and a few more things into while listening to the report of what had happened.

“Yes, sir,” the summons said, scroll clamped securely between impressive teeth and ran towards the exit.

Kyo crossed her arms over her chest and gave Wolf a long, unimpressed look.

He turned to eye her questioningly, head tilting a fraction before he understood.

“I don't have any summons that small.” He shrugged, and she could feel the amusement coming off of him.

Kyo gave an unimpressed hum.

She was covered in stone dust. Her uniform wasn't actually black any more. All of her was grey.

The flicker of amusement faded quickly, though, and Wolf sighed. “Go fetch Stag for me, and notify the others of the situation. Tell Sloth to put up a parameter and go with Crow to patrol the area. Flare your chakra if you come across any problems,” he ordered.

Kyo executed a crisp salute, fist over her heart as she bowed shortly, and took off in the direction she'd last seen Stag.

If she'd understood things correctly, the man was proficient in iryou-ninjutsu, which would be a relief for the two medics down in the bunker.

.

'So some of them are still alive?' Crow signed as they jumped from tree to tree, checking for any sign of enemy presence.

'Fourteen,' Kyo confirmed, scanning the ground below them while Crow covered the trees.

'Shit.' Crow visibly sighed, though Kyo didn't hear it.

She silently agreed. And this also meant they had no idea what this stretch of the border had seen in the last day. Half a platoon of enemy shinobi could have slipped by without any of them being the wiser.

Which was a frightening thought.

Not to mention whatever information they'd been able to get from the bunker itself and the long-reaching impact it could have on the war.

They didn't talk more than that during their circuit around the border station. While Crow had been carefully professional towards her during the length of this mission, so far, that didn't mean they were automatically friends or something.

Like hell.

Kyo was still irritated about the whole Incident; how could anyone be that stupid? She'd thought ANBU were supposed to the best or something.

But she was willing to look passed it if Crow behaved, so long as there were no future repeats. Towards her or anyone else.

Fuck, what if she'd been slotted to leave on a mission later that day? The day after? It would have been a disaster and she might have died due to lacking equipment.

That wasn't something you just swept under the rug and forgot about. No.

She'd still give him a chance, though. Because at least Crow hadn't approached her to gloat/rub it in her face and indirectly call her a whiny baby. Like his friend had done.

-x-x-x-