A.N.: Wow! Wow, wow, wow! Tons of reviews already, and it was just the first chapter! I'm super grateful to all those who reviewed! I'm hoping that I won't let you guys down! Let me know what you think of this chapter, please!

Writing

'Thoughts'

'Sign Language'

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Apart from the World

Two – Formulating Friendships

When Naru and Shino returned to class the next day with their pristinely folded tent and empty food bag, they had already developed a strong friendship.

Shino had never much felt the need to talk before yesterday, but with Naru he wanted to talk to her and learn about her. However, he was by no means chatty. Shino knew instinctively that he had made a friend that would stay by him through thick and thin, and he wanted to repay that as best he could.

Naru, on the other hand, was on cloud nine. The dazzling grin never left her face for even a moment on the way back to the Academy. She had a friend! Her best and only friend! The energetic blonde couldn't be happier. Sure, Shino wasn't much of a talker, but he spoke just enough that it was comfortable and he truly made an effort to converse with her, even though her responses were on paper.

Naru practically skipped to where Iruka and Mizuki where waiting. She heard Shino snort quietly and saw him shake his head, amused despite himself. Then he spotted the other students huddled around and stiffened. Naru noticed and stopped skipping, waiting for him to catch up. She gave him a slightly worried look. The eight-year-old girl noticed how rigid and deathly quiet he had gotten and was instantly confused. Had she done something that made him retract back into his shell that she was slowly but surely drawing him out of?

Naru handed the empty food bag to Iruka while Shino gave the tent to Mizuki. Mizuki speared Naru's turned back with a subdued glare, though it did not miss Shino's notice. The bug-user frowned heavily, but he did not say anything.

Naru sent a sweet smile to the kinder of the teachers before moving to the side with Shino. Shino was still silent- much more so than when it was just she and him. The blonde was getting very concerned.

Shino caught her anxious look and noticed with a start that he had been acting differently since they had arrived at the Academy. He hurried to reassure her.

"I apologize. It is nothing you did." He started quietly. These words were meant only for her. "I did not realize until just now that I had stopped talking with you. I… I do not enjoy being around so many people, so I suppose that my silence was just a reflex reaction."

Naru nodded in understanding. Naru liked people, but most of the mocked her. Her reflex was to shy away from nasty expressions, so she tended to stay away from most the Konoha population.

She didn't know why people didn't like her. Was it because she was mute? Or something else?

The blonde pushed aside the depressing thoughts and let herself be herded with the other students inside. She perked up some when she remembered that she now had a friend that understood the feeling of being shunned completely.

"Alright, everyone!" Iruka yelled, grabbing the student's attention, "Take your seats!"

Naru bounced to her regular seat, which had a wide berth. No one wanted to sit by the 'creepy-girl-who-didn't-talk'. She looked up and saw Shino hesitate at the front of the classroom. Then, he walked up to Iruka's desk and asked something politely in a low voice. Iruka smiled at him and said something back just as quietly. When Shino responded, Iruka's face showed open shock, then happiness, and he nodded quickly with an even bigger smile. The Aburame boy nodded back curtly and turned around, heading up the stairs to Naru's row. He took the seat beside her and caught her curious look.

"I asked Iruka-sensei if I could move seats," He explained, "Is it alright if I sit here?"

Naru nodded back fervently, grinning happily. His shoulders un-tensed some at her approval and he turned back to the front to listen to the lesson.

Naru took after Shino's example and tried her very best to listen to what Mizuki was explaining.

But, considering it was a history lesson, she was having a very hard time concentrating.

Truthfully, the only thing she didn't have a hard time concentrating on was the trap techniques that Iruka told the class about. It helped a lot with the pranks she executed from time to time. Plus she found it fascinating.

She realized that she had been lost in her thoughts for longer than a moment and that the rest of the class was lining up to practice the jutsu they had learned a few weeks ago. Shino had been waiting patiently for her to come back down to Earth from beside his chair, though Naru was sure he had been about to shake her shoulder.

She stood up and walked with him to the end of the line, though it didn't really matter their position, Iruka would call them at random anyway.

Uchiha Sasuke was called up first and preformed a perfect bunshin, their newest jutsu, which earned several fangirl squeals and reluctantly impressed whispers. He smirked smugly, which irked Naru. He thought he was so cool – the jerk!

