Disclaimer: Naruto is the intellectual property of Masashi Kishimoto, Shueisha, VIZ Media, et al. No money is being made from this story and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Author's Note: This is a request ficlet for socchan, in response to the prompt: I don't suppose I could wheedle one of Yukiko's early genin missions out of you? I wrote it in January 2007, but it took me a year and a half to get around to cleaning it up or cross-posting it, because it's so ridiculously self-indulgent.

"Give and Take" should make sense even if you haven't read "The Way of the Apartment Manager," but you won't have any reason to care about Yukiko, and I'm not sure why you'd bother reading backstory on an original character without any prior connection.

Summary: A few years before the Kyuubi's attack, Ayakawa Yukiko's genin team travels to southern Fire Country on a deeply boring search and retrieval mission.

Give and Take

"This is stupid."

"I know, Ame. You've only told us ten thousand times already." Yukiko shoved her hair out of her face, wishing it would hurry up and grow long enough to put into a ponytail. Autumn in southern Fire Country was hot and humid with the promise of rain -- she hoped they'd finish their mission before the winter storms.

Ame sliced two strips of bandage from her wrists and reached over to fiddle with Yukiko's hair. "Seriously, this is the stupidest mission we've had yet. It doesn't take four people to search one village for a lost necklace, even if the necklace is that stupid daimyo's family heirloom." She tied off one pigtail and turned Yukiko's head to gather the rest of her hair. "He should just have somebody make a copy -- no fancy artwork is worth this aggravation. There. That should keep your neck a little cooler, at least."

Yukiko shook her head irritably. "It's valuable because it's old -- I think it was made by some famous jeweler down in Water Country about six hundred years ago. And you know I hate pigtails!"

"But you look so cute!" Ame said, fluttering a handful of shuriken in front of her face like a silk fan. The gesture went well with her elaborately looped and braided black hair, but clashed horribly with the bandaged forearms, the tight black bodysuit, and the giant shuriken blades slung behind her shoulders.

"Cute is for civilians," Yukiko grumbled.

"Cute is cute -- it's for everyone! Besides, neither of us will ever be beautiful like Kasumi, so we work with what we have, ne? I do exotic and dangerous, and you do cute."

"I'd rather do competent," Yukiko said, kicking her heels against the leg of the public bench. "Bet you Kasumi gets back with the ice cream before Hoshi-sensei finishes up in the pawn shop."

Ame stuck out her tongue. "No deal; I'd just be stealing your money. Hoshi-sensei always shows up before you think he will, and you know some idiots will flirt with Kasumi and slow her down. I told you I should go buy snacks instead."

"You'd scare the vendors away. I should've gone. I know how to bargain better than either of you."

"Bargain, shmargain. Kasumi always--"

"--gets discounts, I know. It's not fair. You'd think the spear would put people off." Yukiko reached up to untie her left pigtail.

A small shuriken intercepted her fingers, not quite drawing blood. "Don't undo my hard work! If you don't like pigtails, you should buy hair clips instead, or find a jutsu to make your hair grow faster. Of course, then I'd just have to get more creative with my styling..."

"Please do bear in mind that your fashion choices must stand up to field conditions, Ame," a soft voice said from behind them.

Yukiko twitched. Ninja were supposed to be sneaky, but Mokume Hoshi was so good at masking his presence it was scary. He swore it was fairly simple genjutsu, and that she just had to learn enough precision to handle the chakra flows, but she didn't think she'd ever be as good as he was.

"Where is Kasumi? I seem to recall telling you three to wait together," Hoshi-sensei said, leaning against the back of the bench. Yukiko checked his wallet, but it was no thinner or fatter than when he'd gone into the shop. No purchases; they'd have to keep looking.

"Um," said Ame. "See, you were taking such a long time, and it's been a while since lunch..."

"She went to get snacks," finished Hoshi-sensei. He pressed a hand to his face, pinching the bridge of his nose, and then ran it back through his ginger hair. "You do understand the concept of orders? Please tell me you understand that concept."

"Sorry, Hoshi-sensei," Yukiko said, ducking her head. "It was my idea."

"Don't listen to her -- it was totally my fault!" Ame said, shoving Yukiko in the shoulder.

At that moment Kasumi dropped down from a nearby roof, golden hair whipping out behind her like a pennant. She carried a small insulated bag in her left hand; her right hand clutched her spear, which dug into the ground for balance. Something bright and sparkling was wound around the base of the blade, and Kasumi reached up to untangle it as she walked toward the bench.

"I'm sorry I took so long," she said, "but look! The vendor's daughter had climbed up into a big maple tree at the edge of the square, trying to get something glittery off one of the high branches. It turned out to be a fancy necklace, and her father gave it to me after I kept the girl from falling and breaking her neck. I think it's the necklace we were looking for. And I got the ice cream for free, too!"

Kasumi brandished the necklace toward her silent teammates, smiling. Then she noticed Hoshi-sensei. She blanched. "Oh. Um. Sensei. Would you believe me if I said the ice cream was one of Yukiko's illusions and really I've been hiding on the roof to keep a better lookout and just happened to find the necklace in the gutter?"

"I doubt it," Hoshi-sensei said dryly. He looked at the three nervous, guilty girls and sighed. "Technically, I should punish you for disobedience, but I understand your frustration and you do seem to have completed our mission ahead of schedule. I'll let you off in return for your ice cream."

Silently, Kasumi handed him the necklace and the insulated bag.

Yukiko bristled at the unequal division. "That's not fair! Why should you get a snack when Kasumi did all the work?" There was no way they would have found the stupid necklace following standard search patterns, not for at least another week. Beside her, Ame buried her face in her hands.

"You already know the answer to that question, Yukiko. It's your ice cream or remedial water-walking sessions all night," Hoshi-sensei said as he tucked the necklace into his vest. "Possibly remedial Henge lessons for you, until you can transform without using genjutsu to cover the flaws."

Yukiko fabricated a smile. "Enjoy your ice cream, sensei! We'll get out of your way while you send a message to our employer." She grabbed Ame and Kasumi's hands and ran down the street, pulling them after her until they skidded around the corner.

"Yukiko! Now he's going to be angry with us," Kasumi scolded, leaning on her spear and brushing her hair out of her face.

"He's already mad -- who cares about a little more?" Yukiko wiped her sweating palms against her pants and grinned at her teammates. "The important thing is that now we can go buy more ice cream. Right, Ame?"

Ame grinned back. "You're completely nuts and we're going to be stuck doing remedial taijutsu for months. Yeah, I'm in. What about you, Kasumi?"

"I want you both to know that I think this is a bad idea," Kasumi said as a wide, sunny smile fought its way onto her face. "I should come along and try to keep you out of trouble."

Yukiko clapped her hands in satisfaction. "Great! Last one to the square pays the bill."

They raced down the street together.


AN: Thanks for reading, and please review! I'm particularly interested in knowing what parts of the story worked for you, what parts didn't, and why.