A/N: Hello. Been a while, hasn't it? I've recently heavily revised this story, so I highly recommend you reread it from the beginning again. There has been quite a few changes. Thank you for your patience. Enjoy.

"Takahiro?" a soft voice questioned, a pair of jade-coloured eyes looking at the familiar face.

A small smile appeared on her associate's face as Saki had opened the door of her house, her gaze blank but from the tilt of her head and slight furrow of her brow, she was confused as to why he had come. She was also wondering why he knew her address when she had never brought him over or told him where she lived.

"Hey, Saki." he greeted, moving one of his hands to scratch that back of his neck. "How have you been?"

"I've been fine." the Haruno girl replied stoically, before stepping back and opening the door further as a gesture to let him in. "Come in. I was about to make tea."

Takahiro nodded, stepping into the Haruno household and removing his shoes before following the carminette past the dining room and into the kitchen. His aqua eyes took in his surroundings, finding the house to be rather homely and neat compared to his own place.

He watched as his… friend (?) silently made tea with a frown. He'd always wondered about their relationship, he'd first met her when he had injured his hand at the academy and she appeared out of nowhere and just silently mended it. She didn't say anything until he thanked her and then asked for her name.

Naoki was always with her, and Takahiro had it ingrained within his mind that whenever there was carmine, light blue would always be near. Despite the fact that Saki herself said that the orphan boy was dangerous, their peers were rather partial to him as he seemed to know exactly what to say to the right person and it made him rather popular. The eggplant-coloured boy knew that the other boy immediately seemed less accommodating when Takahiro decided to approach Saki with the blue-haired boy near.

He wasn't the brightest of their class, but he wasn't dumb so he could tell that Naoki wasn't keen on allowing him into their small circle. It took time, but eventually Naoki seemed to at least accept him as part of the group after some negotiating with Saki.

Takahiro was more partial to Saki, even if she was blunt with her opinions and didn't seem to care whether Naoki was being a terror or not. She healed his wounds as best she could, which was far more than what his peers or even his father could do.

She told him to be careful when he trained, sometimes she would allow the two boys to eat some of her lunch. The young Oshiro had come to see the two of them as friends even if neither had outwardly stated such.

"What did you come here for, Takahiro?" Saki inquired softly, breaking the comfortable silence as she brought him a cup of tea and sat across from him.

Takahiro blinked, snapping out of his thoughts as he focused on her sipping her tea with a grace he could never pull off. "I wanted to come and tell you that tou-san was looking for helpers at his shop, and since I knew you wanted to know some more about weapons… I guess it seemed like a good opportunity, especially since we're on holidays." he replied, looking to the side as he picked up his tea and blew on it.

She blinked. "Ah, I see. Thank you, I would like to help out. A good learning experience, I believe. Though I hope he doesn't mind me being unable to carry out some of the more taxing tasks."

The aqua-eyed boy smiled. "Don't worry, I've got that covered. He'll pay you as well for your time, so it's a good part-time job for the holidays." he took a gulp of his tea. "He's also been wanting to meet you for a while now."

"Will Naoki be there?" the carminette asked, she looked thoughtful for a second. "I'm assuming that you learned where I lived from him, so he must've pestered you to tell him why you were visiting." she assumed, smiling slightly as she eyed his facial expression.

Takahiro was grimacing at the memory and at her deduction skills. "He was going to follow me, but his guardian told him to finish up his chores."

Saki nodded in understanding. "I won't be surprised if he manages to get one of the other orphans to do his work for him. If I could, I would attempt to stop him from being an irritant to them… but he'd more than likely ask for something outrageous in return for leaving them alone." she sighed, taking another sip of her tea. "I'm surprised to find that he hasn't visited at all during the holidays, he must be busy."

Her classmate noticed how her face scrunched up slightly as if the tea tasted terrible. He looked down at his own, but it tasted rather nice to him. Of course, since his father was terrible at making tea, it wasn't hard to beat the quality. "That's Naoki for you, I guess. You're right, he'll be helping out too." when she took another sip and the expression appeared again, he asked, "Is the tea that bad?"

Her eyes shifted to land on him. "I put in one of my poisons into the mix," she told him stoically, ignoring his alarmed expression, "I'm building up my tolerance. The kind of poison I'm taking is harmless by itself, but when added into liquid it becomes poisonous. I put medicinal herbs in yours."

