Disclaimer: If I owned Naruto, we would all be in serious trouble.

This is a high school AU with a bit of a fun twist. I'm not much of a writer, but it is something relaxing to do when I'm stressed or bored, thus this story was born. I write when I feel like it, which is completely unpredictable, so don't expect a regular update schedule. Anyway, this is set in typical suburban America with a few random Japanese things (like honorifics) left alone because I just can't bring myself to take them out when I'm writing Naruto. So yeah, enjoy. My wonderful cousin and beta actually says this isn't so bad to read when you've got nothing better to do.

Chapter 1: And the Wheels Start Turning

The small, red compact vehicle zipped into the high school parking lot, quickly pulling into the first spot in sight. The driver, a harried looking young woman with a briefcase tucked under her arm, climbed out, the strong morning wind whipping her short, dark hair into a frenzy. She was late. Her first day at this place, and she was nearly an hour late.

She liked to think it wasn't really her fault. After all, she was new to the area in general, and some idiot had decided to hide the school in the most shoved-away place they could find. The only way to reach it was to take a series of backroads that looked like they would lead to a crackhouse rather than a school. And, of course, no one had bothered to put up any signs from the main roads to tell people where the building was hidden. She was lucky the school was located in a bustling suburban area where there were plenty of people out and about to ask for directions, otherwise she doubted she ever would have found the place.

Now she was speed-walking through the double doors at the main entrance, making a beeline for the conveniently placed office. The moment she stepped into the room, a blond woman with a particularly large chest practically tackled her, gathering her into bone-crushing hug. "Shizune!"

The young brunette sighed, patting the woman fondly on the back. "Hello, Aunt Tsunade. It's been awhile."

"It's been too long! I know I said I didn't mind if you moved away, but I didn't expect you to stay away!"

Shizune couldn't help but roll her eyes. She was twenty-nine after all, not a child. And then less than a year after she had left, Tsunade had relocated herself. "I'm sorry, but I'm definitely back for good now. And I wanted to thank you again for letting me use your school as a guinea pig."

Her gratitude was waved off. "No need to thank me, the school board were the ones who actually approved everything. And they never would have considered it if we didn't meet your criteria. In fact, we were starting to get a little desperate. The freshman class this year... And then our old psychologist couldn't handle it. It was her last year before retirement, so she ended up taking it early. Didn't even mind the loss of pension it caused her."

Shizune frowned, a bit worried. "Were the kids that bad?" If they were all so horrible that they made a woman retire early, the program she had planned really wouldn't work.

"No, no, they're not bad," Tsunade assured her quickly. "Really, they're not. They're just... complicated. You'll understand when you look at their files. Speaking of which, I got them all organized and set up in your office for you to look at. Your predecessor, Gloria Thompson, was very thorough at least. She wasn't very good at actually dealing with the kids, though."

Shizune nodded her understanding. She had met the type before, the ones who really would have been better off being psychiatrists rather than psychologists. She watched with mild interest as her aunt shuffled through a mountain of papers on her desk, crying out in triumph when she found what she was looking for.

"Here it is."

The paper ended up being no more than a hastily scrawled list of names.

Naruto Uzumaki

Gaara Sabaku

Sasuke Uchiha

Sai Root

Daniel Matthews

Neji Hyuuga

Hinata Hyuuga

Kiba Inuzuka

Justin Hubbard

Shikamaru Nara

Sakura Haruno

Amy Yoder

Ino Yamanaka

Chouji Akimichi

Rock Lee

Tenten Kunai

Ryan Smith

Shino Aburame

Jessica Parker

She read down the list carefully before glancing up and clearing her throat. "These are...?"

"That's a list of the children we believe might be right for the program. Of course, it will be up to you to look through their files, talk to them, and make the final decision. That's your main job right now, though you also have to fill the role of the school psychologist if anything comes up. Only the bigger problems, though, like a death in the family or if we think they need to go see a psychiatrist. If there's someone who really needs to see you, the teachers and guidance counselors will pick up on it. I'm blessed with an observant and caring staff, they know what they're doing. Your main priority is still getting the program underway."

There was a slight pause and Shizune waited, knowing the older woman wasn't done. Sure enough, "I would like to ask a small favor, though. Even if you don't get to talk to any of the others today, could you please call down Naruto Uzumaki? Even just for fifteen, twenty minutes... He has some... attention needs, and with Gloria gone they really aren't being fulfilled..."

