(imdisclaimingimdisclaimingimdisclaiming)

(watch out for the poor attempts at symbolism and general idiocy)

(enjoy)

x

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peppermint swirls and stutterbug girls

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(o)(n)(e)

officious

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x

"Welcome to the Shady Leaf Treatment Facility! It's a pleasure to have you join us!"

I scowl at the lady. She's in all white, with a Practice-in-the-Mirror smile that makes me want to gag.

"Wish I could say the same."

"Naruto!" Iruka throws his elbow into my stomach, and I wince. The nurse looks all uncomfortable now.

(No wonder she only works the front desk. If she can't handle Normal Crazy, you can't expect her to deal with the Crazy Crazies in the back.)

"So," she starts again, while I frown and Iruka steps on my foot, "Can I, um, show you to your room?"

"No," I mutter. She wilts a little more.

Iruka shoves me with his hand now, in the back. "Yes, please," he says and gives her his warmest smile.

I drag my feet when she starts leading us, nice and slow. I feel like some stupid little kid.

We reach a door with a keypad on the side, and the nursecretarywhatever punches some numbers in before she opens it.

The smell of cleaning chemicals and disinfectant hits me like a tidal wave. All I can see is white.

"This is where you'll be staying," the lady says, all cheery.

God, the patients walking around look like zombies.

Iruka swallows. "Here?"

She starts leading us forward again. "Well, he'll be in the Teen Unit," she responds, like I'm not even there. "Where there are kids his own age. They're a great bunch, I'm sure everyone will get along just fine."

The evil smirk on her face tells me otherwise.

We reach another door, with another keypad, and more numbers get punched in. I hike my big orange backpack a little higher.

"Here we are," she calls, sweeping the door open.

I take a deep, deep breath, and step into my new place. Iruka does the same.

(Home sweet home.)

There are no patients out here. The smell is a little less strong and the walls are creamier than the other hall.

My feet sink into the oriental carpeting like mud.

The lady waves a vague hand through the air. "These rooms are all various things. The counselor offices, the separate first-aid center, the medication distribution, et cetera, et cetera, are all here."

We reach a corner, turn, and meet tiled floor. My beat up old sneakers make a dull echo, and I grip my backpack strap a little tighter.

The lady throws her hand up again. "These are the assigned rooms. Girls are on the left side of the hall, boys on the right. Girls posses single rooms while the boys have two beds to one room, opposite sides-"

"Wait," I blurt, eyes wide. Iruka puts a warning hand on my arm. "We have roommates?"

She's smiling wider than ever. "Yes, of course. We're a little short on space, and we make sure the two boarding together are compatible beforehand. No worries."

"Whoop-dee-doodle-doo," I mutter, as she keeps walking.

The last thing I need is more people to deal with.

Iruka looks around, takes everything in. "Um, Miss…?"

"Ah," says the lady, "Just call me Karin."

He nods. "Karin, then… Where are all of the other patients?"

"Everyone's currently at group therapy. It's a weekly thing we have with everyone." She gives me another wicked smirk that Iruka doesn't catch. "It's part of the healing process."

I'm going to rip out her artificial tomato-colored hair by the roots.

"Oh. Isn't that nice, Naruto?" Iruka asks me, forever naïve. I snort.

We walk a little more, and suddenly Karin stops. She pulls out a key ring, sticks one in the doorknob of a random room, then another pad lock above it, and shoves the door open.

It's blank, and cold, and empty. Only one of the beds is made.

"This is where you'll be staying. Room Seven." She points towards the messy-ish bed. "That belongs to your roommate."

I step in, with Iruka at my side, and gulp. Not even a window.

"Down the hall," Karin continues, ignoring any discomfort, "is the Rec. room, as well as the Cafeteria. You will be given a schedule regarding your daily activities, which will be with your roommate, the female with your corresponding room number, and your assigned counselor. You will also be given the standard issued hospital uniform."

She snatches my backpack from my shaking hands, and smiles some more. "Regulation. No outside objects or clothing. I'll have to confiscate this."

