Important Author Note so please read it.

Okay, fair warning. This chapter is short and kinda not my best work. I'm releasing it as-is because I want to do a fresh start on the next chapter which will be just as long and well-written as the new Black Sheep chapters. This one is about a year old except for the last few paragraphs which I wrote today. Thanks to all the Dueling Harmony fans that kept this alive and hounded me about updating. Your work has paid off.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto. If I did, I wouldn't be in college right now!

Chapter 5: Fa

Most of the hospital staff had learned about the odd behavior of the resident demon child of their village. Loud, brash, tricky, and obnoxious. As such, most of them did a double take upon seeing the boy looking very shy and nervous standing outside of the main door to the intensive care unit gripping a small box.

'Ok, lets look at this logically!' Naruto ordered himself for what must have been the tenth time in as many minutes.'If she doesn't like it, I can just give it to someone else.' Honestly, he didn't know why there was any doubt about it, Tayuya's was all busted up. She would be thankful!

"This is so stupid..." he mumbled to himself as he still didn't move from his spot. A nurse gave him a curious look, but said nothing as she passed by. That kid had been standing around for the last few minutes. Naruto tapped his foot in impatience; he just couldn't stop thinking about Tayuya not liking the present. This was his current problem and the source of his anxiety.

Still fidgeting, Naruto tried to pin down just why he couldn't open the door to the wing of the hospital Tayuya was resting in. Every time he would reach for the door handle his hand would hesitate until he drew it back; it was becoming a problem. 'I have to visit her eventually,' he reasoned. Still, when trying to reach for the handle, he would hesitate. A million thoughts assaulted his mind but one stuck out like a sore thumb: What if she really didn't like the gift?

That single thought made him knit his brow in frustration. Why should he even care if the redhead liked the flute? He gave people gifts all the time; he gave Sakura dozens of gifts over the course of the Academy and throughout their team life, he would give Iruka ramen coupons whenever the old man at the ramen stand would pass them out, and he gave Kakashi Mr. Ukki, the plant his sensei keeps in his windowsill.

'Yeah, I've never wondered once if they would like any of those things so why the hell am I standing here like an idiot now? I should just go in there and get it over with,' he scolded himself. Still, the blond was still hesitant to follow through on this train of thought.

The gathering of sand in front of Tayuya's room let Naruto know the decision may soon be out of his hands. The boy's eyes arched in confusion as Gaara materialized from thin air. The hell was he doing here?

Pausing for only a moment, Gaara raised a hand to knock on the door leading to the Oto-nin's recovery room. From his vantage point outside the main doors at the end of the hall, Naruto watched as the Suna Jinchuuriki entered a few moments later.

'That's weird...' Naruto mused. Still, giving Tayuya a gift with someone else there helped calm his nerves a bit. Now, with a bit more confidence, he went through the main door to the IC wing of the hospital. Not bothering to knock, Naruto simply walked in.

"Yeah, what do you want?" the voice of Tayuya came to the blond boy's ears the moment he entered. He couldn't see Gaara on this side of the curtain so he figured the Suna-nin was already talking with Tayuya.

Naruto was about to call out to his bedridden friend but Gaara's voice cut him off.

"I..." there was a small pause, a waver, in the usually indifferent voice of Gaara that made Naruto hold his tongue. "...have a gift."

To Naruto's good fortune, it seemed neither had noticed the door opening. Against his better judgment, he moved closer to the screen to eavesdrop. If he were caught, he could foreign playing a prank of some sort. Now, if only he could see what Gaara was giving the girl...

Oblivious to his audience lurking outside his field of vision, Gaara held out a small box. Tayuya's first reaction was to raise an eyebrow. Since when did people give her gifts? Still, it piqued her curiosity enough to make her take the offered box. Carefully opening the lid, in case it was a trap of some sort, she has to stifle a gasp at it's contents.

"It...a flute," Tayuya stated, not really believing it. Her hands brushed over the cold metal of what looked to be a very high quality instrument.

Gaara's face remained stoic as he waited for the girl to say more. After a few moments, he eventually got tired of it and spoke up. "Is that not what you use in battle?" he asked.