Takahiro merely nodded dumbly, not really understanding. He wasn't about to ask why she was poisoning herself, but he had enough faith in her to know that she wasn't about to kill herself from taking too much. Saki was too smart to do such a thing. "I see… like training?" he inquired.

"Mmm," she hummed agreeably, "I wish to make myself immune to all kinds of poisons, since I intend to work with them in the future. How is your training going, Takahiro?" Saki questioned, her eyes scanning over what she could see of him to check of injuries.

He smiled a little, touched by her subtle notions of caring. "It's going well, tou-san and oji-san's intense as always. I recently met a man named Might Gai, who could a member of our family with him also having a passion for taijutsu. Gin-sensei is nearly always with him too." Takahiro revealed, finishing his tea and gently placing it on the table. He couldn't taste the medicinal herbs at all, which he usually found to be bitter. The tea was pleasantly sweet.

"I know of them," Saki replied quietly, finishing her own tea and getting up to wash both the cups, "'Konoha's Sublime Green Beast of Prey' and 'Demon Wielder of a Thousand Weapons'. Rather intense titles, I think. Kobayashi-san trains you as well?"

"Sometimes. Gin-sensei, tou-san and oji-san are close since tou-san is the one who provides him with all his weaponry. Gai-san claims that Gin-sensei has been his eternal rival since they were children." Takahiro laughed a little as he remembered the conversation. "One time, Hatake Kakashi came in when Gin-sensei was around and decided to thank him for bringing Gai-san's attention away from him all those years ago. Hatake-san and Gin-sensei seem to get along well too, from what I've seen."

"It seems your store gets a lot of famous shinobi coming by," Saki noted wiping her gloves free of the water on them, silently appreciating the idea of getting waterproof gloves. It was always a pain when her gloves got wet, it was like having to wear wet socks and walk in them.

The young Oshiro nodded, standing up from his seat and pushing the chair into the dining table. "There's a few other weaponsmiths in the village, but our one has the highest quality weapons so a lot of shinobi who can afford to come there. The wares are expensive, but quality costs and no one complains unless they want to get punched."

Saki nodded, stepping past him and causing her associate to intake the scent of flowers and herbs. "I was about to leave for the library just before you arrived, but I can make the visit to the blacksmiths now." she said, putting on her shoes.

Her classmate's gaze shifted around, noticing the lack of sound inside the house. "No one's home except you?" he asked curiously.

"No, Sakura and Naruto are visiting Sasuke whilst kaa-san is at the tailors. Tou-san is on another mission for another week." she explained, reaching into her pocket to retrieve a key after opening the door.

Takahiro put his own shoes on, before stepping out and allowing Saki to close the door and lock it. The boy blinked as he noticed a familiar form making their way towards the Haruno household.

"It's Naoki." he stated neutrally.

Saki hummed idly, walking past her dark fence and continuing forward as if she was intent on ignoring the orphan boy's presence. Her companion realised that she did that often, but Naoki always seemed unperturbed and then they interacted the way they usually did.

The Mizushima boy didn't take long to catch up to them, his pale hand grabbing Saki's gloved one and holding it to his lips in greeting as jade eyes stared at their joined hands with an inscrutable look. The Oshiro boy frowned at the intimate act.

"My day has gotten better now that I see your face, Saki. I would've visited if I wasn't busy." he complimented her, smiling that sly smile of his as he then turned to look at the third member of their trio. "Nasu-kun." he greeted.

"You." Takahiro replied, stepping around to Saki's left so that she was in the middle of them.

Saki slowly extracted her hand from his grip, never allowing herself to be touched for more than a minute as they walked down the street. "Naoki. You didn't give the others too much trouble, did you?" she greeted back indifferently.

The blue-haired boy placed a hand to his chest in mock hurt. "You wound me, Saki. I would never trouble my irritating little housemates." he replied, his voice harshening as he emphasised 'irritating' before it returned to its casual, higher tone.

The Haruno girl didn't seem to acknowledge the peculiar behaviour other than glancing at him briefly. "You're going to move out soon, aren't you?"

"Yes," Naoki confirmed, idly playing with one of her scarf tails as they deftly passed fellow villagers, "as soon as I'm finished filling out the paperwork and it gets processed, I'll be moving into the apartment building near the orphanage, where other orphans from the same orphanage stay." he explained, absent-mindedly remembering that her scarf was nearly the same shade of blue that his hair was.

"So you'll still be near…" Saki murmured, her tone dead so there was no way to tell interpret what she meant by the comment.