Iruka looks a little ticked off. "I can take it for him," he offers, holding his hand out.

Karin hands it over, reluctant. I don't even look back at them. I walk farther into the small room, dark and shadowed and not my home.

She looks between us from behind her plastic-framed glasses, and takes a step out of the room. "I'll leave you to yourselves for a bit and grab you a uniform. But, I regret to inform you, it will have to be quickly."

Her sharp heels click away. Iruka takes a step forward.

I take a step away. "See ya," I say curtly. I jump back onto my new bed, and close my eyes for a second.

The mattress feels like rock.

He stares down at the floor. "Naruto, please don't feel upset with me… I'm only doing this to help you." He looks up the same time as I do.

"Iruka, you're having me committed. How am I supposed to feel?"

He shakes his head, and takes another step forward. "I don't have a choice. Naruto, you attacked a boy at school. He's still in the hospital."

I snort, roll over so that I'm staring at the eggshell colored wall. "I told you I don't even remember doing that."

"And you started strangling the neighbor's cat."

"Don't remember. But I'm sure the demon spawn deserved it."

"You had three mental breakdowns in the past month."

"Can't recall."

"You were talking to yourself in your room every day for a week when I came home from work."

"That's news to me."

"This isn't a joke," he finally explodes, "It's your life! The problem is that you don't remember. The problem is that you did all of these things subconsciously. The problem is that you won't accept the fact that you may be mentally ill!"

I sit up, quick as a flash, and turn towards him. "You think I don't know that? You think I didn't hear every kid in school make fun of me when my back was turned? That I'm under the impression that I'm normal? I understand that I'm a problem," I spit out, "but getting rid of me won't solve your own."

I turn away again, and hear Iruka sigh. "Naruto…"

I hear the high heels clicking their way over before her voice reaches my ears. "Mr. Umino, sir, I apologize. But it's time to leave. I promise, we'll take good care of your son."

I sit up again, avoid his eyes.

"I'm not his son," I say, my heart stinging. I'm just his problem.

There's silence for a moment.

"Sir…?"

"Goodbye, Naruto," I hear Iruka's voice tremble, and I shrink a little.

His footsteps fade away after lingering by the door for a minute.

I take a very, very shaky breath.

Something is thrown in my face. "Change in the bathroom connected to your room."

I look down at the pile of light blue in my lap and get up like a robot.

The bathroom is tiny and bare except for a small sink and toilet bowl. I shed my bright neon tee shirt and slip on the uniform. I do the same with my jeans.

"You can continue wearing your own shoes," I hear Karin call from outside the door.

The uniform is stiff and uncomfortable, with long pants and short sleeves that nearly reach my elbow. It rustles when I move.

I step out and hand my old clothes, my old life, over to the sadist in front of me. She shoves them in a garbage bag she's holding.

She smirks that wicked little smirk.

"Welcome to Shady Leaf," she chimes again. This time, it sounds more like a jail sentence.

x

I'm led to the Recreation room, with more of the squishy oriental rug, and a few pieces of oddball furniture. There's a T.V., some scattered board games, tables, art supplies, a radio that's probably seen better days, and an ancient gaming system.

I pick a big purple armchair, the one with the least holes, and sink into it.

Karin leaves after babbling for a while, talking about stuff I wasn't listening to. I sit there for what feels like forever.

Then it happens. I hear Him.

Abandoned again? Pity.

My eyes go wide. He hasn't said anything for a week now, and I've gotten used to it, and slightly happier.

It seems you're meant to be alone.

I clutch both sides of my head and bend over. Shut up shut up shut up-

I'll never leave.

Get away.

I'll always be here.

Leave me alone.

I'll always be a part of you.

Get out of my head!

I'll always be Kyuubi. I'll always be your darker side.

"No!"

My eyes snap open. There is a crowd, small and happy, walking right past the open room and towards another. It's like I'm not even here.

I take a few more seconds to remember the art of regular breathing before standing up and joining them.

