Fuuko stuck her hands in the pockets of her jeans, absently chewing on a lock of dark hair that had somehow found its way into

Fuuko stuck her hands in the pockets of her jeans, absently chewing on a lock of dark hair that had somehow found its way into her mouth. It was about two months since Team Hokage had won the tournament. She looked fondly at the Psychic Device on her arm, running a finger over the indentions, four small and one big, that once held the orbs that granted her additional power.

That tournament and the events preceding it had been an exciting, often dangerous, journey of self-discovery. She had discovered secret depths and hidden strengths in herself and her friends, had enemies turn into friends, and other, more impossible things happen that she would have never imagined a mere year ago. Sure, she'd always been good in the martial arts, but that was more a result of her relationship with the boy Recca Hanabishi than a premonition that she'd need it.

Recca. Recca Hanabishi was her oldest friend in the world. If friend was the right word for it. They went way back. They had first met....Fuuko paused and thought, a puzzled frown creasing her pretty face. She only remembered her fights with Recca in the third grade and the subsequent years, but now that she thought about it, they HADN'T met then. They had already known each other. So when had they first met...?

Fuuko plopped down on a bench rather unceremoniously and proceeded to think...hard. Now that she literally sat down and thought about it, Recca was such an integral part of her life that she couldn't imagine life without him. That was a bit ironic. Couldn't imagine life without her greatest rival? But they hadn't always been rivals...Fuuko jolted at that. Where had that come from? But it was true, a small voice insisted. They had started out as the very best of friends...

A five-year-old girl ran through the twisting paths of the park, her laughter trailing behind her, as silvery as the moonlight. This was the first time she'd been allowed to stay up so late. This was the first time she'd been in the park at night. It was sure different from the daytime. She rounded a corner, emerging from a wooded area, and stopped short, her blue eyes widening in awe and delight.

The night sky in front of her was bright with fireworks. As she watched, a fireball arched up into the sky, exploding into a shower of beautiful sparks that slowly drifted downwards like a rain of small, multi-colored meteorites. Fuuko gave a small gasp of pleasure.

"Do you like them?" inquired a voice. Fuuko spun around and found a young boy, about her age, watching her curiously from where he was seated on the grass. He had a messy crop of black hair and wore a rather ragged white shirt and black shorts. He had a silvery arm-band-thing with a weird black pattern on his right arm, the five-year-old noticed.

He smiled at her, a bright, cheerful expression of pure happiness and friendliness, and Fuuko couldn't help but smile back. Her initial tenseness melted away under the force of that smile, and she sat down beside him. "Yes," the little girl admitted. "They're really pretty."

The boy smiled proudly. "I set them off. They're mine." Fuuko asked, "You're allowed to play with fireworks? My dad won't even let me touch the match to the string thing on the rockets."

"It's called the fuse," the boy noted. He explained: "My pop makes fireworks. I've been messing with them since I was a baby. He says that if I haven't managed to blow myself up yet, then I never will."

Fuuko laughed, then returned her attention to the light show above her head. Beside her, the boy lay down on the hillside, folding his arms under his head. They watched the fireworks in silent companionship for a minute or so.

But after that, as easily as if they hadn't only just met, they chattered on about everything and anything that caught their fancy, as only young children can. They talked about his armband-thing (as Fuuko called it) and about Fuuko's love of stuffed animals. They discussed the virtues of chocolate ice cream versus strawberry and a hundred other things.

The instinctual walls that older people would have thrown up were absent in their innocence, and they trusted each other implicitly. They talked until Fuuko heard her father's voice calling for her. She jumped up. "That's my dad. I gotta go."

"Do you really have to?" asked the boy wistfully, a note of terrible loneliness in his voice. Fuuko felt an odd tug at her heart at the obvious fear and sadness in the boy's voice. Impulsively, she promised, "I'm gonna be here again tomorrow morning. Wanna meet near the swings?" The little boy's face brightened, and he nodded eagerly. "That would be neat!" he said.

Fuuko smiled at him. "Cool! See ya tomorrow!" she called, waving to him as she ran.

"My name's Recca!" yelled the boy after her.

"Mine's Fuuko!" she yelled back. As she ran to her waiting father, she thought about her new friend, the boy with the most incredibly green eyes she'd ever seen...

They had quickly grown well nigh inseparable during that golden summer of their early childhood. They'd gotten lost in the streets of downtown Tokyo together, and gotten scolded for it together. It was Recca who'd helped Fuuko to her house after she sprained her ankle. It was Fuuko who, with a roll of bandages, dressed Recca's knee after he'd banged it up. They learned to ride two-wheel bikes together. The little and terribly serious secrets of their young minds were privy only to each other.

When had that all changed?

When Recca started to get obsessed with ninjas. Fuuko could remember that now. He'd started to ignore her, and that had struck her to the quick, being cast aside for accounts of a clan of warriors long ago dead. And the training regimen Recca had adopted to make himself more like his adored ninja was changing him. It was taking her best friend away from her.

She'd confronted him, demanding that he pay more attention to her. 'Why won't you play with me anymore, Recca?' she remembered shouting at him. 'Couldn't you put those dumb scrolls aside for just one minute?'

Somehow, Recca had misinterpreted her words as a command, and his rebellious, independent nature-prominent even then-asserted itself. 'Why don't you get outta my face?' he had yelled back at her. 'I ain't your servant!' He started to stalk out of the room, but then turned back, an idea lighting up his green eyes. 'If you can beat me in a fight, then I will be your own personal ninja,' he announced to her.

Fuuko, just as stubborn as he was, took up the challenge. She started to train in the martial arts so she could beat him. The anger she felt and her own natural gifts catapulted her way past anyone's expectations. No matter how good she got, however, no matter how great her speed or how strong her kick or how skillful her attack, Recca was always better.

She threw herself deeper and deeper into training, and, gradually, she forgot. She forgot why she was fighting, only remembered that she was. She forgot her friendship with Recca, only remembered that he had made her angry. She'd forgotten....