Tayuya gave him a level stare for a few moments. A lesser man would have wilted like a flower left out in the sun but not Gaara. At least, he didn't show it.

"Well? What do you want?" Tayuya asked after a few moments. Seeing the slightly confused face the boy made, she groaned. "For the flute, idiot. What do you want for it? I don't have any money on me, obviously, and no way in hell you're getting anything...else," she deadpanned, deciding to grip the blankets covering herself just a bit tighter.

" is a gift, I don't require anything for it," Gaara stated. Based on the girl's reaction, he was starting to wonder if he misunderstood what a gift was. He made a mental note to ask Temari about it later.

The girl just blinked at him, not really believing what was going on. "You're serious..." she said to herself more than her visitor. It was inconceivable to her that someone would actually give something for the fun of it. Of course, the boy before her didn't look particularly happy. "Why the hell are you giving me this, again?"

Gaara slightly frowned; why did go to all this trouble? It was a question that had been plaguing his mind ever since the music shop. As it was, he only had one answer that made any sense. "Because I wanted to."

Tayuya's eyebrows knitted even more after getting her answer; what the hell did that tell her? "Whatever, just don't expect me to thank you or anything," she responded. To her surprise, the boy's lips almost pulled up into a small smile. Almost.

"That was something I was prepared for."

Before Tayuya could even ask him what that meant, a loud crash from the other side of the curtain caught her and Gaara's attention. A thick rope of sand darted from the boy's gourd faster than Tayuya could react and an indignant yelp sounded a moment later.

"It's just me! It's just me!" Naruto yelled from the other side of the partition. Gaara's eyes softened a bit but he still had his sand drag the blond to where they could see him.

Naruto glared daggers at the Suna-nin even after his former prison had retreated back inside Gaara's gourd. He made a show of dusting himself off and shook loose particles of sand from his collar before pointing an accusing finger at the other Genin. "What the hell was that? You trying to kill me or something?!" but there was no heat in his words. Oddly, he seemed more nervous than angry.

Gaara's face stayed in the same stoic position, not threatened in the least. "You surprised me," he said as if that explained everything. Tayuya, on the other hand, wasn't nearly as level-headed.

"You fucking bastard! You're lucky I'm still in this bed or I'd rip your spine out for scaring me like that!" she yelled. "What the hell were you doing back there, anyway?!"

"Uh...I ran into the cabinet when I came in, someone must have moved it, heh," Naruto answered, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.

Gaara seemed to expect something like this as he didn't say anything. Tayuya, however, narrowed her eyes ever so slowly. That simple action made the hairs on the back of Naruto's neck stand strait up.

'Shit, she doesn't believe me...' Naruto warned himself. Thinking quickly, he fumbled for a topic to take the attention off of himself. "Er...yeah! I had a talk with Bachan!"

The look on Tayuya's face was clearly a 'so what?' so he elaborated. At least she wasn't looking into his loud entrance anymore.

"You can get out of the hospital today, I've already signed you out," he smiled. That had an effect, Naruto noted.

"...they're actually letting me leave?" Tayuya asked, incredulously.

Naruto's smile turned into a smirk, he loved seeing his friend off-balance like this. "Sure! I just told Bachan how it was going to be and she did it! No problem for Uzumaki Naruto!" he boasted, making sure to watch how he acted in front of Gaara. He shot Tayuya a glance that tried to say as much.

The Oto-nin caught the look and frowned; why Naruto wanted to continue to act like a complete idiot in front of people was something she was probably never going to understand. No matter, she'd beat the real explanation out of him later.

"...whatever. When are we leaving? Where am I going for that matter?" she asked. Naruto's smile returned and started telling his friend about her new apartment.

Off to the side, Gaara watched the pair with a bored expression. Now that he had dropped off his gift he should be getting back to his siblings. "I'm leaving," he bluntly stated. Naruto stopped talking long enough to smile and wave while Tayuya settled on an indifferent hum as her way of saying goodbye.

'Are these what friends are?' he asked himself. Taking one last look at the two, Gaara decided that if this is what it was like to have friends, he was very lucky...