Takahiro frowned as he watched Naoki's lemon eyes gleam darkly as he eyed the female of their trio. "I would never move to a place that is far from you." the Mizushima boy stated firmly, like there was nothing that would stop him from being near her.

"That's ominous." the dark-haired male muttered.

"Looks like Nasu-kun is learning big words, I'm so proud." Naoki chuckled with amusement.

"Shut up, it's not normal for seven-year-olds to have such a large amount of words in their head. You two are just smarter than the average kid." Takahiro retorted, his annoyance flaring.

"Saki's the smartest out of us two. I just find ways to do the littlest amount of work possible whilst still getting good grades. A lot of things don't interest me."

The said girl hummed non-committedly, apparently not very interested in their conversation as she had somehow whipped out a book and started reading it without their knowledge. It took skill to read and walk without bumping into anything.

"Knowledge is power, Naoki. You would know this."

Not for the first time, Naoki seemed to get that look that was mostly unreadable as he stared at the carminette, but Takahiro thought it was similar to tenderness.

"You understand me the most, Saki." the enigmatic boy responded softly, kissing the tail of her scarf. "Never change."

Takahiro's father was a giant of a man with an impressive build and an intimidating aura. He bore the same tan skin as his son, the same aqua eyes and the same eggplant-coloured hair. There were scars here and there, each holding their own tale.

Masculine, would be the word Saki would use to describe him. He dwarfed her and her associates, so he had to stared down at them which only added to the intimidation of his presence.

However, Saki was never one to cower under the gaze of someone bigger than her. She nodded at him in acknowledgment. "It's nice to meet you, Oshiro-san." she greeted politely, retaining her monotone all the while and staring into his eyes unflinchingly.

He seemed to scrutinise her, completely ignoring the two males as his sole focus was on her. They had a staring match for a while, in which he didn't blink and the small child wasn't about to dry her eyes out so she did.

Then, he kneeled down in front of her, still towering over her despite the lowered position. He placed a large hand on her tiny shoulder, which she would've skirted away from if her clothes weren't there to protect her.

"You have a strong aura about you, it's good to see such promise in the youth of our village." he intoned, his voice a deep baritone that if Saki was being dramatic, there would be lots of vibration as he spoke. "It's nice to meet you, Saki-san. I've heard many admirable things about you from my son, who says you patch him up whenever you're able."

She nodded stoically. "I'm in the process of learning medical ninjutsu, Takahiro has only been kind enough to allow me to test my skills on him, Oshiro-san." the small Haruno replied easily.

A kind smile formed on his exceptionally masculine features as he gazed at her. "Please, call me Takashi. I'm glad to know you've started working on your goals at a young age. Too many youths lazing about, thinking that the life of a shinobi is an easy one. The recent change in the academy program will hopefully whip them into shape."

"I agree that the newest academy program is more beneficial than it used to be, Takashi-san. Too many died prematurely in the last war because of poor preparation. I wait for the day they'll approve of genin teams to consist of battle medic-nins." Saki responded, finding the fact that he was treating her less like a child and more like an intelligent being endearing.

His sharp, bright eyes sparkled with approval. "Such potential! You've done well to find her, my son!" Takahiro's father chuckled, removing his hand from Saki's shoulder and using his other one to roughly pat his son's shoulder. The impacting sound was loud enough that Saki needed to lean a little away.

The smaller Oshiro took the rather rough pat like a boss, making no indication of feeling pain as a small smile appeared on his face. "Thanks, tou-san." he replied sincerely, glancing at her with what seemed to be something akin to pride at being her friend.

Something pulled at the Haruno's heart and she blinked, unsure of what the slightly painful sensation meant.

After a moment, Takashi found it prudent to do the same strange assessment to Naoki, who kept his smile but never made the move of flowering his words to try and win over his conversation partner. He knew that it wouldn't work on such a man, so there was more Naoki than there usually was around strangers or people he wasn't close with.

"You're exude a dangerous aura," the giant man deduced after a moment, his arms folded as he stared down at the light-haired boy, then his eyes shifted minutely to the carminette, "perhaps, you're being like this to protect the one you don't want to leave, hm? Scare away other people to keep what's precious to you close?"

Then the smile faded, lemon eyes glinted darkly that looked ominous even on a seven-year-old boy. "You're perceptive, Oshiro-san." he stated, his voice still soft in volume, but hard in tone. "But I thought it's only natural to want to keep what's precious to you close?"

