Thicker Than Blood

Chapter 14

The restaurant that Shisui eventually 'found' was in actuality the planned rendezvous point with their current employer; the town mayor and the owner of said restaurant.

Naruto and Sasuke were rather well-behaved and moderately silent while they waited for their food, but made sure to be lively enough that they drew the attention of the other guests and the owners. Eventually, when Naruto and Sasuke seemed to be immersed in their food, an old man strolled across the room, carrying a tray with drinks for them. He eyed the three travellers with an intense, scrutinising look that internally made Shisui want to shake his head and scold the man on the finer points of subtlety.

"It's unusual to see travellers this time of year. Especially ones as young as you." The old man stated in what had probably been intended to be a casual, friendly tone, but that sounded well-practised and anxious to the shinobi.

"Yeah, well." Shisui began, turning towards the old man with a tired air. "It's more need than pleasure that's behind this journey."

The old man blinked several times before a relieved air stole over him. That had been the agreed-upon phrase that would let the old man identify the shinobi Konoha would send. He seemed to collect himself, and sent Naruto and Sasuke a vaguely sceptical look when Naruto reached over and stole a piece of tomato from the other's plate, earning him an outraged yell from Sasuke, instigating an impromptu wrestling-match.

"Oi!" Shisui sent them a glare that made both of his supposed little brothers cower meekly and return to their seats.

"I hope there's nothing too grim that makes you take to the roads." The old man said hesitantly, drawing Shisui's attention back to him.

He grimaced and propped his chin on his hand. "I need to visit our cousins. Father's company is doing well enough to support all three of us, but I can't take care of that and those two at the same time." He muttered, mentioning towards the two children with his free hand. "My aunt offered to take care of them for a while."

The old man frowned, as if perplexed by the revelation. "And why can't your father look after them?" He sounded honestly concerned. "You're a bit young to have such responsibilities rest solely on your shoulders, lad."

"He passed away last spring." Shisui revealed, letting his shoulders slump with grief. It wasn't a difficult emotion to emulate; for shinobi, grief and loss were constant companions. "Anyway," he made an effort to push the feelings back, "do you know how the road looks from here on?"

"It's quite well-kept, but I wouldn't recommend being caught out in the open after dark." He let out a weary sigh that was entirely genuine. "We have had quite some trouble with bandits in these parts lately." He confessed with a displeased, almost pained grimace. The expression deepened the lines on his face, making him look ten years older than he probably was.

"Really?" Naruto asked with wide eyes, managing to sound both interested, excited and innocent at the same time.

"Really." The old man grunted, sending Naruto an unimpressed look. "And you should be extra careful, boy, as they target little children."

This didn't get the desired reaction, as Naruto giggled before he pressed a hand over his mouth. "You sound like Saito-nii-san whenever I won't go to bed." He told the old man happily. He scrunched up his face and made to impersonate his older brother, turning to Sasuke with a vaguely haughty expression. "If you don't do as I say, the monster under the bed will know and snatch you away when you sleep at night." He shook his finger importantly in his 'twins' face in accompaniment with the words, as if imparting some great wisdom.

Sasuke, deciding to play along just for the heck of it, nodded sagely and then turned to look expectantly at the two adults.

Shisui felt like slapping a hand over his face, but settled for letting out a heavy, tired sigh instead.

"How far is it to the next village?" He asked the mayor, pretending like he hadn't heard a word of what Naruto had just said.

The mayor, still staring blankly at Naruto, snapped his attention back to him, blinking a few times to clear his mind. "Ah, yes, of course. The next village is unfortunately a full day's walk away, so you should probably stay the night here."

"I see." Shisui nodded slowly, as if he was considering the advice carefully. "We'll be a day late, but I don't think Aunty will mind too much once I explain why." He huffed, as if irritated by the setback. "Where is the closest inn, then, old man?" He asked, not sounding quite as polite as he probably should, playing the part of disgruntled teenager quite well.

"You're in luck," The old man gave him a grim smile. "I have rooms for rent here at the restaurant, and I have one unoccupied room left. I can show it too you once you've finished your meal."

"That sounds nice, thank you." Shisui nodded to the old man and then turned back to his food. The old man quickly retreated to the kitchen, and Shisui saw an elderly woman waiting anxiously for him in the door -no doubt to hear the news and find out whatever her husband had been told. Their granddaughter was one of the kidnapped children, Shisui recalled.