Subtly, Naruto watched Gaara walk around the back of the curtain. Only when he heard the door click shut did his larger-than-life smile fade into a more subdued version.

Tayuya immediately glared at him, causing the boy to draw back a bit. "Now, tell me what's going on here," she ordered.

Naruto's eye twitched slightly; just how much should he tell her? "What do you mean?" he asked in a level voice.

"Don't screw with me," Tayuya warned. "How much of what you just spouted was the truth and how much was your bullshit?"

" are getting out of the hospital today. The Hokage also found you a place to live. She's ordered that you be given 'refugee' status." he explained.

The redhead made a face but said nothing. She understood that it was a miracle to even be alive let alone have some semblance of freedom. "So, we can leave whenever?" she asked, trying to keep the urgency out of her voice. Apparently she had failed as Naruto raised an eyebrow.

"In a hurry? It's not like they're kicking you out," he laughed. Tayuya was not in a joking mood and let the boy know as she took a swipe at his head.

"You think it's fucking funny to be locked up in this place!" she yelled.

Naruto instantly stopped laughing once he heard the way she spoke. It wasn't desperation but it was close. Being locked up in this place was probably more than most people could take, especially if they were used to having free reign.

"I'll go get the doctor and stuff so we can leave now, ok? We'll go out and get some lunch before we go see the apartment if you want," Naruto stated. This calmed the redhead down to the point where she nodded her consent. "Ok then, I'll be right back!" Naruto declared as he ran behind the partition towards the exit.

On his way out, the blond gave a sad look to the cabinet by the door. An ornately carved box could just be seen poking out from behind it, still in the place he had hastily hid it before Gaara's sand grabbed him.

'Now what am I going to do with the flute? I can't give Tayuya something she's already got...' Naruto asked himself. He eventually opted to decide it's fate later; right now he had to go get the doctor on duty before Tayuya's cabin fever hit full-force. Still, it would be fun to have a day out with the redhead. After all, he hadn't gotten out himself since the mission.

"Yeah, this will be fun," Naruto whispered to himself as he shut the door to Tayuya's room...


"What the flying fuck?" Tayuya asked a few minutes later as a nurse rolled in a wheelchair.

Naruto sighed, he knew this would happen. "Tayuya-san, this is a wheelchair. It's so you can-"

"I know what the hell it is, dumbass!" she snarled. "I want to know why it's here. Just give me a pair of crutches," she ordered. Both the nurse and the accompanying doctor looked at each other with varying degrees of skepticism; this girl was insane.

"That's not going to work..." Naruto began. A dangerous glare from the girl cut him off, however. In a lower, softer voice he added, "It's only for a little while. Just until you recover."

For once, Tayuya didn't say anything in response. For just a split second, so quickly that Naruto wasn't sure it actually happened, the redhead smiled softly as she looked down at the floor.

Too stunned by the small laps in Tayuya's attitude to react quickly, Naruto didn't manage to catch his friend when she pushed off her hospital bed and landed on the floor.

"Miss!" The nurse rushed to help her but Tayuya's swatted her hands away.

"Leave me the fuck alone!" she screeched. Slowly, only using her hands, Tayuya dragged herself over to the chair. "If I have to use this damn thing then I will sure as hell get into myself."

With shaky arms, the determined girl crawled past the stunned doctor. How she could even move was a mystery to him; how she was dragging herself and her heavy leg casts was simply amazing.

"B-but you could reopen an injury!" the nurse argued. She couldn't believe this was happening.

Tayuya let out a small curse as she struggled with actually getting into the chair using only her hands. It was tricky and she eventually had to use a nearby table to pull herself up but finally she was seated in the metal construct. It had taken almost all of her energy to get there, though.

"If...I can't even pull myself over to this fucking thing without getting hurt...I don't want to live," Tayuya answered with the low, dangerous, voice Naruto had come to understand was as close to determined as Tayuya was ever going to get.

Said Genin felt a conflicting mix of worry and pride. Worry that Tayuya had or was going to hurt herself with that attitude and pride that she would think like that in the first place.