The older male was unperturbed, merely raising a brow as he further studied the orphan. "When you've been around as long as I have, it becomes second nature, Naoki-san. Just because you care about them, doesn't mean that you can lock them in a cage keep them to yourself. Hopefully, you make the right choices in the future, before you lose what you gained."

'What an ominous message,' Saki thought, asking questions as Takashi began to show them around, telling them what they would be doing as they worked there.

Naoki was silent. A silent Naoki was a bad sign, as he was rather sociable in a charismatically sociopathic way. He seemed to be deep in thought, giving her more acute looks than usual then looking away. The smile was gone and it was almost surreal that he looked much older.

When Takahiro went off to work on the more taxing tasks whilst the two of them were to do simpler, smaller tasks for now, Saki took the opportunity to speak with the other boy.

"He must've struck a nerve," the Haruno girl commented bluntly, at ease even when his hard gaze whipped around to land on her, "you've barely said a word for an hour, very much unlike you."

Naoki moved closer, his smile still absent as he stared at her. "It did," he agreed with a whisper, moving closer until she could feel his breath on her face. His eyes bore into hers. "Just really intrigues me how accurate he was," he grabbed a lock of her hair and played with it absent-mindedly, "never met me before, never spoke to me before and he saw past my barriers and right into my core. It's like I laid out all my cards for him to see…"

Saki remained silent, barely moving as her associate snaked his free arm around her around and pulled her close, his hand that was playing with her hand dropping to wrap around her waist too. He held her close and nuzzled her scarf where the base of her neck was, causing the girl to stiffen even more than she previously was.

She was rarely hugged, and had never been hugged by Naoki before. She never had someone nuzzle her neck either, and it was entirely foreign and she could feel the possessiveness.

"You understand me more than he does though, you knew what I was like and accepted me anyway… you probably shouldn't have…" he whispered against her ear, eliciting a flinch and an unseen smile. "I'm never going to let you go, Saki… you somehow managed to integrate yourself into my life, where I can't see anything without you near."

It was a vine-like promise as Naoki held her tighter even as she made no move to hug him back, her jade depths merely staring at the far wall with dark, unreadable eyes. Perhaps it was a mistake to allow him to get comfortable within her life, but she couldn't do anything now… maybe she didn't want to do anything. Some part of her told her that despite the fact that he was a danger in the making, he was still a child like her. Was he born this way, or was it because of the environment he lived in?

A small, gloved hand reached up to untangle his arms from her slowly, gently until he retracted and stepped back a little. He grabbed onto her, staring at their joined hands.

Saki stared at him. "Are you showing me an illusion, Naoki?" she asked softly, "Are you trying to make me care for you so that I won't leave you? Will you hurt me more than I can endure?"

His lemon eyes stared at her in return, the emotions in them less guarded than they usually were. "You're scared," he noted, "but you should know, Saki… despite the way I am, I'm loyal to you." he stated firmly, eyes glinting. "I may smile falsely at people, may manipulate them into thinking that I'm something I'm not, I may see a lot of people as nothing but moving objects a lot of the time…" he brought her hand to his cheek, lowering his eyelids as he continued to stare at her with a comfortable gaze. "You're in an entirely different league, I don't know what it is, under normal circumstances I would've left you alone, you're strong-willed, almost impossible to manipulate or even read… but I stayed for as long as I have, never failing to find you as interesting as the day I met you."

"Elaborate planning," she supplied monotonously, still reluctant to buy into his words. If she learned anything from Mebuki, it was that words could be empty.

His expression scrunched up in annoyance as he continued to hold her hand to his cheek. "So paranoid…" he muttered, "I can change, you know. Not entirely, but I can promise you that I don't intend to make you suffer."

"Even if you find the prospect appealing?" she asked, tilting her head slightly as she continued to scrutinise him.

He laughed, a genuine smile upon his lips. "See? You know me well, you're cute and it makes me want to hurt you." his expression shifted into frustration. "But then this thing in my head keeps telling me not to, because you'll leave me, because even if I try to tie myself to you forever, you'll be able to get rid of me if you wanted. You've done something to me, Saki." he stated darkly, at least as dark as a child could.

Still a child, Saki thought. Malleable. Did she have the right to attempt to change him to her liking? She was better at reading him than he was of her, like how she knew when he asked her questions about what she was thinking, it was a genuine question and not a simple query to see if she would say what he wanted her to. Maybe it was because he was more in tune with his emotions than what the books said about sociopaths, because he was still young and therefore his environment would play a large part in his mental development.