Naru watched as other students were called up with growing nervousness. She was never really good at jutsu, even the easiest ones.

Shino was called up and did just as well as Sasuke, though he was not smug about it. He knew that there was always room for improvement, and making one bunshin wasn't a huge cause to celebrate.

Finally, Naru's name was called and she walked to the front with dread. She took a deep breath and started doing the correct handsigns. She channeled her chakra and tried to do the technique.

She only ended up with a loud crackling sound and her hands feeling like they had caught fire momentarily. She bit her lip from the pain of the burns on her hands and swallowed back the traitor tears that came to her eyes. Some of the students sniggered behind their hands, blatantly oblivious to her pain. She curled her hands into fists at her sides to hide the burns.

Iruka smiled sadly down at her, "Good try, Naru. Maybe next time."

Naru nodded, not looking him in the eye as she returned to her place. Humiliation weighed her shoulders down as she heard more of her classmates whispering about her. This usually happened when she attempted a jutsu.

"Are you alright?" Shino asked softly from beside her, a hint of concern etched in his voice.

The blonde wavered for a moment, then shook her head no, looking up to meet his black glasses. She held up her hands to him, uncurling her fingers hesitantly. He inhaled sharply when he saw the fire red welts, looking back up at her.

"Does this happen every time you try a jutsu?"

Naru nodded. She didn't know why, it just did.

The bug-user examined her palms gently for a moment longer, not paying attention to the rest of the students. Then he looked up at Naru again and noted her teary eyes. He imagined that it hurt a lot. From what he knew about injuries, these burns on her hands were chakra burns, which stung more than regular fire burns. As much as he would rather not, he knew he had to speak up and ask to bring her to the nurse.

He released her battered hands and took a deep breath. Naru wondered what he was doing when he turned back to the front, facing Iruka-sensei. Then, she was shocked when he cleared his throat, capturing the attention of many of their classmates and their sensei.

"Yes, Shino?" Iruka asked, as surprised as the students that he had made any noise while class was in session. Shino really had been quite the introverted kid. At least, the kid Iruka saw. He was sure, however, that he had seen the Aburame boy talking to Naru earlier.

Shino shifted for a moment, then said flatly, "Naru has burned her hands from attempting the bunshin. May I take her to the nurse?"

There was an instant abundance of whispering. 'Since when are those two friends?' 'It fits. They're both really weird and barely talk' and, from the nicer of students, 'She burnt her hands? I didn't even notice…'

Shino ignored this in favor of waiting for Iruka's response. Iruka himself was saddened and glad at the same time. Glad because he could tell that the sweet blonde had finally found a good friend. Sad because said friend was the only one that even noticed that she was hurt and was concerned enough to make mention of it.

"Yes, of course. Thank you for offering." Iruka said kindly, gesturing to the door.

Shino nodded, turning on his heel. He gently grabbed Naru's wrist, careful to avoid the welts, and led her to the door.

Naru was shocked. Hadn't Shino said earlier that he was uncomfortable in front of so many people? Had he actually spoken up for her? Her heart was warmed by his compassion and thoughtfulness.

Naru grinned at the boy, who had let go of her wrist and was walking with her to the nurse's office. Shino tilted his head at her, confused at her sudden change in mood. Had she forgotten about the abused skin on her hands? It seemed that the cheerful girl couldn't stay anything but happy for very long.

They walked in silence, though not by choice for Naru. She wanted to thank her new friend, but she couldn't talk, he didn't understand sign language, and she couldn't write with burned hands! She resigned herself to waiting until she was healed.

They finally reached the small office where the nurse was already occupied with a small black haired boy about a year older than the both of them. He was getting his knee bandaged by the kind old lady who was employed as the school nurse, talking a mile a minute all the while. He was the one that noticed their approach first, halting abruptly in his chatting. Then he practically jumped off the bench he was sitting on, waving merrily to them.

"Hi! Are you here to see Cho-san too? I scraped my knee during taijutsu practice today. It did not hurt too much, but my teacher sent me here anyway. Why are you both here?"

Naru and Shino glanced at each other, startled by the sudden energy and rambunctiousness of this older boy. Then Shino looked back at the boy, who was waiting eagerly for one of them to speak up. Shino continued walking forward after a moment, speaking up to answer the boy.