"You're so stubborn," was what the boy settled on saying. "Normal people aren't that stubborn!" he added to lighting the mood a bit.

Tayuya narrowed her eyes a bit. "Stubborn? This from someone who is walking around town after getting the living hell beat out of him just a few days ago?"

"Ah...I'm different?" Naruto asked more than answered. Of course he wouldn't need that long for most of his external injuries to heal; the bastard fox would take care of them.

"There's a difference between being different and being a 'dumb fuck,' dumb fuck."

A normal person would be insulted by such blunt and offensive speech but after a few days of spending time with the redhead, Naruto knew there was no breaking her of her cursing. In fact, he wasn't even sure if Tayuya consciously knew she was doing it in the first place; it was probably ingrained into her psyche. It did bring up an interesting thought, though...

"If I didn't know better I'd say you were worried about me, Tayuya-san," Naruto pointed out.

Tayuya stared at him as if he had gone insane. Finally narrowed her eyes in such a way that Naruto knew to hastily drop the subject.

"I'm not worried about you, I just like to get some kicks out of listening to your stupidity," the girl clarified. Naruto did notice the way she hastily turned her attention to her new means of locomotion, though.

"If you say so," the blond grinned.

Tayuya snorted as she tested the chair she was in. Quickly working out how to maneuver by pushing one wheel one way and the other the opposite, she was soon able to turn herself around to face her companion.

"Of course I damn well say so!" Tayuya declared. For once, however, her voice had no heat in it; only sheer jubilance. It was something that left Naruto stunned on his feet. "Now, lets get the fuck out of here!"

'She's...acting like a kid,' the blond boy thought. It was a side of Tayuya he had never seen; hell, it was a side of the redhead he hadn't thought existed. Even her eyes were a bit brighter, he noticed.

Unfortunately, Tayuya noticed as well and narrowed those oh-so-bright eyes. "Is there something on my face, baka?" she asked.

"A-ah! No, no! Nothing like that, I was just thinking about where we should go for lunch!" Naruto tried to lie. 'Stupid, you can't just stare at people like that!' he scolded himself.

"Idiot..." Tayuya mumbled as she pushed herself past the scandalized nurse and doctor. Naruto gave them a cheeky smile before following his friend out. He did spare a look back at the cabinet where he had hastily hid his gift; he would have to come get it later.

Outside in the hallway, Naruto arrived in time to witness a glaring match between Tayuya an the ANBU guarding the door. From what he could tell, the guard seemed to be wining since you couldn't tell if he was even indulging in the match behind his mask.

"Er...what are you doing, Tayuya-san?" Naruto asked as he scratched his head.

Ignoring her companion, Tayuya snorted in the ANBU's direction before continuing down the hall. As Naruto started to follow her, the ANBU guard coughed to get his attention.

"You'll have your hands full with that one, kid," he laughed. "She's more of a spitfire than our Hokage."

The blond laughed along with him until Tayuya's shouting made both males cringe. Naruto had obviously underestimated the redhead's desire to leave. A stray thought did strike the boy, however.

"Um...this is going to sound strange, but you know where I live, right?" Naruto asked. When the ANBU member nodded, Naruto let out a breath of relief. "Could you do me a favor? Back inside the room behind the cabinet closest to the door is a wooden box, can you take it back to my place for me? I don't want Tayuya-san to see it."

"...I suppose." the masked man sighed. "You shouldn't be so nervous about giving your girlfriend presents, though."

Before Naruto could start spouting denials, Tayuya's orders for Naruto to "hurry his fag ass up" cut the boy off.

The Genin only wasted enough time to shoot the older ANBU an annoyed pout before hurrying off to catch up with is friend.

"Huh, so young and already whipped," the man chuckled to himself as he entered the hospital room. He quickly located the box and tucked it into his sash. "If he had black hair and liked shogi, I'd swear he was a Nara..."


"So...where do you wanna eat at?" Naruto asked once he finally caught up to Tayuya.

The girl was too busying taking in long breaths to answer the question. It was wonderful, in her opinion, to finally be outside again and out of that damned hospital.

