This night Narumi was woken by her throbbing arm. Groggily she sat up and rubbed her bruised shoulder.
Maybe it would help if she got something to cool it. Narumi turned the bedside lamp on and slipped out of the warm cover.
She was already halfway down the corridor when she heard voices coming up from downstairs.
Narumi stopped when she heard her name being mentioned.
"…it can't go on like this, Toyo-san!" a female voice said loudly. Narumi recognized her as Tezuka-san, one of the younger matrons. "This was the fifth time in two weeks that she came back looking like this! The other children were completely scared by it."
"And what do you suggest, Tezuka-san?" Toya-san asked. She sounded tired. "It is not like we can do anything about that."
"Then sent her away!" Tezuka-san suggested. "This is a home for children and –"
"Narumi is a child, too," Toyo-san interrupted her sharply. "And a very young one on top of that."
"This is a home for normal children," Tezuka-san corrected. "She is not normal. She is one of them," she empathized the word like it was cursed. "She can handle herself and doesn't she have the support of the Hyuuga clan?"
Toya-san sighed, defeated. "Fine. I will make an inquiry at the administration office."
Narumi had heard enough.
They wanted her to leave.
They wanted to throw her out!
Narumi ran back into her room, buried her head in her pillow and cried.
For about an hour her small body shook and trembled before she finally succumbed to exhaustion and fell into an uneasy sleep.
"I see you managed to get out on your own. Apparently, you are not as useless as I thought," Hyuuga-sensei commented the moment she entered the training ground. His eyes wandered critically over her appearance. "Who bandaged your leg?"
"I did," Narumi answered. She was rather proud of it.
"Of course." Hyuuga-sensei answered, drily. "We will add first aid lessons to your curriculum."
Narumi actually looked interested.
"Now let us continue with today's lesson," Hyuuga-sensei smiled, and Narumi instinctively took a step back. Hyuuga-sensei never smiled. Not unless he had something really evil planned - So she did the only sensible thing.
Narumi turned and ran.
She barely managed three steps before her sensei appeared in front of her. For a moment their gazes locked. Hyuuga-sensei's hands moved too fast for her to see and suddenly Narumi was engulfed in darkness.
She could not see.
She could not hear.
Narumi panicked. She opened her mouth to scream but it was soundless.
Out of nowhere something solid appeared, wrapping itself tightly around her. Chains.
Narumi could feel sharp spikes piercing through her flesh.
She struggled but the chain only wrapped itself tighter around her.
Narumi went limp and fell on her knees, her eyes watering with pained tears.
And suddenly the light was back.
Narumi immediately looked down. There was nothing wrapped around her.
What…what had just happened?
"This is what we call genjutsu," Hyuuga-sensei informed her casually as he came to a stop in front of the frozen child. "Genjutsu are illusion techniques. They have the power to warp an illusion into a reality that you will perceive as the real one. The Uchiha clan has a bloodline that allows them to create extremely powerful illusions just by looking at you. Frightening, isn't it?"
Narumi stared at him wide-eyed.
"Actually, I had just intended to cast a simple darkness genjutsu," Hyuuga-sensei continued easily. "But you just had to make me chase you."
The man crouched down in front of her and grabbed her chin. "I am you teacher, child and I do not like people wasting my time. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sensei," Narumi answered quietly, her voice sounding raw.
"Good," Hyuuga-sensei patted her on the head and stood up.
"You have five minutes to collect yourself."
He flickered away.
Narumi looked at her hands.
She had not even realized that she was trembling.
It was already past midnight, but Narumi could not sleep. The incident today had shaken something fundamental in her and she was still way too worked up to rest.
So Narumi did what she always did when she was agitated. She grabbed her blanket, snuck out of her room, and tiptoed into the kitchen. The house was completely silent at this time of the night. She had been out and about at late hours often enough to know the matrons' schedules.
Even Toya-san, the last one to go to sleep never stayed up longer than half past eleven.
Narumi rummaged through the cupboards and pulled out a granola bar and the cookie jar.
Happy about her new provisions, she grabbed a well-used cookbook from the shelves and hid under the kitchen table.
Narumi spread the food around her, curled into the blanket and opened the book.
Within seconds she was gone. Lost in the world of cooking, her eyes shone brighter than a starry night sky.