"She burnt her hands during class."

"Oh," The boy said, genuinely sympathetic, "I'm sorry. Does it hurt a lot?"

He was looking straight at Naru, obviously expecting her to answer. Naru shifted uncomfortably, looking to where Shino had started explaining the situation to the nurse. Then she looked back at the boy, who was still staring at her unwaveringly.

"What is wrong?" He asked when she didn't say anything, "Why will you not talk to me?"

"Naru-chan, come here." The nurse said, "I'll put some healing cream on that and it'll be good as new."

"Is that your name? Naru?" The boy asked, his round eyes even wider.

"Yes." Shino answered for her as she let the nurse apply the ointment. "She's Uzumaki Naru, I am Aburame Shino."

"I am Rock Lee!" He said with a dazzling grin. It diminished somewhat when he realized that Naru still hadn't said anything. He gazed mournfully at her as she walked back over to him, her hands healing themselves quickly with the aide of the balm.

"Why will you not talk to me?" he repeated, "Did I do something wrong?"

Naru's eyes widened in alarm. She didn't want him blaming himself! She sent Shino a pleading glance, which he correctly interpreted.

"It is not of any fault of yours; she cannot talk." The younger of the boys said, stuffing his hands in his pockets. Shino didn't seem too at ease to Naru, but less tense than he was when they were in class.

Lee's eyes widened in realization. He turned to the girl, who was shifting uncomfortably. "I am sorry! I did not realize!"

Naru smiled at the energetic boy, getting a blinding grin in response. The trio started walking back down the hall together. Naru thought that Lee seemed like a nice boy. Maybe they could be friends?

"So, how did you burn your hands, Naru-chan?"

Naru dropped her head in shame. She couldn't even perform a simple jutsu and ended up getting hurt in the process. Lee and Shino both noticed her sudden depressed aura and Lee looked to Shino in alarm.

"What? What did I say?"

Shino shook his head and stopped walking. He put a hand hesitantly on his friends shoulder. She looked up at him for a moment then looked away, but he caught the humiliation in her expressive eyes.

"Naru…?" He asked quietly, for the moment ignoring Lee. The older boy noticed that this was not a moment he should interfere in.

The girl shook her head at him, still not. With a start he realized that she was ashamed that she messed up the jutsu and hurt herself.

"Is this about what happened in class? It wasn't your fault."

She looked at him at this. Then she grabbed the pad of paper and pen she had stored in her back pocket and started writing.

I don't why that always happens. There has to be something wrong with me, that never happens to anyone else.

Shino shook his head at her, still frowning. "No, there is not anything wrong with you. I think it's just harder for you because you can't talk. My parents once told me that you should not attempt a jutsu without saying the name until you know it very well. Speaking the name helps you concentrate your energy."

Naru thought for a moment with a frown.

Do you think that's it?

"I'm almost positive. But I can check with my parents tonight if you would like me to."

Naru smiled brightly at him for a moment then dimmed again.

What am I going to do then? If I can't do jutsu, how will I be a ninja?

Shino pondered her question for a moment and couldn't honestly come up with an answer on the spot. Lee was looking between them, distressed that he made the younger girl upset.

"What is going on?" He asked hesitantly.

Shino looked to Naru, waiting for her permission to explain. When she nodded he spoke.

"Naru burned her hands because she can't say the name of the jutsu we were practicing. It made her chakra go awry and scorch her hands. I suppose your question bothered her because she is somewhat… well…" Shino glanced at Naru, unable to describe her feelings for her.

When Naru looked to Lee to see what his reaction was, she was very surprised to see he had an understanding, if not emphatic, look on his face.

"I guess that is similar to my situation then," He said, somewhat sadly, "I cannot do jutsu either, though it is because I am unable to focus my chakra significantly."

Naru's mouth dropped open in surprise. She was eager to hear what the older boy had to say now.

"But you know what I have learned?" Lee said, perking up again, "I know now that I cannot give up. Just because I cannot do jutsu does not mean I am unable to be a ninja! I will become one – that is a promise!"

There was silence as both Naru and Shino processed the elder's words. Then Shino, the only of the two that could, spoke up.

"Then how will you be a good ninja without jutsu? It is the basis of being a ninja."