"And when they aren't fulfilled, he starts to act out," Shizune finished knowingly.

"Yes." Tsunade looked visibly relieved. "I've tried having the guidance counselors talk with him, but absolutely none of them can get along with him. He ends up sitting in my office constantly. Not that I mind having him around or anything, but he's missing class when he's with me."

"I understand. I'll definitely make some time for him."

"Thank you. I guess it's best if you get started right away. We can catch up later."

Shizune gave her aunt a smile. "I can't wait."

Tsunade smiled right back, glad her niece, her foster daughter, was finally home. "Izumo will show you to your office."


Nearly two hours later, Shizune sat at the desk of her small office, staring blankly at the folders piled in front of her. She'd been a psychologist for approximately six years now. She'd been working in schools for five of those years. She'd moved around a lot, working at everything from private schools, to inner-city schools, to schools way out in the middle of nowhere. And now here she was, in a nice, suburban town, filled with shopping centers, fastfood joints, and decent middle-class houses, just far enough from the city to not be truly urban. A genuinely nice place to live. And this wonderful slice of suburbia... had the most messed up group of kids she'd ever had the misfortune to hear about.

She looked at the folders again, unsure of what to do. She'd read through the files of the nineteen kids on her list. Some weren't that bad, had regular problems that she was used to dealing with. But some of them...

She took a deep breath, mentally chastising herself. She couldn't go solely by files, she hadn't even met the kids yet. She refused to come to any conclusions until she'd had a face-to-face with all of them. Hell, it was only fair. And the day was already half over, it was time to really get down to business. Besides, she'd made her aunt a promise. First up on the list: Naruto Uzumaki.


Naruto sat in math class, alternating rapidly between nearly falling asleep listening to the teacher, and suddenly snapping wide awake to play intently with a rubber band. When he saw the new kid Sai watching him out of the corner of his eye, he grinned widely and held the rubber band out to the other boy, trying to be friendly and polite. The other gave him his usual fake smile and declined before returning to his drawing.

With a small shrug, Naruto continued stretching the band with fascination when the phone at the front of the class rang. Sarutobi-sensei paused in his boring explanation on how to find 'x' and answered, listening for a moment before hanging up. "Naruto, come here please."

Naruto bounced happily to the front of the class where Sarutobi-sensei wrote him out a pass, handing it to him with a smile. The boy smiled back with a cheery, "Thanks, sensei!" before bounding out of the classroom. He didn't have to ask or look at the pass to know where he was going. He only got called to two places, and if it had been the main office that wanted him, Sarutobi-sensei would have announced it out loud. Since he had handed him the pass silently, that meant he had been called to the school psychologist's office. His senseis never said it out loud when he was called there, it wasn't anyone else's business. Really he could have cared less, but he knew some people would be all sensitive about the whole class knowing they were going to see a shrink. Like that Uchiha bastard for instance.

He practically skipped to the familiar room stuffed away in the corner of the building, humming to himself as he went. Tsunade-baachan had told him they were getting a new psychologist as soon as possible after the first one, Thompson-sensei, had run for the hills, only lasting two months into the school year before taking early retirement. Naruto hadn't been particularly upset to see her go. She was a nice enough old lady, but he had trouble talking to her. And both Tsunade and Iruka had basically threatened him if he didn't talk and work out his 'issues'.

Approaching the office he knocked before hearing a female voice call softly, "Come in." Upon entering he saw the new psychologist behind her desk, rearranging a stack of folders that teetered threateningly. He watched her curiously for a moment before giving his brightest smile. "Hi! I'm Naruto Uzumaki. Sarutobi-sensei sent me down."

Shizune managed to keep papers from spilling all over the floor and smiled warmly back at the boy in front of her. "Hello, Naruto, it's nice to meet you. I'm Shizune Suzuki and I'll be taking over for Thompson-sensei. I wanted to get a chance to meet with all her regular visitors and get to know you a little better."

"Mmkay." Naruto flopped himself down on the small, comfy couch in the room, draping a leg over the arm in his most relaxed position. "So whatcha wanna know, sensei?"

Shizune examined the boy in front of her carefully, going over everything that had been in his file in her mind again.