"You shits really are lucky, you know that?" Tayuya suddenly stated.

Naruto tilted his head at the vagueness of the declaration; there were many things Konoha was lucky to have.

Taking the boy's silence as ignorance, the redhead sighed and explained herself. "You get to go outside whenever you want. Hell, your entire village is built in a forest."

Naruto didn't really know how to react to that. It was obvious from Tayuya's tone of voice that it meant a lot to her to be outside. After a moment, something clicked in the boy's head.

"Orochimaru didn't let you get out much, huh?" Naruto guessed as he sat down on the steps Tayuya was sitting by. The redhead scowled at nothing in particular before leaning her head back to stare at the sky.

At first, Naruto assumed she was going to simply ignore that question as she did every time he asked about Orochimaru. It came as a surprise, then, when she actually said something.

"Most of the main buildings of Oto are above ground," Tayuya informed her attentive companion. "Orochimaru stays underground, away from the regular trash. He has these buried bases all over the place incase any of those Akatsuki fags came looking for him."

"And as his'd have to be down there with him, right?" Naruto finished. He felt a new wave of sympathy come on with this revelation. Even as a child he knew how nice it was to simply walk outside.

Tayuya must have noticed the mood her companion was sporting as she scowled. "I don't need any fucking pity," she snapped, drawing Naruto out of his thoughts. "It was my choice and I don't regret it even after all this," she said with finality. It was obvious that the discussion was over.

Naruto's face shifted into a small frown. The boy had hopped that Tayuya would open up a bit once she was out of the hospital. While he wouldn't go to the extremes Tsunade would, he was still curious about his new friend's life.

Still, he decided it would be better to take things slowly and dropped the subject. On an unvoiced order, Tayuya pushed herself along as the pair moved away from the hospital and towards town. Other than having to maneuver herself around scattered construction supplies, the redhead was getting along surprisingly well with her new method of locomotion. Still, Naruto made sure to stay close incase one of the villagers recognized her as a Oto-nin; he knew all too well about how the villagers treated those who they considered a enemy.

"Hey, idiot," Tayuya called out. "Where can I get some decent food in this sorry excuse for a village?" she asked, taking no mind of the angry glances those that overheard the question were sending her way.

Naruto moved just a bit closer to the girl as several of the villagers looked ready to start throwing things. "Uh, there is a ramen stand a little down the road..."

Tayuya's nose wrinkled in disgust. "Ramen? That's it? I ate better than that in Ot-!"

Before the girl could complete her statement, Naruto slapped his hand over her mouth. He laughed nervously at the crowd and started pushing Tayuya's wheelchair towards the ramen stand as fast as he could safely go; partly to get away from the crowd, mostly to stop Tayuya from trying to rip off his hand with her teeth.

"You slime! What the hell was that!?" the redhead railed once she was free to open her mouth once again.

"That was saving you from a mob!" Naruto whispered back in a harsh voice. "You can't just go around telling everyone that you're from Oto right after we were attacked by them, are you insane?"

Tayuya snorted at the reprimand. "Like I care about trash like them. If any of them gave me any problems about it, I'd just kill them. They should know better than to question shinobi," the redhead stated as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

Naruto blinked a few times in an attempt to wrap his mind around his friend's point of view. "Just kill them? They're the people we're supposed to protect!" he argued.

"Protect? Holy shit, this entire village is cracked. This is a war machine! What part of that don't you understand?" Tayuya questioned. No wonder that Uchiha kid had wanted to leave if this was what he had to put up with.

The blonde boy frowned at what he perceive to be an insult. "Not everything shinobi do is hurt people," he responded. When he saw Tayuya throw him a vicious smirk, Naruto knew he had said something stupid.

"Really? How many people do you think this village kills a day? Thirty, forty people? I know you guys take assassination missions. How many mothers, fathers, and sons have you slaughtered?" Tayuya said, driving her point home.

Naruto's expression turned blank as his mind snapped back to the time Team Seven got their first C-Rank mission. The Hokage had explained what the village did based on the mission rankings but for the first time Naruto stopped to think about exactly what the old man had said. Missions would come in varying from simple farm work to assassinations all the time and based on the size of the S-Rank scroll, Konoha killers were in high demand.