"You'll always be truthful to me," Saki finally said, her jade eyes piercing into his own, "you'll be entirely, wholeheartedly honest to me for the rest of our lives. Despite myself, I've come to find that you are a constant in my life and I'm disinclined to remove you from it at the moment."

His face lit up, before he furrowed his brow. "Are you implying that we'll be together for the rest of our lives, Saki?" he asked, so quietly that even though she was so close, she still had to lean forward to hear.

She sighed heavily, looking at their joined hands. "As long as you keep your word and remain loyal to me, as long as you remain truthful to me and as long as you don't give me a reason to kill you." she replied, voice dead but her eyes were serious as she stared at him. Far more serious than he'd ever seen her act.

Naoki realised that he would actually die by her hand if he betrayed her, that she would probably slit his throat with that blank gaze of hers and then move on with her life. His own expression was neutral as he registered that fact into his head. He didn't fear death, far from it, but the mere thought of her simply moving on with her life without him being a part of it was… infuriating. Sometimes, he wondered who the real potential monster was.

"You want me to swear my allegiance to you, Saki-hime?" the orphan boy questioned with a quirked brow and a wry smile. "Fine," he stepped down onto one knee, still holding her hand as he peered up at her.

She simply stared down at him, seeing through him more than he would've initially liked. "I swear myself to you. I'll be unbearably honest with you, I'll be loyal to you even after I die, I'll kill everyone that you see as an enemy, so that you may never leave me." he pressed his lips to her gloved hand, all the while keeping eye contact with her. She was too exciting, too interesting for him to let go.

The oath was like something from a children's game of playing pretend knights and princesses, dramatic and weird but entirely too serious for it to be a simple game.

Saki could shape him into a suitable associate, so that she could make use of him, so that even if she decided to take a darker route in the future… she wouldn't be alone. A small, bitter smile formed on her expression as she requested for Naoki to stand up. Loneliness was a horrible leech.

"You're too dramatic," she commented softly, brushing past him to grab one of the clipboards to take note of the materials that were delivered the other day. They'd already wasted enough time dealing with Naoki's mental dilemma. "Naoki…" she started, writing something down as her mind whirled with thoughts, "do you want to live with me?"

When she was met with silence, Saki turned to find Naoki with the most shocked expression she'd seen on him. She blinked.

"Are you serious?" he asked with disbelief, stepping forward whilst trying to school his expression.

"I wouldn't have asked if I wasn't." the carminette replied.

He tilted his head, holding out his hand for her. She took it silently. "Are you sure you want me to? What about your parents?" he asked, looking down and rubbing his thumb across the gloves with a perplexed expression.

"I can convince them to foster you," Saki stated seriously, not allowing Naoki to find any trace of hesitance in her voice, "I want you to be invaluable to me, and I want myself to be invaluable to you. For that to happen, I need you near me."

His eyes lifted to stare at her, finding himself frustrated at how much emotion he was expressing to her. For a while, he'd thought that he lacked a great many emotions. "You're dangerous," he whispered, "but I like it." Naoki smiled. "Yes. I want to live with you, you're far better company than the other orphans."

"Good." Saki murmured, removing her hand from his and turning around once more. "Now we've wasted enough time talking, let's get our work done."

Naoki laughed a little, "You're like mini-adult, Saki. We're children you know, you should slow down." he suggested, though went with her order and began to work on his task.

"Children…" the small Haruno whispered under her breath, quiet enough that only she heard it. That's right, wasn't it? She was seven years old, not even a decade old yet. Children weren't meant to consume poison to build immunity by their own will, or have their possibly sociopathic associate swore allegiance to them like some drama novel. Sometimes, she wondered what it would've been like if she wasn't as intelligent as she was.

Would her mother love her then? Would her sister still love her? Would she still be Saki?

An amused huff escaped her lips. Saki was tired from all this thinking that came with being smarter than the average child, from being paranoid about the company she kept, about her plans for the future. But she wouldn't change things.

It's not like she could, anyway.

Takashi's place had a weapons shop at the front, with the weapons and various other things on display with the front desk. The back was half a forge and half a storage place, with stairs leading up to the Oshiro residence where Takashi, Takeshi and Takahiro slept, ate and showered.