He was wearing a simple pair of worn denim jeans, a gray t-shirt with some logo she didn't recognize, a bright orange jacket overtop of it, and orange converse. She found the latter particularly amusing because she couldn't remember ever having seen that the brand of shoes in that color before. He had a happy expression on his face that didn't falter, and she remembered her predecessor's analysis of his psyche. He was a naturally hyper boy who was terrified of being all alone again, so he acted out to get people's attention. Since the boy was so energetic anyway, adding on to that made him seem like he had a serious case of ADHD, which he'd actually been tested for. No surprise he didn't have it. He was of average intelligence, but generally acted dumb as both another way to gain attention and a defense mechanism. If he didn't like certain questions you were asking or a certain situation, he would either pretend to not understand or do something stupid to draw your attention away. Obviously he wasn't so dumb if he could plan out and manipulate things in that manner.

Shizune flipped open his file again, frowning at it ever so slightly. There was a detailed psychological workup on the boy, but nothing personal was written down. So she had been right. The woman who came before her had most likely been a very straightforward, by the book professional. That was fine if you were a psychiatrist, writing out prescriptions once you figured out the problem, but a psychologist was supposed to help the patient talk through their problems. With children and teenagers especially, that involved getting personal and learning as much as you could about them. As far as that went, she'd have to start from scratch.

"Well, Naruto, why don't we start with you telling me a bit about yourself."

"Mm, like what? I'm a fifteen year old, non-smoking Libra. I live with Iruka and have since I was nine. My favorite food is ramen, my favorite class is gym, and my favorite color is orange." He blinked at her. "Was there something specific you wanted to know, sensei?"

Shizune tilted her head slightly and nodded thoughtfully. "Do you have a lot of friends here? Who's your best friend?"

The blond laughed slightly and scratched the back of his head. "Well, I've got a couple friends here, y'know that I hang out with during school and eat lunch with. But I've only got one really good friend who I see out of school, so I guess he's my best friend, huh?"

"What's his name?"

"Hm? Oh, Gaara Sabaku. He and I have been really close since middle school."

Shizune tensed ever so slightly at the name. She recognized it instantly as the second name on her list and remembered reading through his file. So the wretched had found each other, huh?

"Hey, do you know Gaara?" Naruto continued excitedly, waving his arms to make sure he had her attention. "He had to come see Thompson-sensei for mandatory sessions too, so that means he's gotta see you, right?"

Shizune hesitated, not supposed to discuss other patients with him, but then nodded, knowing the boys told each other anyway. "I haven't met him yet, but I plan on doing so shortly."

"Yeah? That's cool. Gaara's a real good guy, but he'll probably be mean to you."

Shizune felt her eyebrow raise of its own accord. "Oh?"

"Yeah, he hates coming here. I don't mind it, but he really can't stand it. And he didn't like Thompson-sensei either. I think he's the biggest reason she left. He did everything he could to scare her." He shoved a hand into his coat pocket then looked up imploringly at Shizune. "Hey, sensei, can I chew gum in here? Thompson-sensei wouldn't let me."

"Is there a school rule against gum?"

The boy shook his head earnestly. "No, we're allowed, but she said I would get it all over her office..." There was a pause and he actually looked a little sad. "I'm not five y'know."

The woman did her best to smile. "I never said you were. Please, feel free to chew as much gum as you want in here."

He crowed happily at that, immediately popping a piece of pink bubblegum into his mouth and chewing enthusiastically. Meanwhile, Shizune quickly scribbled a note down for later use. It seemed that as much as the boy wanted attention, he did eventually draw the line. He didn't mind people thinking he was dumb, but there was a point when it got a bit too insulting for him. Telling a fifteen year old boy, hyper or not, that he would get gum everywhere, was indeed treating him like an incapable child or someone mentally handicapped. That wasn't attention he wanted. That, and he appeared to sincerely enjoy his bubblegum.

"So, Naruto, I know you have friends you get along with. Is there anyone you don't get along with? A specific person or group of people?"

The blond immediately made a face, nodding emphatically. "Yeah, Sasuke-teme! I can't stand him!"

She raised an eyebrow slightly, knowing he meant the third person on her list. "Oh?"