"You are leaving," Toyo-san informed her the next day after breakfast.
Narumi, still tired from her nightly reading adventure, stared at the matron in disbelief. "Sorry?" Had she really just said what Narumi thought she had said?
"You are leaving," the woman repeated. "This orphanage is a home for children and you…", she coughed.
She was being thrown out.
Narumi's hands trembled.
They actually threw her out.
She had not really believed that they would actually do it.
She had hoped, they wouldn't.
She chocked back a sob. "Where…", it took her all her training to keep her voice from cracking. "…will I be going?"
"There is an apartment complex owned by the Hyuuga clan close to the academy. A flat has been prepared for you there. Until you graduate you will receive a monthly allowance from the orphan stipend."
Narumi nodded wordlessly.
"…I'll go and pack."
Numbly she walked up the stairs, opened the door to her room - no, it was not her room anymore- and threw herself on the bed.
Narumi buried her face in her pillow and screamed silently.
The apartment complex was rather nice. It was a five-story building that actually had a small communal garden with a couple of swings on it and a place to have a barbecue.
Narumi's flat was on the second floor.
Apprehensively she opened the door labeled 2b and found herself in a surprisingly wide room about twice the size of her former orphanage room.
It was a mixture between a kitchen and a living room. Narumi dropped her bag next to the door and went to check the refrigerator.
It was fully stocked. She opened the cupboards and found cutlery, plates, cups, and common kitchen utensils.
Narumi smiled brightly when she realized that she could actually cook here. She was practically giddy at that thought.
Maybe this would not be as bad as she thought.
She went into the adjoining room. A futon was spread out on the floor, ready to for her to lay down and curl up.
A quick look into her empty wardrobe told her that she needed to go shopping soon.
After taking a look into her bathroom – she actually had a bathtub and a shower- Narumi collapsed on the couch.
This was it. She was officially on her own now.
Narumi had never felt more alone.
Something had shifted between Hyuuga-sensei and her. Narumi was not sure if she liked it. It felt like their relationship had become closer and more distant at the same time. She had broken down and he had seen it. It had been his fault, too.
Narumi had always been slightly afraid of him, but now his presence scared her. She felt vulnerable in front of him and she was sure that he knew it, too.
Her reactions gave it away, but she had no control over them. It was instinct.
She was half-afraid that Hyuuga-sensei would call her out on it, but to her surprise he did not outright comment on it.
Instead he seamlessly incorporated impulse control into her curriculum as if he had already prepared for it.
Knowing him, he had probably already predicted how she would react the moment he had decided to use his genjutsu. Hyuuga-sensei was thorough like that.
That thought both reassured and terrified her.
Narumi sighed and grabbed her bag. Time for another lesson.
"Have you adjusted to your apartment yet?" Hyuuga-sensei asked her.
Narumi refilled the teacups. "Yes, sensei," she answered. She was lying. It had been less than a week since she had moved in and she was still not used to the strange unfamiliar sounds she heard sometimes.
Everything still felt so foreign to her.
"Good," Hyuuga-sensei answered. "A shinobi always has to adapt to the circumstances. And if he does not," he gave Narumi a pointed look over the rim of his cup, easily seeing through her lie. "He has to fake it, until he makes it."
Narumi nodded. Faking things was what she was always doing anyways. "Yes, sensei."
"The new term will start in two days," Hyuuga-sensei put his cup down. "You will perform well." He did not say it, but for a moment the unspoken ' Or I will make you regret it' hung heavily between them.
It was afternoon when Hyuuga-sensei called it a day. He told her to go to bed early so she would be well-rested for her first school day.
Narumi had no problem with that instruction. She was extremely tired.
She stretched to ease the pain in her aching muscles and slowly walked down the main street. The air had become cooler lately and between the lush green leaves spots of red and yellow had appeared.
Autumn would be there soon.
It was Narumi's favorite season. There was something magical about the way the colors changed. She loved the feeling of running through the fallen leaves.
Narumi remembered what Toya-san had told her two years ago: "This year's autumn is last year's spring," she had said. "The leaves of the old year are falling down to make place for the leaves of the new year."
"Can't they both stay?" Narumi had asked.
"No," Toya-san had replied. "That is not possible. The new ones will grow, and the old leaves will disappear."