Saki was designated to work at the front, where she tended to customers and read her books whenever she could. She had taken to her job well, providing good suggestions for weapons depending on the customer's build and the like with help from the expert. She met a few noteworthy shinobi, but ultimately didn't think more on them as she got absorbed in her books before tending to another customer.

Takahiro and Naoki did other things in the back, helping Takashi when he was working on making more weapons. Saki had asked why he hadn't hired adults to help, but apparently Takashi's brother was away on a trip to gather more materials and he was the one who usually helped out.

It didn't really answer Saki's question on why he chose to have the help of children, but she let it slide. It was beneficial for her, anyway.

She met Kobayashi Gin, who was a tall man with a solid build, but was ultimately more underwhelming in terms of appearance when it came to Might Gai. Instead of the ugly green jumpsuit and orange legwarmers, Gin wore the standard jounin wear with an additional utility belt and a multitude of scrolls with a giant scroll tied to his back. His stride was confident and without strain despite the fact that the scrolls looked heavy, so it said a lot for his strength.

His hair was golden and long bangs covered his right eye entirely, hiding a good portion of his long face. His visible eye was half-lidded and bore three red circles underneath, with a long nose and thin lips that sometimes yielded sharp, shark-like teeth. His skin was pale, from what Saki could tell, which was lucky since his hair might've caused a tan line which would've been amusing. He was young, handsome enough to draw attention to himself but his aura seemed to put people at a distance.

"You must Haruno Saki, Takahiro's friend, yeah?" he said the first time they met, his eye boring into her form as she stared at him from her seat behind the counter. "Heard about you, says you got some skill in medical ninjutsu, impressive for your age." his voice was deep and husky.

She tilted her head. "Thank you," she replied monotonously, but with sincerity, "it's not often I'm praised by famous shinobi, so it means a lot, Kobayashi-san."

"You're welcome, but call me Gin, yeah. Without the honorific, it irritates me." he insisted, leaning against the counter to continue to stare at her through a half-lidded eye.

Saki frowned slightly at the request to call him by such familiar terms upon their first meeting. "… Alright, Gin. I'd like to extend the same courtesy, though I'm assuming you were going to simply call me my name without my permission." she commented, bookmarking her page before closing her book.

He smiled, revealing the sharp teeth. "Perceptive of you, Saki. You going to do the crash course at the end of your year, yeah?" he asked, seeming genuinely interested which was strange for her.

"Mm," she hummed in confirmation, "I feel it's more efficient for me if I were to go through with it."

He stared at her for a moment longer, like he was affirming something within his mind before he blinked and pulled away from the counter, only to jump over it. "You're a smart kid, I have no doubt that the roots will try and claim you, yeah." he commented cryptically, causing her to narrow her eyes at him before he waved and stepped into the back to find Takashi. "Later, Saki."

'He was telling me something,' Saki thought to herself, standing up to address the customer that had brought their items to her, 'I won't know until the end of my year though, so best not think too much on it.'

Once she dealt with the customer, she stepped into the back to see Takashi and Gin conversing with each other and began to walk over to them.

"Ah, Saki-chan," Takashi greeted, turning to face her, "what is it that you needed?"

She stopped at the right place so that she didn't need to break her neck trying to look at his face. "I need you to bring the Hyuuga's order to the front desk, please. They'll be coming sometime today." she explained, looking to the clock on the wall. Nearly lunch time.

"That can be done, I'll bring it out shortly." the giant man responded, and the carminette nodded, turning away to go back to the front desk.

When she went out to the front, there were two people at the counter whom she recognised as members of the Hyuuga clan. She recognised the male adult to be the head of the clan, Hyuuga Hiashi who made appearances sometimes around the village. The smaller one was his daughter, Hyuuga Hinata, who was in Sakura's class.

Hinata was small, but she held the grace of a person befitting of her status. Her dark hair was in a hime-style cut, which was long and reached just past her lower back, a hair tie a few inches before the end of her hair. She wore a light hoodie with her clan's symbol on her sleeves and dark navy pants that were baggy until they reached her knees, where they tightened and then slid into her shinobi sandals.

The Hyuuga heiress gave her a shy smile, which reminded Saki of Sakura back when the pinkette was still coming out of her shell. The carminette allowed herself to smile slightly in response, before she made eye contact with Hinata's father and nodded at him in acknowledgment.

He scrutinised her with his pupiless, lavender eyes that she continued to stare at unflinchingly. After a few long moments of silence, he nodded.