They talked for about fifteen more minutes about a variety of things, many of which seemed to lead back to Sasuke interestingly. The boy also talked quite a bit about his guardian Iruka and Gaara, along with telling Shizune a bit about his other acquaintance/friends at school and his not-so-secret attraction to a certain pink-haired girl farther down on the list. When the bell rang for lunch she finally dismissed him. He'd skipped out happily, telling her with a broad smile that she was much better than Thompson-sensei. She laughed good-naturedly and waved him off. The second he was gone, she began writing furiously, postponing her own lunch until she was done.

Her conclusion on Naruto Uzumaki was the same as her predecessor's. He was an average boy, traumatized by the past, who now sought attention almost obsessively, not that she could blame him. His problem of constantly getting into trouble at school because of ridiculous stupid things was a direct effect of that obsession. He seemed to be slowly calming down as time went on, though, starting to realize that he wasn't going to be left alone again. It would just take more time to heal him. It would take time, but it was completely possible. And he was perfect for the program.



Gaara flinched slightly at the loud, exuberant cry of his name, along with... "Did you just make up a word?"

"Yessir!" the blond affirmed, taking a seat at the table next to his best friend. What had Iruka packed him today?


"Because it rhymed!" He pulled two sandwiches out of the bag, examining them closely, picking the one that was his. Salami. Not his favorite, but not bad. "Here," he said brandishing one of the sandwiches (the PB&J one) at Gaara, nearly smacking him in the face with it. What else? A bag of Doritos, an apple, and a Snickers bar. Good enough.

Gaara snatched the sandwich away with a grunted thank you and pulled it from its Ziplock confines taking a small bite. "You know Iruka doesn't have to make me lunch everyday."

"I know." Naruto removed his own sandwich, taking the top piece of bread off and carefully looking over the meat and cheese. Satisfied it was still good and wouldn't make him sick, he put it back together and practically inhaled it.

Gaara decided not to argue anymore, they'd done that a million times before and it never got anywhere. He was given a small allowance to cover food and any personal things he wanted to buy once a month, and he'd decided early on it was easy to just skip lunch and keep all of the allowance for personal use. When he became friends with Naruto and explained this, Naruto's 'father' had started packing an extra sandwich in the blond's lunch for him. It wasn't necessary, it's not like he was starving, but Iruka always insisted. Gaara knew Iruka was just thrilled Naruto had found a true friend finally.

"Hey, guys." A tray clattered on the table across from them and Kiba sat down, smiling wolfishly. "Naruto, you got called down today, didn't you? That's why you left Sarutobi's class."

Gaara stopped nibbling at his sandwich upon hearing this and stared, eyes narrowed. "You got called down? Is that hag back?"

Naruto stuffed the last of his sandwich in his mouth, shaking his head. "I'll tell you in a second. Wait for Chouji."

"He's coming," Kiba said, looking over his shoulder to spot their friend. "He was right behind me in line... Uh-oh."

"Uh-oh what?" Gaara growled, following Kiba's line of sight. That's when he saw it too. "That bitch again. Why doesn't he smack her upside her stupid blond head?"

Chouji had been making his way to their table, tray of food in hand, when he had been stopped by his worst nightmare. The princess of the school, Ino Yamanaka. Immediately his fingers tensed on the tray, waiting for the onslaught of insults she would hurl at him. He didn't actually listen to her words while she taunted him, just tried not to look at her hateful face, preferring to look at the floor, the wall, even the table of laughing 'popular' kids. Anything as long as he didn't have to see her giving him that look. He couldn't take that.

"As a matter of fact," Gaara continued, starting to rise, "I think I might just do it for him."

"Ah, Gaara, wait!" Kiba cried, jumping up and pushing Gaara back down into his seat. He knew if his little, redheaded friend got his hands on Ino, she wouldn't live to tell the tale. "Let's let Naruto handle this, all right?"

Sure enough, Naruto was already skipping over to the 'popular table.' It wasn't actually named that or anything, nothing that childish, but everyone who sat there was a jock or cheerleader or just plain beauty queen. While some schools really weren't that big on 'cliques' theirs was, and everyone knew who the popular kids were as opposed to everyone else. Luckily, Naruto knew how to manipulate several of said popular kids, one in particular.


Ino froze, as did everyone else. Sasuke slowly turned in his seat, frowning at the loud blond, his eyes clearly letting him know how insignificant he was to the great Uchiha. "What, dobe?"

"I know it was you, teme!"

Sasuke just blinked at that, racking his brains for what he could possibly have done, seeing as how he hadn't spoken to Naruto in several days. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Don't lie, teme!"