Tayuya just sat back and watched the emotions play out on Naruto's face. The truth was never easy to see in her experience; especially when it comes out that the nice life you think you have going for you is really a very tangled web of lies and sugar coating. The dulled mark on the back of her neck was enough to remind her of that. However, when Naruto didn't snap out of his stupor immediately the redhead began to actually worry. "Uh...hey idiot, you alright?" she hesitantly asked, trying not to show any real concern.

As soon as the words left her mouth, Naruto's fake smile was back in place. "Yeah, I'm fine! I'm just hungry, we should get going before all the seats are gone!" he loudly exclaimed. Both shinobi knew that it was an act but something in Naruto's eyes made Tayuya decide not call him on it. With a sigh, she allowed herself to be pushed towards the melancholy that was a ramen stand.

At the stand, old man Teuchi was busy with making another batch of ramen. Business had been slow ever since his number one customer was put into the hospital but he would get a few Genin to come in every few hours. It was enough to keep him occupied even if Naruto hadn't been around.

"Old man!"

Teuchi chuckled to himself as he went to grab a bigger pot. The number one surprising ninja of Konoha always showed you up when you weren't expecting it. "Naruto! It's been a while, hasn't it?" he asked from behind the counter. He blinked when he saw the annoyed redhead wheeling along with him, this was a first for the blond boy. "Who's your friend?"

Naruto smiled in response as he helped a grumbling Tayuya out of her wheelchair and onto one of the stools. Ignoring her various threats of bodily harm, the Genin took the stool right next to the irate teen to make sure she would be alright. "This is Tayuya, she just got out of the hospital and wanted the best food in all of Konoha!" Naruto exclaimed.

"Best food does not include ramen," Tayuya sighed. If she cared about what this man thought of her jab at his profession, she didn't show it as she drummed the tabletop with her fingers.

Naruto mearly shook his finger at his annoyed companion with a smug look. "You haven't had this ramen so you can't say things like that. If this doesn't cheer you up, nothing will!"

Teuchi watched the two go back and forth with a smile. Being a lifelong resident of Konoha, he knew all about the demon fox chained to Naruto's soul. Like most other villagers, he had, for a time, seen the vibrant young man as the nightmare-vulpine-turned-flesh and he had shunned him. However, that had changed when Naruto started to frequent his ramen stand. The first time the little boy had walked in, Teuchi had almost called ANBU out of sheer fright. When Naruto had asked what smelled so good, though, the man forced himself to talk and soon they were both chatting ecstatically about different types of ramen. Ever since that day, the old man had known that the Kyuubi had no influence on the boy whatsoever. Because of that, he worried about how Naruto would take the rest of the village not understanding; Teuchi was also worried about Naruto's social development.

"It's good to see you with a friend, Naruto," the old man stated as he prepared the beef for Naruto's order. "You two really seem to understand each other."

"I understand that this bastard is a pain..." Tayuya grumbled.

The ramen maker looked over at the redhead with shock at her language then over to Naruto to see how he would react. When Naruto only grinned, Teuchi laughed along with him. "You certainly have found a spirited girlfriend, Naruto."

A loud snap drew both men's attention to Tayuya who had just broke off a section of the hardwood tabletop. "Girlfriend?! Like this idiot could even get me on a date!" she scoffed.

"Oh? This isn't a date?" Teuchi slyly asked. Naruto sent him a confused look, but it was ignored for the time being.

Tayuya looked even more offended. "Of course not, this is lunch...if ramen can even pass for a meal, that is."

"So what would you say passes for a date?" the old man asked with a smile. To him, the younger generation was just simply amusing.

The former Oto-nin blinked in surprise, as if she had never thought of it before. She did think for a moment, but quickly became annoyed once again. "Well, I don't know but it sure as hell isn't ramen," she stated with finality. Not like she had ever had the time to go out on a date back in Oto.

The old man finally turned to Naruto and slapped his shoulder. "You hear that? You're going to have to do better next time, Naruto!"