"I've just asked Takashi-san to bring out your order, so please wait a moment while he does so." Saki said calmly, apparently unperturbed by the head Hyuuga's fierce examining of her being.

"I see." Hiashi replied stoically, never removing his gaze from her small stature. "You are Haruno Saki, correct?"

She blinked at him, before nodding in confirmation. "I assume my classmate, Hyuuga Neji has told you of me then?" the girl inquired, tilting her head. "I'm admittedly surprised you could recognise me even though I'm not of much significance."

"It is required that my nephew relay his experiences at the academy. You are often in them, it is not hard to make the connection when carmine hair is uncommon." the man responded impassively, revealing nothing of his thoughts. "He says you are skilled."

"Taijutsu isn't my favoured style, but I excel in other things."

Hinata shifted, "I-I've heard of y-you from S-Sakura-san." she commented softly, looking in different directions nervously. "S-She says nice t-things."

Saki smiled genuinely, which caused the heiress to blush when she made eye contact with the other girl. "I've heard of you too, Hyuuga-san. You're a prodigy, I hear."

Hiashi seemed to stand taller with pride. "It is only fitting of my daughter, the heiress of the Hyuuga clan to be such." he looked down at his daughter, with Saki noticing how his eyes softened upon setting his eyes on the small six-year-old. "I am a proud father."

Hinata positively beamed under the praise. "T-Thank you, chichi-ue! I'll do m-my best to s-succeed!"

Then Takashi made his appearance, holding Hiashi's order in his hand. "Hiashi-san, good to see you." he greeted the other man with a hand held out.

"You too, Takashi-san." the head Hyuuga replied, nodding as he took Takashi's hand and shook it firmly. He glanced to the carminette who was dwarfed by the other man's form. "I see you brought help. Is Takeshi-san away?"

"He's away on business," the weaponsmith confirmed, putting a hand on Saki's head in an affectionate manner, "Saki-chan here has been a great help. Now, here's your order; special kunai with a secret compartment in the handle for your healing ointment."

After a few small exchanges, the two Hyuuga had left swiftly, with the smaller one waving at Saki who reciprocated the action.

"Time for a lunch break, don't you think?" Takashi announced, placing his hands on his hips in an accomplished way.

Saki hummed. "I'll be cooking, Takashi-san. I still find it hard to believe you managed to make soup burst into flames." she grimaced at the memory, but was nonetheless impressed.

The older man simply laughed. "An accomplishment, if I do say so myself! But yes, it's recommended I leave the cooking to you and Hiro, I'd like to have something edible. Now come! Gin will be joining us."

Mebuki stared at her eldest daughter with a deep frown, who merely blinked at her impassively.

"You want me to foster that blue-haired orphan from the orphanage?" she repeated for what seemed like the tenth time. It was still completely unexpected of her daughter to outright ask her to foster a child, one of her friends; especially this daughter.

"Yes," Saki replied with the same answer she'd been giving for a while now, "Naoki's environment isn't good for him and I want him to be able to grow up in a good environment."

The blonde woman frowned even more. "You know there's an apartment made just for orphans to have an apartment of their own, yes?" she questioned dubiously, still trying to process the request.

The little Haruno nodded. "I know, but it's not optimal for him to live alone. Just like with Naruto, he'd be alone and by himself. Naruto would still be alone if we didn't practically adopt him into our family. I'm only asking that we do the same for Naoki." she explained. Now that Saki thought about it, it might be more efficient if Naruto moved to that apartment, where he would be closer.

Mebuki sighed. "Saki, I can't just bring in your friend to live with us. Your father and I provide well for us, but I'm not sure if we could afford to keep him."

"Just like Naruto, Naoki receives a weekly orphan's allowance. We already have the spare room and Naruto basically sleeps in Sakura's room." Saki's eyes lowered and her voice softened noticeably. "I just want Naoki to grow up in an environment where he can learn to trust and value the lives of others, kaa-san. I want to be there for him because no one else will." there was a sadness in her voice that Mebuki hadn't heard before, and it pulled at her heartstrings to hear that from her eldest.

The Haruno woman placed a gentle hand on her daughter's shoulder, causing the carminette's head to lift and stare at her. Mebuki took a deep breath. "Okay, Saki… I'll talk to your father about it, but you have to make sure that you look out for him, and clean out the room he'll be staying at. Alright? It's not set in stone, but if you really feel this is for the best, I'll try." she announced with a motherly smile.