"Saito-nii." Sasuke spoke up, sending Naruto a glance.

"Yes, Sora?" Shisui turned to the boy with an exasperated air. "What is it now?"

"We're done." Sasuke said, blinking large black eyes up at him with a pleading air. "Can we go out and play?"

"I saw a garden when we came in here, so we won't even have to leave the restaurant!" Naruto injected before Shisui had a chance to say anything, as if afraid they would be denied.

Shisui smothered a snort. When it all came down to it, they were counting on the fact that Naruto and Sasuke would wander off and get abducted, the sooner the better.

"Fine. But if you leave the garden, you'll be in big trouble, understood?" He gave the two a stern glare.

Sasuke and Naruto nodded dutifully, and then leapt up from their seats and raced towards the small garden.

"Thank you, Saito-nii!" Naruto shouted over his shoulder before they disappeared around the corner and out of sight. Shisui actually snorted this time and then returned his attention to his food, finally able to give it most of his attention. Now, all he needed to do was plan ahead and prepare to play the part of distraught older brother.

. o . O . o .

"Look." Naruto said in a loud whisper, pointing a one of the few trees next to the wall enclosing the garden. Sasuke sent him a glance before turning interestedly towards the tree.

"It's a tree." He pointed out curiously, as if wondering where Naruto was heading with this. "What about it?"

"I bet I can climb it faster than you!" And with that, Naruto was off, Sasuke not far behind.

They shared a brief, conspiratorial glance before they put in the time and energy to climb the tree with far more effort than was really necessary for the two of them, bantering and giggling all the while. Naruto had to confess that their time spent at the Academy with 'proper' children helped immensely right now; it was difficult to remember how, exactly, he had acted the first time around. Not that he had had friends to play with, being the village pariah, but still. Now, all he had to do was emulate what he had seen the other children do during lunch break at the Academy.

"Be careful, Nari." Sasuke panted when they were both fairly high up, making their way out on the branches reaching over the wall trying to make it look purely coincidental.

"I don't need to be careful." Nari grinned. "I'm just awesome." And with a quick glance down, Naruto made sure there wasn't anything 'Nari' could harm himself on and then 'lost' his grip and fell off the branch with a gasp and a short, shrill scream that was quickly muffled by a face-full of soft grass.

"Nari!" Sasuke let out a frightened, worried cry, quickly shuffling further out on the branch he was sitting on, peering down at his brother with wide eyes.

"I'm fine." Naruto groaned a second later. Sniffling a little, he made a show of rubbing at one of his knees and brushing himself off. "It didn't really hurt that bad." He added after a brief pause, looking up at Sasuke.

"What do we do now?" Sasuke asked, casting a worried glance over his shoulder towards the main building and the restaurant. "Nii-san said we had to stay in the garden, or we'd be in big trouble." He reminded.

Naruto blinked a few times and then tried to jump and reach the lowest branch, but it was obvious he was too short. At least if one discounted chakra, which he certainly did.

"I can't reach it." Naruto panted, frowning up at the branch and biting his lower lip. "It's too high."

"Maybe you should go around?" Sasuke suggested after a few seconds contemplation.

"By myself?" Naruto jutted out his lower lip, looking up at Sasuke with large, beseeching eyes. "I bet nii-san would tell you to come with me. You're older than me, Sora." Naruto whined pathetically, making his best effort to sound like a tired, scared seven year old. He wondered what the Kiba he remembered would say if he ever found out Naruto was using his young self as a base for his current acting... "I don't want to go alone." Naruto finished off with a whimper.

"Fine." Sasuke eventually said, obviously caving to Naruto's adorable looks and overflowing charm. "Just, move out of the way, ok?"

Naruto nodded eagerly and shuffled back. A second later, Sasuke landed clumsily -and noisily- with a thud and a small huff.

"Are you okay?" Naruto immediately asked, stepping closer.

"Yeah." Sasuke nodded, brushing himself off. "Now, let's go back to nii-san."

Naruto nodded decisively, took hold of Sasuke's hand and began to drag him off, walking along the wall. He figured that like that, he would eventually come back to the entrance. So long as he didn't get distracted along the way, which, if he was honest, was a very real possibility. Naruto almost smirked at the thought.