Said Genin blinked along with an equally shocked Tayuya. That old man was a crafty one. "No, no! We're just friends!" Naruto almost shouted. "Sakura-chan is the girl I want to go out with!"

Teuchi nodded in understanding and went back to fixing the ramen while Naruto rested his head on his arms, muttering something about Sakura. Tayuya, however, grinded her teeth.

"Sakura, huh?" Tayuya repeated. "That little weakling I saw in the hospital who thinks she'll magically get strong enough to beat Orochimaru and drag that idiot Uchiha back?" she sneered.

Naruto was shaken out of his daydreams about Sakura at the snide response and felt a growing need to defend his teammate. "Hey, Sakura-chan is strong!" Naruto argued back. "If she says she'll do something, she'll do it no matter what gets in her way."

Tayuya was about to say something about that line of thinking when Teuchi interrupted by setting down their ramen orders. Being used to simply serving anything to Naruto, he had taken the liberty of choosing the young girl's order as well.

The Oto-nin took a tenitive bite out of the bowl of beef ramen that was sitting before her. Although it tasted decent enough, she couldn't give the idiot sitting beside her the satisfaction of knowing that.

"Good thing I'm hungry," Tayuya stated as she took another slurp. To her chagrin, Naruto wasn't even paying attention to her as he was tearing into his meal like a man possessed. "Do you even bother to breath?" she wondered, transfixed on the slightly-sickening sight before her.

To his credit, Naruto did pause eating long enough to give his companion a "what did I do?" look before he resumed eating.

Teuchi laughed at the pair. Their back and forth banter reminded him a bit of the way Naruto acted around his team. Speaking of which...

"Naruto, where's the rest of the group you work with?" the old man asked. Usually, that quiet boy or Sakura would be with him when Iruka wasn't around.

That question actually did make Naruto stop eating and his mood become downcast. "Sakura is still around somewhere, but Sasuke..." the boy found he couldn't finish.

Tayuya could, however, and she took the chance when Naruto didn't say anything. "The Uchiha's off on an extended mission somewhere," she mumbled.

"Oh, I see," the old man murmured. As he went back to cooking more ramen, he didn't notice the grateful looking Naruto gave the redhead.

Tayuya chose to ignore the boy and finished off the last of her meal. "Fine, that wasn't half bad, old guy," she admitted. From her, that was like giving someone two thumbs up.

"That's all you're going to eat?!" Naruto wondered aloud. He was starting on his third bowl.

"You're really going to eat that much?" Tayuya countered. "I could stretch that much food into a weeks rations."

Naruto sputtered as he looked at the bowls next to him. Considering it for a moment, he slammed his hand down on the tabletop and gave Tayuya an angry look. "There's no way! A week?! You're kidding me!"

Tayuya gave a long-suffering sigh. "Just what do they teach you in your academy? No wonder this village sucks so much."

Before an all-out argument could start, Teuchi interrupted. "You two sure argue a lot," he pointed out. "Is there really a point to it?"

"Sure there is," Tayuya instantly answered. "He's an idiot and I like to point it out."

Naruto pouted and slumped down on the bar. "I know what you are but what am I?" he mumbled under his breath.

"See? Things like that, idiot!" Tayuya growled as she pounded the hapless blonde on the head. "Come on, you've gorged enough for one sitting and I want to go see this rat-hole apartment that old geezer set up for me."

Regardless of their usual back-and-forth, Naruto was ready to move should Tayuya have any trouble getting back into her wheelchair. However, the redhead proved to be a fast learner and maneuvered her way into the chair without much of a hassle.

As his impatient friend rolled under the curtain that served as some privacy for the diners inside, Naruto pulled out a few bills and paid for their lunch. As he was leaving, though, old man Teuchi had a few parting words.

"That little lady has seen some hard times," he whispered to his favorite customer. "Take care of her, okay?"

Blinking, Naruto instantly nodded his head. "That's the plan! I'll be back tomorrow, old man!"

Outside the stall, Tayuya had parked herself off to the side. Despite her quick departure, she was bound to the blond idiot for the time being until she found out where her new prison, err, apartment, was.