While the two boys argued loudly (well, Naruto was loud at least) back and forth, Chouji quietly slipped away, scurrying to the safety of his lunch table and his two other friends. Naruto continued yelling at Sasuke that he knew it was him while Sasuke continued to ask in his most bored voice what the hell Naruto was even referring to. Naruto simply babbled on and on, waving his arms wildly and being as noisy as possible to make sure all eyes were on him. When he saw Chouji had gotten safely away from Ino, he smiled happily, his whole demeanor changing. Sasuke eyed him suspiciously, thrown by the sudden change. "Dobe?"

"I like your shirt, teme."

Sasuke felt his eyes widen at the comment and actually glanced down at himself and his dark blue polo. "Dobe, what are you..." He let his voice trail off when he realized Naruto was already skipping back over to his table, humming to himself. He stared, trying to figure out what was going on, when his eyes fell on Chouji sitting next to Kiba and he understood. Clever dobe.

"What the hell was that?" a girl next to him muttered, her face scrunched up in disgust. "That kid is so weird."

"I swear, this school is being overrun by freshman," a senior said, frowning. "No offense to anyone here," he quickly added, nodding very specifically to Sasuke and Ino, "but there are a lot of real losers in your class. And that kid is the biggest one."

There were laughs and agreements on how strange the boy was, calling him stupid and crazy. A few seats down from Sasuke, Neji inwardly scoffed at all of them. Did they honestly not realize he'd purposely drawn everyone's attention to himself so the heavy boy could get away from Ino, the school's biggest bitch? He agreed, of course, the boy was a loser, but how stupid was everyone to not comprehend what had just happened? Why did he sit with these morons?

Several tables away Sakura was beside herself with rage. "Stupid Naruto. How dare he yell at Sasuke like that. And doesn't he realize how retarded he just made himself look?"

"A-ano... Sakura... I think he did that because--"

"Honestly, he just comes over yelling his head off about absolutely nothing! What's wrong with him?"


"Well, he did have to go see Thompson-sensei, so maybe he's bipolar or something... Sorry, Hinata, what were you saying?"

Hinata just blushed and shook her head. "No, it's nothing. Never mind." She secretly gave Naruto a smile, a blush rising on her cheeks. What he did for Chouji was amazing.

"So like I was saying before," Kiba insisted, his mouth full, "you got called down last period, right?"

"Uh-huh, but don't worry. Thompson-sensei is gone for good. There's a new lady now." Naruto examined his apple carefully, making sure it was okay.

Chouji raised his eyebrows. "A new lady? That was fast."

"Is she like the hag?"

"Ne, Gaara, just because you didn't like Thompson-sensei doesn't mean you should call her a hag. And besides, Suzuki-sensei's nothing like her. She's really nice, and she let me chew gum!"

"Oh, well as long as she let you chew gum," the smaller boy muttered sarcastically.

Naruto chose to ignore him, checking the expiration date on his bag of Doritos and then eating them as quickly as could be done while looking over each chip first.

"So she's gonna call us all down eventually, right?" Chouji said slowly, wondering when exactly that would be for him.

"I think so; but Tanuki-chan will get called down before you two."

Chouji nodded, knowing Tanuki-chan was Gaara because of the dark eyeliner he always wore. He also knew better than to ever call him that. Only Naruto could get away with that nickname. Hell, when it came to Gaara, only Naruto could get away with a lot of things.

Lunch ended all too quickly, and Gaara found himself in Spanish listening to Yuuhi-sensei explain something about vowels. When the phone rang he flinched, knowing it was for him. If Naruto had been called down before lunch, he was probably next. At least that had been Thompson-sensei's order. He didn't know how it went from there, but Naruto and he were at the top of the list. Sure enough, "Gaara, can you come up here please, sweetie."

Gaara wasn't particularly fond of being called sweetie, but when Yuuhi-sensei did it, it seemed okay. She had this air about her, and Gaara knew that, like Naruto, she could call him anything and he wouldn't get mad. He took the pass from her, doing his best not to scowl, and made his way very slowly to the psychologist's office. He was not looking forward to this. He'd finally gotten rid of that old hag and now another pain in the ass comes to replace her. He wasn't pleased.

