AN: Ready? Here we go!

"Talking"

'Sign Language'

Writing

Apart From the World

Seven – Genuine Genin

Naru took a deep, calming breath as she sat in the classroom next to Shino. Her breathing stayed even for a few moments before she resumed her hyperventilating.

Shino sighed from beside her, but Naru didn't turn to look at him, so consumed in her panic she was. Questions with answers she didn't have whirled in her head. What was the test going to be like? Would she pass? Would Shino pass? Would anyone pass? What if the test was made to be so hard, just to fail her whole class? But, what if she did pass? What then? She'd be a genin! What would that be like? How would she-?

Naru tapped her fingers on the desk in the dead silence of the classroom. There was no idle chatter today, for almost everyone was silent with nerves.

The Genin Exam. At long last.

All her years at the academy had been leading up to this day. Today she would either make Genin and become a full fledged ninja, or be left behind for another year at the academy.

Shino's hand on top of her's stopped her incessant tapping. Naru gave him a glance to see him looking at her out of the corners of his eyes. He released her hand and she kept it still.

'What am I going to do, Shino? What if I-?' she started to sign, but Shino cut her off with his own signs.

'You will do fine.' He signed, 'I know so.'

Naru's hands dropped into her lap as she nodded hesitantly. His quiet confidence in her was reassuring, but her own uncertainty in her skills was becoming overpowering.

He frowned at her as if he knew what she was thinking (and she guessed he most likely did) but said nothing more as Iruka and Mizuki came into the room. Iruka stared around at his painfully silent class of students in worry and tried to offer a small smile. Mizuki placed down a large stack of papers and stood beside Iruka at the front of the class.

"You will now be taking the written portion of your graduation exam. You will not be permitted to..." Mizuki went straight to business, stating the rules and regulations with strict fluency.

Naru sat up straighter in her seat and gnawed a bit in the eraser of her pencil as the tests were passed out. Shino got in a last squeeze to her shoulder in reassurance before the test began.

Naru's mind felt like mush as she worked through the questions. She was forced to guess on most all of the history questions, and only really felt confident in the questions related to traps or stealth, which were few. An hour ticked by on the clock with agonizing slowness. By the time she was finished, she felt she had gotten, at most, a sixty percent grade. However, she felt a huge relief that at least one portion of the exam was over.

Without so much as an explanation, they were whisked outside for the Taijutsu section. It was quick, a half hour at most. This Naru did much better at, and was confident she did well for her grade. Shino, too, did very well and smiled back at the happy beam Naru gave.

They were ushered back inside to their seats. Iruka stood forward and smiled at the now more uplifted students.

"For the final portion of the exam we will call you by name and you will preform a Jutsu demonstration."

The grin slipped off Naru's face as her stomach dropped through the floor. She gripped her chair in a death grip, all her worst fears for the exam being realized.

What was she going to do?! There was no way she could do any of the academy jutsu! How in the world-

Shino pried her hand from the chair and held it tightly, drawing her attention to him, "Naru, calm down," he murmured urgently, worry written in every inch of his face visible, "Stay calm and you will do fine. Breathe..."

Naru sucked in a deep breath to try and do what he asked. But overwhelming panic was consuming her and the 'what if's' clouded her thoughts.

"Breathe... Naru, breathe-"

"Aburame Shino."

He looked up to the front, where Iruka was looking at them both in sympathy. He squeezed her hand as he reluctantly stood.

"Remember, breathe and stay calm, Naru," he said as he was forced to depart. Naru nodded and tried a forced grin, but she knew he wouldn't be fooled.

And then he was gone, behind the door to take his own test. He did not return as the next person was called in and Naru regained her death grip on the chair. Chougi gave her a pat on the shoulder and a genuine smile as he passed. She tried her best to return his kindness.

The numbers dwindled over what felt like hours, but the clock only showed as a half hour. Naru focused all her attention on doing what Shino had directed, but couldn't shake the terrible foreboding feeling.

"Uzumaki Naru."

Her breath hitched and she stood to meet Iruka. He gave her an encouraging smile, but she could see in his eyes his worry. She stepped through the door and winced as it shut behind her.

Mizuki had no sympathy in his eyes as he stood before her with a clipboard.

"Alright, Naru," Iruka started kindly, his own clipboard in his hands, "Preform the henge no jutsu."

Naru closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

"Keep calm and breathe."

Her hands formed the signs for the jutsu, much different than the signs she used to talk. She screamed the name of the jutsu as loud as she could in her mind, willing that it would work.

There was a second of pause, then the familiar burning from her chakra started up in her hands. She held the chakra flow for as long as she could, hoping against hope it would work, but was forced to release the jutsu after only a few moments.

Iruka smiled sadly as he marked on the clipboard. Naru dropped her hands to her sides in resignation, waiting for the next command.

"A bunshin now, Naru."

The weight of failure already pressing down upon her, she did the necessary hand motions. But this turned out even worse than the one before, and left her hands with a residual stinging.

Iruka sighed and Naru could hardly bring herself to look at him. The rows and rows of Konoha village headbands gleamed mockingly at her from behind him.

"I am sorry, Naru..." Iruka murmured with a frown, "But I can't pass you."

Naru bit her lip and nodded jerkily. He reached forward to touch her shoulder, but she moved away. She bowed, and ducked out of the back door before he could say any more.