Without saying a word the two started down the street once again with Naruto in the lead. When they finally reached the building, Tayuya snorted at the place. It was rusty, had pipes running all on it, and looked like something Kabuto had designed. Still, she had to admit that it was better than living underground. At least she could see the sun here.

Naruto pulled a small slip of paper from his pocket and looked around at the doors on the ground floor. Shizune had wrote down the apartment number and told him that she had arranged for it to be unlocked.

When he finally found it, Naruto held the door open for the redhead as she wheeled herself into her new home. It opened up immediately into a large living room with some old furniture.

Tayuya's eyes were instantly drawn to the large bay windows, though. The sun was hitting them just right and the entire apartment was lit. Even though she'd never admit it, the place was much more livable than her old room back in Oto.

"What a shit hole," the girl said out loud. "Is there even a bedroom?"

Naruto scanned the room and noticed an opening through which he could see a small kitchen. It had the basic amenities of life and most everything looked to be within reaching distance. Not too bad.

"I think it's over here," Naruto said once he spotted a door off to the side. Opening it, he confirmed his guess as a modest bedroom was revealed with a bathroom linked to it. In all, it was a perfect one-person apartment.

The redhead rolled herself into the bedroom and nearly squealed like a school girl. There, in the corner near a window, was an actual steal-spring bed. Not a slab of rock with a sheet, not a large tree branch, but a bed.

'She's weird,' Naruto through to himself as Tayuya managed to launch herself onto the dusty old mattress with only her arms. The motion had caused her chair to roll out of reach so the blond pushed it back over to her.

"You have no idea how lucky you are," came Tayuya's muffled voice as she simply sank into the soft mattress. "Even between missions I never got to sleep on a bed like this. Not even Orochimaru had it this good." Honestly, the level of extravagance here was disgusting. Not only that, they didn't even know they had it!

Naruto scratched his head in confusion as he looked over the dank bed. "But, it's all musty and dirty..." he trailed off upon seeing the foul look Tayuya had risen from the bed to give him. "Ah, I mean, it's a nice bed! One of the best!"

"What would you know, you're not a shinobi," Tayuya mumbled as she sank back into the covers. She didn't know how much the worlds had cut the boy and he visibly flinched but she was beyond caring. No one understood what it was like for her up until this moment.

Naruto's mood darkened considerably as Tayuya didn't say anything else. Was that how she saw him? As some kid just playing ninja? His eyes narrowed at the kunoichi as he started to walk out of the room. Before he did, though, he paused at the door. "You know, I might not be the best ninja in this village, but at least nothing I've ever done will keep me up at night screaming at my dreams," he said. "I'll be up a floor if you need me." With that, he let himself out and didn't bother stopping the door from slamming.

For a time, Tayuya just ignored that nagging thing she kept locked up in her brain, damn conscience never did her any good, and simply enjoyed having a bed that she could call hers. It was new concept, owning something and not having to share for the common effort. Hell, she could probably buy some eyeliner without Sakon stealing it. "Heh, yeah, that fag loved his makeup," Tayuya laughed, half expecting Jirobo to scold her language or Kidomaru to laugh along with her. They didn't, of course, because they were...well, they were dead.

Tayuya drew in a long breath as she reflected on her old team. They were sadistic, crude, rude, idiotic, and just as screwed up as Tayuya herself was but still, they were a team. Her team. TheTeam. Oto elites, the bodyguards of the leader himself, beaten, killed. "So what the fuck am I doing alive?" Tayuya asked herself as she pulled her legs to her chest. For the first time ever, she wished that Sakon would steal her eye shadow or Kidomaru would crack some joke while Jirobo tried to keep himself from laughing. It was just one more thing to lock away and forget about because that's what shinobi had to do. For her, she would be lucky only to see their faces in her nightmares while she had to live life one day at a time without them...

Short, sucky chapter. I know and I completely understand how you're all feeling. However, since I wanted to pick back up this fiction I wanted to start fresh so I'm releasing this. Next chapter will be with a fresh outlook and new plot devices, no where near as short as this nor as bad. Scout's honor.