I get pulled into a Cafeteria that's reminiscent of my old high school. There are less people, but all of them look about my age.

I turn my head from this side to that, looking, searching, learning. I can't imagine all of these people being crazy.

I'm so into everything that I don't even notice the two people standing in front of me. I walk straight into one of them.

"Oof!" I stumble back, my nose catching the scent of smoke and flames from the kid. I look up at him. He's a few inches taller than me.

He's got blue-black hair, pale skin, and opens his mouth to speak when I'm suddenly thrown backwards, a hand at my throat and a warm breath on my face.

"Apologize." The voice is hard and rough, but silky at the same time.

I stare into the face of the person holding me up by my neck. It's a girl.

She has misty green eyes, and short pink hair. Her hand feels like an iron claw.

I let out a pathetic choking noise and try pushing her death grip away. My vision blurs at the edges. I can't breathe.

"Sakura." This voice comes from behind the girl, and I put it with the guy I just bumped into. The girl lets me go, and I fall onto the floor coughing. When I look up, she's rubbing the back of her head sheepishly and offering me a hand. I take it.

She yanks me up with brutal strength, so that I stumble a little before straightening. When my eyes focus, the two of them are gone.

I rub my neck. "Wha…?"

"It looks like you just survived your first encounter with Sakura's double personality. Congrats."

I flip around. A boy is standing there, with weird red tattoos on his cheeks and messy brown hair. He's holding some old stuffed animal in his right arm.

He chuckles. "Name's Kiba." He extends his hand.

I flinch. Then I remember I'm supposed to shake it.

"Naruto," I say back. I stare down at the beaten toy.

He catches me, and lifts it up. It's a white dog, missing one of its eyes.

"And this little guy," he says, petting it on the head, "is Akamaru."

"Oh." I blink.

He grins, sharp canines glinting, and stuffs the dogtoything into his shirt so that its head pokes out of the collar. He grabs my wrist and drags me towards one of the few tables.

"You're eating with us," he tells me.

"Oh." I blink again.

I'm pushed into a plastic chair. Kiba sits in the one next to me.

The guy from before is sitting across from me, and the girl is on his right. She waves at me like we're best friends.

There's another girl on the guy's left, stick-thin and platinum blonde. She scowls at me, and pushes her lunch try away. A chubby boy with weird brown hair on her left eagerly takes it and shovels it down. There are three empty seats.

Kiba points at me, and everyone looks up.

"This," he proclaims, "is Naruto. The newbie!"

The skinny girl glares at me. "He's Sai's replacement?"

Who's Sai?

The girl that nearly killed me- who I now notice is very, very pretty- pokes the quiet guy in the arm.

"That means he's boarding with you, Sasuke!"

The kid gives me a flat look.

"Hn."

Hn?

The pretty girl claps her hands together. "And that means he's in our group! Cool!" She turns to me, nodding, like she didn't just strangle me. "You'll like Kakashi."

Kakashi?

She continues, "He's our counselor. He's always late, and a total pervert, but he's fun and he treats us like we're normal."

I cross my arms, narrow my eyes. "I am normal."

The Sasuke-guy lifts an eyebrow. I already don't like him.

The blonde girl rolls her eyes. "That's what they all say."

Kiba jumps up before I can respond. "Time for introductions!"

I look over at him. "Do you have ADD or something?"

Then I realize that's a pretty stupid question to ask in a mental hospital. They all look at me for a second, and then Kiba continues.

He points to my assailant from earlier. "That's Sakura. She's real sweet, but her other personality is like some violent psycho. You're lucky Sasuke was there."

He points at the guy I don't like. "That's Sasuke. He's a pyromaniac. Oh, and he's the only one who can control the evil Sakura." He leans down so that he's milliliters away from my ear. "They're both totally possessive of each other. So don't go hitting on Sakura or anything." He pauses. "Or Sasuke. Whatever."

Kiba sits up straight again as I glare at him. He points to the girl with the attitude. "That's Ino. She refuses to eat."

