Set In Stone

Rating: T / PG for now. M / R in later chapters, mostly for violence.
Warnings: Violence, possible angst, genfic (so rare and underappreciated), things seen from Kiba's POV which may annoy some people? Possible yaoi/yuri/het later on.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, or any of the places and characters mentioned in that series and this piece of fanfiction. No profit is being made, I write for free.

Notes: Wow, quick update. Hopefully the rest will all be as speedy as this, though I shan't make any promises. All feedback appreciated, thank you very much. XD

Learning Curve

Konoha had been at war with the Sound village for two months. It was a far cry from serious, but everybody seemed to be treating it like more than it really was: scuffles, mostly, a mutual avoidance punctuated with violence. Konoha had had few casualties; the Sound nin were much more placid than anybody was really used to, though nobody complained.

"How come you're in Konoha, anyway?" Kiba asked his companion as they made their way through the forest, making jumps from tree to tree. "Shouldn't you be doing missions for your own village?"

Kankuro made the barest attempt at a shrug, not moving his eyes from the stretch of forest ahead. "The Hyuuga kid was passing through Sand when whatever it was happened. This is a mission for my own village." He paused, turned and shot Kiba a strange look. "We thought one of yours would want to be involved, too."

That made sense, Kiba reasoned. It was a little strange, though, why nobody else had been sent along with the pair of them. Hanabi couldn't have been in too much trouble if no medical ninja had been assigned to their mission.

Kiba thought on it, digesting the information with surprising patience. Rescue mission, three chuunins plus himself, and Kankuro was a Jounin. Plus Akamaru, and those weird dolls that the Sand guy carried around… they would be well equipped to defend themselves. Kiba doubted that much more than that would be required if the mission was a simple as it sounded, especially with Hanabi's eyes.

Kankuro didn't speak often as they travelled; the two of them made quick progress, making their way to the Sand village without any problems. They were halfway there by the end of the first day, and decided to set up their beds for the night.

The place they chose was near enough to the desert for hot, dusty winds to blow themselves into irritating places. Kiba found, upon returning from a brief toilet break during dinner, that his food was dusted over with a fine layer of orange silt. He had eaten it anyway, spitting and coughing and making a great deal of fuss about the inconvenience. Kankuro had shown more grace than Kiba had thought him capable of having, offering to sort him something else to eat. Pride had taken priority, and Kiba had declined as politely as he could manage.

As the two shinobi made up makeshift beds in the red light of evening, Kankuro glanced over at Kiba and made a clicking sound in the back of his throat. "I hope the Hokage knew what she was doing, sending a runt like you along," he commented, turning back to look at his own things, face grave.

Kiba stopped what he was doing, held his tongue and took a deep breath. It wasn't as if he was surprised: the insult had been a long time coming. He'd been making bets with himself about when Kankuro would give in and just spit it out. "We'll see who the runt is when we find Hanabi," he ground out, reining his temper in; Akamaru growled defensively from inside his jacket. It was difficult not to rise to the bait -- he wanted so badly to prove the other boy wrong right there and then -- but he just about managed it. Kankuro said nothing else.

Night fell, and Kiba watched the fire die down. It was the first week of real autumn, with brown leaves and spats of rain falling in on Konoha; but in the desert, the nights were always cold. Kankuro had made his first sensible decision of the day, in Kiba's mind, by deciding to sort them out with enough firewood to last the night.

Kiba turned in his sleeping bag, back facing the sleeping form of Kankuro. He felt out of place here. Not that he hadn't travelled out of Konoha before, but… never without his teammates. Akamaru kept him feeling close enough to home, but it seemed strange without the other two. Hinata should have been making stew and threatening to wake him up at dawn, Shino laughing and making comments about Kiba's temper. He was surprised that the thought seemed so important to him.

He was feeling homesick? Kiba snorted, berating himself for being so childish.

A rustle from behind told him that Kankuro was getting up. Kiba kept still, listening intently to the sounds the other ninja was making while he moved. The click and crackle of more logs on the fire; a soft yawn, muffled by one hand, most likely; the rustle of Kankuro's bag as he took out that creepy marionette.

Kiba shifted in his sleeping bag, and felt strangely satisfied when the Sand nin behind him went silent and tensed up. It was odd that he should seem so nervous.

After a minute or so of silence on Kiba's part, Kankuro relaxed again. From the sounds he was making, he was removing the puppet's hand and replacing something inside it.

Kiba closed his eyes, nervous at the possibilities.

The sun was fully up when Kiba awoke, light falling onto his unprotected face. He groaned and turned over, arm flung over his head, though he knew there was no chance of any more sleep. He listened to the sounds of birdsong for a few moments: the decision to get up was an important one, and required some thought. After another few moments, he got up, stretching his arms wide.

Kiba could smell water nearby; as they hadn't quite reached the desert yet, he guessed that it would be a stream running through the nearby trees. Following his nose and the slight sounds he could hear, Kiba came across it, small and hidden beneath the foliage. He dropped to the ground and scooped some up in his hands, the cold making them ache.

A sound from above alerted him to Kankuro's presence -- the Sand nin was obviously planning their route across the desert for as far as he could see. Kiba drank some water and then splashed his face, the chill waking him up.

"As soon as you're ready to go, we will," Kankuro called down to him. Kiba wondered how much sleep he had actually had -- less than he and Akamaru, that was certain -- then decided he didn't actually care too much.

He nodded, not expecting the older boy to see it, then set about looking for Akamaru. The two of them usually woke up together, but Kiba wasn't entirely surprised that he was already up. He was probably out scouting for some sort of small wildlife.

"Akamaru!" Kiba shouted, voice ringing through the quiet of the forest. "Akamaru, get back here!"

With a yap and a growl, Akamaru tumbled into Kiba's side, knocking them both to the ground. His paws left dirty streaks of mud on Kiba's coat, but he was far too used to mess to really mind. He tickled Akamaru behind the ears and clambered to his feet, grinning. "I'm ready when you are," he called to Kankuro, gazing up into the treetops.

A thump to his right let him know that Kankuro had jumped down from his perch; Kiba headed back to their makeshift camp and gathered up his things, a task that didn't take long. Akamaru clambered back into his jacket, face peeking out above the zip. He barked happily, Kankurou joined the two of them, and all three set off.

Kankuro was just as quiet as he had been the day before, so Kiba appointed it his task to make enough noise to fill the silence, shouting to Akamaru and making loud noises of approval from time to time. The morning was pleasantly warm and they made good progress to the Sand village.

"Are you always this noisy?" Kankuro asked, a few hours into their journey. His voice was disapproving, but the slight smile on his face let Kiba know that he wasn't bothered.

Kiba nodded and grinned at him; he looked forward, gazing at all the sand that lay ahead. He had made the trip before, but it seemed so much longer travelling with somebody as miserable as Kankuro had been. "Maybe if you'd actually say something from time to time," Kiba muttered, glancing across at him.

The older boy laughed. "Okay." He nodded once, and Kiba smiled. "I'll keep that in mind."

Kiba grew quieter as the day wore on, tired from the walk and bothered by the sun, but Kankuro tried to make up for it.