Fifteen minutes later, Naruto had led them on a number of detours, and they were currently making a show of being completely immersed in playing in a small group of bushes growing close to one house's garden. Naruto and Sasuke, or rather, Nari and Sora, were playing a mutated form of hide-and-seek, combining it with a game of tag. They actually played something similar back in Konoha, from time to time, but that was on a completely different level than this; involving weapons, high speed and chakra.

It wasn't until it was beginning to grow dark that Sasuke suddenly stopped. Cheeks red and slightly panting, he turned to Naruto with widening eyes.

"Nari!" He exclaimed, as if he had suddenly remembered something.

"What? Why did you stop?" Naruto asked, bounding towards his companion. "Tired?" He asked, tilting his head questioningly.

Sasuke shook his head. "It's getting dark!" He pointed out, waving a hand towards the still-darkening sky. "We were supposed to go back to Saito-nii-san!" He stated, his expression bleeding into fearful and slightly horrified.

Naruto froze and then seemed to panic. "Oh, no! We are in so much trouble!" He looked all around them frantically for a moment. He was just about to ask 'Sora' if he remembered the way back to the hotel, when a deep, rough voice interrupted him.

"You have no idea, kid. You have no idea." And then Naruto was dangling a good three feet from the ground, having been lifted practically by the scruff of his neck.

"Hey! Let me go!" Naruto managed to shout with a mix of indignation and mounting fear, before a hand clamped down over his mouth. With an iron control, Naruto forced himself from reacting violently, acting as much as he possibly could like a terrified, harmless child was supposed to act. It was very difficult, considering he had to suppress over ten years worth of battle honed instincts. No doubt, Sasuke was doing the same, as the other boy had also been grabbed.

Naruto struggled weakly against his captor, allowing himself to try and bite the man's hand, but made sure not to put in too much of an effort. It seemed Sasuke had decided to go with 'paralyzed with fear' and had tears staining his cheeks, making for a very convincing picture.

"Sora!" Naruto managed a muffled cry, reaching for his brother.

Sasuke answered with a small whine.

"Come on. The brats made it easy for us, so let's not linger longer than necessary." The man that had grabbed Naruto huffed, tucking the small boy under one arm, where his struggles were rendered less than useless. "Boss is waiting for us."

"Of course, Riku-san." The other two chorused softly, glancing warily all around them, as if expecting villagers carrying pitchforks and torches to come marching at them any moment.

Sasuke finally got a clear look at the man that was handling Naruto. The guy was huge. Probably on par with Ibiki, if he was forced to take a guess, and had a rough, angular face that had seen a fair share of weather and wind. He also needed a shave and a bath, if the state of his clothes were anything to go by. These were clearly the bandits they were looking for.

Naruto and Sasuke shared a long look, before seizing their 'struggles' and hanging limply from their captors' hands, both trembling and letting out an occasional whimper.

The three men held a quick, hushed discussion about the best way to deal with them, and then hurried off. Naruto and Sasuke had made sure to wander to the edge of the village -making it so much easier for the bandits- and they quickly left the houses behind them.

Before they completely disappeared from Naruto's view, though, he caught a glimpse of a shadow that was just a shade too dense to be natural slink into the forest, letting him know that Kakashi was following their every move. Despite the fact that he and Sasuke were more than qualified for this mission, it was nice to know that there was someone watching their backs from the sidelines.

With a subtle twitch of his left hand -a movement that would look like nothing more than a coincident to the untrained eye- Naruto let Sasuke know. The boy, pale faced and with tear stained cheeks, gave an almost imperceptible nod.

They both figured it was a safe thing to confirm, since Naruto never would have caught sight of Kakashi in the first place, if that hadn't been the man's intention.

. o . O . o .

Sooo, anyone remember what I wrote at the end of the last chapter? That you wouldn't have to wait as long for the next update? Yeah, that was a total lie. Not intentional, mind you, but still. Sorry.

Since last time, I have been accepted at a (kind of) nearby University, which means I've started studying again. Feels weird, I tell you. But that means that I have a crap-load of new things to learn and information to take in, in addition to a buss-ride of three hours each day (one and a half hour there, same going home), which eats up most of my time.

I honestly don't know when I will have time to sit down and write on this, or any of my stories, next considering that I will be moving at the end of September. Things probably won't calm down until October, but I'll try my best to get in some writing in-between school, the buss, moving and what-else...

And I can't believe this story almost has 5000 Followers! I never would have been able to guess it when I started writing this thing :) You guys are awesome, and I hope you'll be patient with me, as always.