He entered the office without bothering to knock, glaring full force at the woman behind the desk there. She blinked at him surprised before getting her warm smile in place. "Ah, hello, you must be Gaara. I'm Shizune Suzuki, I'll be taking the place of Thompson-sensei." Even though it was both cliche and stereotypical, Gaara looked just like she had imagined he would, clothed head to toe in black except for a pair of bright pink sneakers, dark eyeliner rimming his teal eyes, and black nail polish. She held out her hand politely, but he stared at it as if it were a snake ready to bite him.

"I don't really like touching people."

"Fair enough." She retracted the hand, reaching for his file with a small smirk. She had a feeling that, while he may very well not like touching people, he still normally shook hands when it was expected. He was just going to do his damnedest to give her a hard time. That's all right, she was always prepared for that when she met a new patient, and Naruto had specifically warned her about his friend. She was ready.

"So, Gaara, why don't you tell me a little about yourself."

He snorted, cold blue/green eyes meeting soft brown ones. "Why? You've got my file right in front of you, why don't you just read it?"

Truth be told she had already read it, twice. He, like Naruto, had a painful past. It was really no surprise they'd become friends.

Her smile never faltered. "I can read a file any time I want, Gaara, but I can't talk to you anytime. Besides, what's written on a piece of paper doesn't really tell me about you."

His scowl managed to deepen as he mentally sized her up. She seemed nice, but that didn't mean anything. People were rarely what they seemed. "What should I tell you? About my homelife? My past? How when I was five I walked in on my parents fucking and have been traumatized ever since?"

The smile stayed nicely in place. "Why don't you tell me about Naruto? Unless of course you enjoy talking about your parents fucking. In which case, please, be my guest."

Okay, he hadn't been expecting that. First, he had to give her props for swearing back at him when he was getting disrespectful. She knew how to put someone in their place. Secondly, "Why do you want to know about Naruto?"

She shrugged, inwardly relaxing because she could tell he was starting to relax. "He said he was your best friend, and he talked an awful lot about you. Would you agree?"

"That what? He's my best friend? Yeah, he's my only friend, he has been since I moved here in seventh grade."

They didn't talk long, she only kept him for about fifteen minutes before letting him return to class well before the period was over. She could tell he was both relieved and confused by this, but he made no comment about it. The whole time they had only talked about Naruto and a few of Gaara's other 'acquaintances' as he'd called them. His few acquaintances were the same ones Naruto had called 'school friends,' and it was no surprise the blond held them in slightly higher esteem than the redhead. Yet at the same time, it was easy to see that Gaara still cared for them on some level. She'd also been graced with the events that had taken place that very day at lunch, filing the story away for when two other children on her list would come visit, and was actually pleased when Gaara made a comment about how he'd 'like to kill that blond whore' in reference to Ino Yamanaka. He obviously cared for his 'acquaintance' Chouji enough to be angry for him.

Truth be told, she'd have liked to talk to him longer, but she knew it would have only made him uncomfortable and she'd gotten all the information she needed to for the project. With a sigh, she made several notes in his file and set it aside, reaching for the third file in the pile instead. Time to call the next one down.


Shizune spent the next four days talking briefly with each of the nineteen children on her list and pouring over their files. She decided that fourteen of the children would work well for the project, it was just a matter of getting them all to agree to it. But, of course, she had her ways. Or really, one way, if it came down to it.

The kids had all seemed rather pleased when they were informed they wouldn't need to have regular sessions with the school psychologist anymore. Or at least they were until they learned why. After briefly explaining the program to them, she had attempted to give them permission slips to get signed by their guardians so that they could participate. It went exactly as she'd expected. Most of them took the slips and about half never bothered to show them to their parental figures. The other half actually took them home and got them signed. And a few of them scoffed at her, said they would rather continue their regular sessions instead, and wouldn't even take the paper she tried to hand them.

So three days later she looked down at the signed permission slips on her desk, smiling at the fact that she had been dead on. Everyone she thought would turn one in, did. Those children being Naruto, Sai, Hinata, Chouji, Lee, and Shino. Six out of fourteen had signed up willingly enough. Not bad. Now to work on the other eight. And there was, of course, one simple way to do that.

"What the hell do you mean I'm signed up for your stupid ass therapy project?" Sasuke growled, looking very close to attacking the woman behind the desk. "I never even took that damn paper home."

Shizune smiled, knowing it would only add to his fury. "I'm well aware of that, Sasuke. But I called your home and had a chat with your brother."