"Do not," Narumi had concluded with a logic unique only to children and proceeded to point at the fallen leaves. "They are there."
Narumi smiled at the memory.
She bent down to pick up a yellowed leaf when she suddenly heard loud voices coming from the side road.
"Look at him, he's carrying so many snacks."
"No wonder he's so fat."
"G- Give that ba-back," a timid voice stuttered. It sounded like a boy.
Narumi narrowed her eyes. She threw the leaf back down and entered the side road with determined steps.
Two teenagers were looming over a timid three-year-old boy with red swirls on his face. He looked uncomfortable.
Narumi felt a sudden surge of irritation. Those guys were just like that idiot Noboru!
She tilted her head and pondered on what to do. Perhaps…Narumi grinned and moved, her speed too fast for civilian eyes.
All the two teenagers knew was that the packs they had been holding a second before were suddenly gone.
"What?" the first one stuttered. "Where…?"
"Up here," Narumi greeted them cheerfully.
Three heads turned and stared disbelieving at the girl sitting vertically on the house wall.
The teenagers blanched. "Shinobi!" the first one yelled and grabbed his friend by his arm. "Let's get out of here. Quickly!"
The second one nodded frantically and both boys turned tail and ran.
Narumi had to admit that it felt strangely good to be the one making people run for a change.
The boy with the swirls looked nervously up at her. Narumi looked at him, unsure what to say. So she just smiled awkwardly, jumped down and handed him his chips back. "Here."
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence.
"I am Narumi," she finally introduced herself, just to break the silence. "Uchino Narumi."
"Chouji ," the boy answered. "Akimichi Chouji ."
Then Chouji shyly offered his chips pack. "Um…do you want some chips?"
Narumi smiled. "Sure. Can't say no to a snack."
The boy brightened.
Narumi had mixed feelings as she stared at the gates of the academy. She did not want to enter. Somehow it felt like passing through those gates would be like giving up on her dreams. She was not ready for that. She would never be ready for that.
Suddenly the reality of the situation hit her. She was going to be a shinobi.
She was going to learn how to kill.
Narumi felt sick.
A hand landed on her left shoulder, closing around her like a chain. It was her sensei; he was accompanying her as a representative of the Hyuuga clan – and probably to make sure she did not embarrass them by running off.
Her sensei led her through the entrance gates. It felt like she was being escorted towards the gallows.
Narumi was assigned to class 1B. It was located on the first floor.
She took a deep breath and entered through the open door.
Instinctively Narumi scanned the room, noticing the three windows, the door next to the teacher's desk and the ventilation shaft above the chalkboard.
The ceiling was flat and painted in a plain white color. There was no place to hide.
About twenty children were already scattered around the room, impatiently waiting for the class to start.
She did not understand how they could be so eager. Did they even know what they were signing up for?
Narumi shook her head and sat down at a free desk in the front row.
The teacher was not there yet, so she opened her bag and pulled out the introductory book on genjutsu Hyuuga-sensei had assigned her to read.
She had just made it through the first chapter when a brown-haired man suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
The class quietened almost immediately.
"Good morning class. My name is Moriya Yuki and from now on until your graduation I will be your homeroom teacher. You may call me Yuki-sensei. Welcome, children to the academy."
Some children muttered excitedly.
"Before we start with our lessons, let us first get to know each other. Please introduce yourselves."
The class groaned.
"Uchino Narumi, please stay for a moment," Moriya-sensei stopped her as she was about to leave the classroom. The last period had ended, and Narumi was itching to return home.
Some children threw her curious looks as they left, undoubtedly wondering why someone was being held back on their first day.
The man waited until the last child had left before he started speaking. "I have talked to Hyuuga Ryoko."
Narumi froze. Sensei had talked to her homeroom teacher? Why? Did he tell him that she did not want to be here? She swallowed nervously.
"He has informed me of your advanced training," Moriya-sensei continued, oblivious to her thoughts. "I have great expectations of you, Narumi-chan. If you are really as advanced as he thinks you are, we might even get you to graduate in less than a year."
Narumi's world shattered.
In less than a year.
She did not want to. She really did not want to. She wanted to run, to scream.
Narumi felt really small under all this pressure.
"Well, work hard," her newest sensei told her seriously.
Narumi smiled even if she wanted to cry. "Yes, Moriya-sensei."