Then Saki's mother's breath hitched when she saw the entirely foreign expression on the girl's youthful face. Saki was smiling; a soft, genuine curl of the lips that softened her features and gave her a more gentle aura.

Mebuki had to blink rapidly to rid herself of the oncoming tears. Her baby had smiled at her for the first time… and it was too overwhelming. This Naoki boy's life must've meant so much to Saki, if she was to smile like that in front of her.

The carminette stiffened when her mother abruptly hugged her tightly. She said nothing when her mother began to sob tears of joy, but her facial expression shifted back into its default face of stoicism.

Acting wasn't Saki's greatest skill, but apparently it wasn't that hard to fool her mother who was so deprived of seeing her eldest daughter's emotions shine through. Of course she needed Naoki to live with her, so she could keep a closer eye on him and commence with the loosely dubbed 'social experiment'.

Mebuki was great at acting though, the small Haruno girl thought wryly. She was so convincing in her act of sincerely caring, but Saki knew better… of course she knew better. If Saki was happy, Sakura was happy, and Sakura would welcome Naoki with open arms if it meant Saki's happiness. The woman couldn't say no, because it would hurt Sakura indirectly.

Naoki would have to keep his distance with Sakura and Naruto, though. That was a requirement of Saki convincing her parents to foster him. She wasn't going to allow him to try and corrupt them, definitely not Sakura.

A sigh escaped the little seven-year-old as she lifted a small hand to place it gently on the woman's back.

Hugging this woman didn't feel nice, the carminette repeated in her head. Believing this woman's act of loving her was a stupid move, she chanted mentally.

Saki closed her eyes.

'It hurts.'

The holidays had been a busy one.

Amongst training, studying, building immunity to poisons, working at the weaponsmiths, socialising with Naoki and Takahiro as well as her sister's group of friends, Saki barely had any time to just relax.

Sleep was a godsend, but she usually only had about four to five hours of sleep during weekdays and nine hours of sleep on weekends. Kizashi had warned her to keep tabs on her health because she was young but she also had a habit of keeping to her plans even if it meant she was exhausted. She still took a week off, but couldn't help but give into her need for progress.

Naoki had thrown out the paperwork to request that he'd live alone, and Saki's parents were in the process of figuring things out and setting things up for him. Her father had agreed to foster Naoki, but Saki didn't need to act to convince him, she wouldn't have been able to pull it off either. It was going to take a while for Naoki to actually move in, but he seemed patient.

It became a regular occurrence for him to visit and acquaint himself with her family, in which he acted more charmingly that he usually did with her, but it was to be expected since he needed her family to like him if he was to stay around.

In all honesty, if the carminette was to think of the idea of her blue-haired associate living with her a year ago, she might've chuckled. Letting a dangerous child like him into her home?

But it was happening. Naoki would become her partner, instead of her associate. It was hard to stop referring to him as an associate, but ever since that day where he laid his hidden emotions out in front of her, something had changed.

She was fond of him.

Despite the fact that he possibly had a budding mental disorder that could cause her trouble in the future, he was something that she wanted in her small life. Offering him to live with her was impulsive, which wasn't like her.

Yes, she was honest with her words, but she thought of them before she said them. There was the pros and cons of doing something, thinking about which way to go about something, thought was put into it. She'd barely thought of the downsides of having Naoki with her.

Was it a mistake? Was it going to be worth it? Could she handle it? She was making it more difficult for herself to get rid of him in the future if he did betray her. What happened to keeping people at a distance, she wondered? She'd already added at least three more people close to her in no time at all.

Saki brought her hand to her head as she sat against the corner of her bed, her back against the wall as the moonlight shone through her window. Sometimes, her thoughts kept her up at night, but she didn't study or train… she just let the thoughts come and go, or stick by if they were particularly annoying.

Her third year at the academy would begin as soon as the sun rose, her last year at the academy.

Of course, the small child thought. If she was to take the crash course at the end of the year, then she and Naoki would be seeing less of each other and she'd be less likely to influence him. So him living with her was beneficial. They'd still be close, and Saki would make time to visit Takashi and Takahiro whenever she could.

Her thoughts settled a little after that revelation, and she shifted to lay back down.

'I can make this work.' she thought tiredly, closing her eyes and allowing sleep to embrace her small form.

A/N: Reviews are love. Reviews are life. It's never ogre. Thanks to my beta; Coq-on-Face the Third.