Immediately, Sasuke's jaw clenched. "Excuse me?"

"I had a talk with your brother," she repeated, as if he really needed her to. "He said it sounded like a wonderful idea and gave me full permission to sign you up for my stupid ass therapy project."

Sasuke was seething. "That doesn't mean I'll actually go."

"Of course it doesn't." Her smile sweetened. "But if you don't I am going to contact your brother again. His rules, not mine."

Sasuke sputtered something unintelligible and Shizune smiled as he came to the harsh realization. High schoolers, even freshman, were getting so very close to adulthood. And yet they weren't there yet. Their parents (or in this case, his older brother) still had the ultimate control. And for a few more short years, there wasn't really much they could do about it.

Most of the others took it better than Sasuke had. Neji had been furious, but unlike the Uchiha, he had kept it tightly reigned in. His left eye had twitched, and his tone had gotten undoubtedly cold when she told him she called his uncle; but that was all. Sakura and Kiba had both merely sighed dejectedly, knowing their mothers couldn't be swayed from their decision. Ino had pouted, called her father up right there, and tried, to no avail, to convince him to change his mind. Shikamaru had yawned, blinked at her with bleary, bloodshot eyes, and said, "Oh, that troublesome thing, yeah. I completely forgot about that," and she knew he wasn't lying.

Tenten had frowned her way, repeated again that she wasn't interested, and then froze when she said her parents had been called. "You... you called my mom?"

"Well, I tried to." Shizune smiled. "No one answered the phone."

The girl visibly relaxed at her statement. "Yeah, my mom works a lot, so she's not home too often." She sighed and scrubbed her face tiredly. "Look, if you're gonna do that, just gimme the paper again and I'll get it signed. There's no need to bother her."

Shizune's smile widened and she handed her another copy of the permission slip. Tenten practically glared holes in the thing. "Y'know, I play sports, like, year round. This would interfere--"

"Of course it would never interfere with any sports you play. If you need to miss several meetings for practices or games, just let me or the teacher in charge know. And I believe the next sport you play is basketball."

Tenten nodded warily.

"Well, basketball practices are in the evening, aren't they? These meetings will generally take place directly after school. You'll still have time to go home in between and everything."

The girl didn't seem overly impressed. "All right, I get the picture. I'll get the paper signed."

Gaara had given Shizune a nearly triumphant stare when he was told she wasn't able to contact his sister. "Temari's busy with work and school. All the time. Good luck trying to get ahold of her."

Shizune was beginning to worry about how much she enjoyed crushing these children's hopes. "Yes, that's what your brother told me."

Gaara eyed her carefully. "Kankurou?"

"Mmhmm. When I called him down the other day to ask how I could reach your sister, he was most cooperative. In fact, I called for him again just after I did you, so he should be--"

The door to the office opened and Kankurou stepped in, smirking tauntingly at the red-head. "Hello, Gaara. Suzuki-sensei, I got my sister to sign the paper."

"Traitor," his little brother hissed.

"Now, now, Gaara, this is for your own good."

"Why? So they can stuff me up to the eyeballs with drugs again?"

Kankurou froze, permission slip half extended towards the waiting psychologist. "Drugs?" He gave Shizune an angry look, backing away a little. "You're trying to put him on drugs again?"

"No," Shizune said firmly, knowing how sensitive this topic was for them, "we're not. Did you hear me, Gaara, no drugs. The school doesn't even have that kind of authority."

"You're just waiting until I slip up so you can ship me off to—"

"Gaara, that's not what this is for," Shizune insisted, making sure she had the boy's attention. "If I thought you needed something like that, you wouldn't be right for this program at all. This program is a type of group therapy and based solely on social interaction. That's it. Just talking and doing other simple projects in a group."

Kankurou immediately calmed at her words, though he did read through the permission slip one more time, making sure there wasn't something he or his sister had missed. Gaara wasn't so quick to believe her, but he too started to slowly relax. "Talking? What the hell good is that supposed to do?"

"Talking can do a lot of good, Gaara."

"Yeah, Gaara, this'll be good for you," Kankurou agreed, finally handing the paper over. "Don't worry so much, if you seriously hate it that bad, we'll pull you out. But you gotta give it a try first."

Gaara continued to glare, but his expression was noticeably more resigned now. He, like the others, knew his fate was sealed.