Ino sniffs and turns her face away. She's real pretty too. But the resemblance to a toothpick is kind of a turn-off.

Next, Kiba points to the kid that's inhaling his food like oxygen. "That's Chouji. He can't stop eating. Since he's got the opposite problem from Ino, they compliment each other real well."

Next he gestures to the three empty chairs. "That's normally where Shikamaru, Shino, and Hinata sit. They're peer counselors, 'cause they're our age. So they only work here. You know, sane. "

My brain hurts.

I blink, dazed, and finally look around at the table.

No one is really paying any mind to me. Kiba pounces on his food, and places Akamaru on the table next to his tray. I swear, that one-eyed thing is staring right at me.

Maybe I am crazy.

Sakura's chatting away, while Sasuke only nods or grunts. Ino is staring at Chouji like he's some kind of animal.

I zone everything out. I pretend nothing's really there, until I only see blurs of color and hear a dull droning noise, and I make believe that I'm home again.

I don't belong here. I don't belong here. I don't-

"Hey, aren't you going to eat something?"

Earth comes crashing down and wraps around me again, just in time for me to see Sakura looking at me with her head tilted.

"I'm not hungry," I grumble, the first time I think I've ever said that when it was true.

She only smiles at me, and plucks a bright red apple right out of Sasuke's hand. He glares at her, but only a little.

"Here," she says, pushing the fruit into my face.

"I don't want it," I tell her, getting annoyed.

She frowns. "Take it," she insists, shoving it forward until I feel the apple brush against my skin.

"I don't want it," I say again, my voice rising a little.

"Just take it."

And I burst.

"No! I don't want the fucking fruit!" I shout, and use the back of my hand to knock the offer right out of her hand. It bounces on the table twice and starts rolling towards the end.

The entire Cafeteria is dead silent. Sakura looks at me for a second, turns, and runs straight out of the room. Everyone's eyes are on me.

The silence is so heavy, and I feel like such an idiot, still standing and not looking the least bit guilty.

Sasuke suddenly gets up, his chair making a scraping noise, and catches the apple right as it's rolling off the edge of the beaten table. He rubs it on his shirt, walks over to my seat.

He shoves it into my chest as he passes me. My hands grab it, instinct.

"It's still good," he murmurs, like a falling pin in the quiet room.

He walks out the door. And I stare at the apple in my hands.

With Sasuke's departure, the volume in the Caf. rises again, if only slightly softer. I take my seat. I'm still looking at the apple.

"You're an ass," I hear Ino growl, and then Kiba shush her.

My eyes never leave the apple.

I excuse myself, finally, the fruit hanging from my hand.

I reach my room, throw open the door, toss the apple onto the lone nightstand, jump onto the bed-that-isn't-mine, and close my eyes.

x

When I wake up, the door is opening, and it's dark in the room. Even the hall lights aren't on. Sasuke walks in.

He doesn't even look at me. I feel lower than dirt.

He just lies on his own bed. I must have slept through the rest of the afternoon and dinner, if it's already lights out, and I didn't even have breakfast this morning with how jumpy my stomach was.

When I'm sure my roommate is asleep, I kick the wall nice and hard.

"This is the worst day ever," I growl.

"Of course you would say that. It's your first day."

I turn over on my bed, but its too dark to see. He was never sleeping.

I sigh, and turn onto my back. "You're first day was the hardest too?" I ask.

"No."

I blink. "Huh?"

"The first night is much worse."

I don't really get it, but I don't push.

Thirty minutes later, and I'm still not asleep.

An hour, and I'm still tossing and turning.

Two hours, and I've just given up and resigned myself to lying on my back and staring at the ceiling.

The bed is too tough. The pillow is lumpy. The outfit itches. Everything smells like disinfectant. I miss my room. It's too warm. It's too cold. And I'm hungry.

Without a second thought, I reach blindly towards the small nightstand, fingers searching. They meet the smooth skin of the apple, and I immediately grip it.

Sitting up and licking my lips, I take one big bite.

And I've never tasted anything sweeter.

x

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-PM-