"I have wondered the same thing," Lee admitted, "But just a few months ago I figured that I do not need to use jutsu if I could be the best at something I am already good at."

"So you plan to specialize in something?"

"Yes." Lee said confidently.

All three were quiet. Naru was contemplating Lee's solution. She supposed it was a good idea. A very good idea, actually.

Then Lee suddenly jumped, looking down the hall frantically. "Oh! I am sorry, but I have to go! My teacher said to be back before lunch, and it is already half-way through!" He looked to them, "I shall see you another day?"

Naru and Shino both nodded. Lee smiled one last time before dashing down the hall at top speed. The duo watched for a moment before resuming to walk. They were silent, as Shino knew Lee had unknowingly given Naru a lot to think about. So he stayed quiet to let her think.

Naru was indeed thinking about what Lee had said. What could be her focus? What was she already good at?

They entered the classroom again, gaining attention once more. Naru blushed slightly at all the curious stares and made her way to her seat with Shino. The boy gave her a slightly concerned look from the corners of his eyes. Naru was too deep in thought to notice.

While Shino resigned himself to waiting until lunch break – which was in half an hour – to talk with Naru, the blonde was thinking hard about what she liked to do and what she was better at than her other skills.

Iruka rambled about battle tactics in the background, concentrating on laying traps. Naru listened half heartedly. She loved learning about traps usually…

Naru almost smacked her head on the desk at her density. That's what she was the best at! She loved setting up pranks, and that was almost the same thing as traps, right? She could specialize in that, couldn't she?

Naru grinned, and Shino noticed immediately. Shino gave her a small, unseeable smile when she beamed at him.

Iruka dismissed the class for lunch, smiling when he once again saw Shino and Naru together. Naru skipped to a nearby tree, plopping down under it with her small lunch. Shino joined her at a slower pace, and sat down much less suddenly.

Naru chowed down on her food, content to finish eating before she told Shino about her choice. She knew he had noticed she had come to a decision. Shino, after watching the girl eat for a moment with something akin to amusement, slowly ate his own food.

After both had finished, Naru scribbled a few quick lines on her paper and handed it to her friend.

I think I want to concentrate on traps. What do you think?

The Aburame boy looked up at her after he finished reading. He seemed contemplative, like he was truly thinking over the option. Naru appreciated this greatly. He was silent for a minute or so.

"I think that would be a good idea for you. You told me this morning that you liked pranks, did you not?" He asked, to which Naru nodded. They had briefly talked about their hobbies while taking down the tent.

"However…" He added, "I think you also should pick another specialty. While traps can be useful on their own, it requires others skills for it to reach its full potential."

What would you suggest?

"I would say stealth."

Stealth? Why?

He was quiet for a moment, fully thinking out his answer, "Stealth because it would be beneficial to setting traps and it is also a very valuable – but often overlooked –ninja skill."

Naru mulled it over for a minute. She supposed it was logical. And – she thought with a grin – it would be pretty awesome to be able to sneak up on people. That is, if she worked hard at it.

She promised herself then and there that she would train in traps and stealth and be an expert on both!

Thanks, Shino.

His lips twitched upwards for a moment. "You are welcome."

They sat there for another few minutes, not saying anything. It was a companionable silence. Then, Shino broke it with a sudden question.

"Is it…" He started, sounding slightly unsure, "Is it bothersome to have to write down what you say?"

Naru paused, then nodded with a shrug. Shino was quiet, obviously deep in thought. Naru wondered what brought on the inquiry, but figured the boy would explain himself soon enough.

"Would you…" He started finally, "Would you be willing to teach me sign language then?"

Naru blinked at him in surprise for several moments. Then, she practically glomped him, hugging him fiercely. Shino was shocked, then hesitantly hugged her back.

Naru stepped back and grinned a bright smile. Shino coughed into his fist.

"I suppose that is a 'yes', then?"

The blonde nodded vigorously, still beaming. She could barely believe he would go through the trouble of learning sign language, just so it would be easier for them to talk.

She settled down long enough to write down on her pad of paper and form a sign with her hands.

This is 'A'.

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Edited: 1/3/12

A.N.: So? So? You like? This was so fun to write! And I just had to add Lee to the story; I just love him too much! :D He won't play a super prominent part, but he will appear a few times. Please review and tell me how I did! Please? Thanks for reading!