Failed. She had failed. She passed by windows leading to the academy yard, feeling as if the whole world were on her shoulders.

What use was all her training if she couldn't even become a genin? She was a dead-last when all her class were moving on.

She looked out the window and froze at what she saw. Shino was standing in the academy yard, waiting for her. The metal plated band around his head reflected the sun, proclaiming his new status.

She had failed Shino. He believed in her – was so sure in her abilities, and she had failed. He would be forced to move on without her.

He would have to leave her.

It was with that when it all came crashing down on her. All the lonely days before him ran through her head and the promise of returning to that was too much. How would she be inspired to better herself without him to pester her to study or help in her training? Who would she bother and make comments on bug techniques with?

Who would be her one and only best friend?

Tears stung her eyes and dripped down her whiskered cheeks.

She turned away from the door leading outside and hopped out the window leading the other direction. She couldn't face him – not now – and see the disappointment on his face.

(())**~~

Naru wasn't really sure where she was, but in the forest of Konoha somewhere. It had been at least an hour since the exam's conclusion, so Shino surely had noticed her absence by now.

A sob rose up in her throat as tears slid silently down her face. She cursed her silent mouth, wishing she could talk. But no words would ever escape her mouth again. She could hardly remember the feel of talking, it had been so long.

A hand landed on her shoulder and she jumped up. She whirled around, expecting Shino.

But it was not the Aburame boy. Instead, it was Mizuki.

Naru scrubbed the tears from her cheeks and glared at her least favorite teacher. He must know what pain she was in – why could he leave her alone?

"Naru!" he said breathlessly, "I'm glad I found you!"

She raised her eyebrows and tilted her head in confusion. Never, in all her years at the academy, had Mizuki shown any interest in her.

He plowed on without taking much notice of her expression. "We just got word from the Hokage, we have another test for you to take so you might be able to pass!"

Naru snapped to attention. Another test? A second chance? It almost seemed too good to be true, but she nodded frantically at him.

He smiled, an odd sight on his face. "Now, it is a bit difficult, so I don't know if you can do it, but you have to do some sneaking around..."

Naru grinned in excitement, putting aside the strangness of the situation. This was her chance!

"There is a scroll," he explained, "in the Hokage tower, that is kept under tight lock. Your job is to take it to training ground seventeen and learn something from it without anyone knowing. Can you do that?"

Naru's smile dimmed a bit. She reached down into the sand to write: I have to steal it?

But Mizuki only smiled, "Yes. But it is all cleared with the Hokage, don't worry."

Despite his reassurances, Naru couldn't help but feel the wrongness of his words. She chewed on her lip for a moment, battling with herself.

"I'm sure your friend, that Aburame boy, would want you to be able to pass with him if you had the chance."

With these words Naru pushed away her doubts and gained a firm resolve. He was right: this was her only chance to be a genin with Shino. And if this is what she had to do, then she would do it – for Shino.

(())**~~

Her feet felt light as air as she tip-toed into the Hokage tower. She had a very tight lid on her chakra as she dodged around corners and rushed down hallways silently. All of her stealth training thus far went to work as she strained to do her very best.

She would not fail this time.

It was more simple than she expected to snatch the desired scroll and make a break for the training grounds. Perhaps Mizuki wasn't expecting her to have trained for so long and hard in stealth.

Training ground seventeen was hidden deep in Konoha's forests. A chill ran down Naru's back as she stepped into the dark grounds alone. The sun had set only a half hour ago, and the last dregs of sunlight were dwindling away.

With a sigh, she sat on the ground and unrolled the large scroll, eager to get to work with one of the things inside. But her grin melted away as she began to read.

Jutsus. All jutsus.

She bit her lip, but forced away her doubt. She was doing this for herself and Shino.

She closed her eyes and pointed at a random name. Kage Bunshin No Jutsu.

With a heavy heart, she stood and began her first attempt.

(())**~~

Naru dropped to her knees, her hands on fire. This had passed any pain she had felt before, but still she pushed on. Her hands were cherry red and were starting to peel and crack from the chakra burns. Even her arms were starting to be effected. Tendrils of burns ran up where she knew her chakra ducts were – up to about her elbow.

It was a gruesome sight, so Naru avoided looking at it.

She hauled herself up off her knees, grimacing as she used her hand to push up off of. It was completely dark now. She had been at it for close to an hour and a half now.

She wondered briefly if Mizuki was going to come find her, or she had to go to him when she was finished.

'Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!'

A soundless cry escaped her lips as the familiar burning passed through her limbs and settled in her fingertips. The skin on her fingers split and a few drops of blood slipped out. Naru watched in a daze as the wound closed up again and stopped bleeding, but the burns didn't go away.

How strange...

"There you are!"

Naru snapped her head up to see Mizuki burst throught the trees, looking very out of breath. He no longer looked as kind and understanding as he did a few hours ago, but was glaring at her fiercely. Naru opened her mouth in surprise.

"Give me the scroll, you brat. Where is it?" He questioned, taking a step closer.

Stricken, Naru took a few stumbling steps away, suddenly frightened by his demeanor.

'What?' she mouthed to him, her damaged hands shaking.

He only looked more angry, advancing on her. Naru was confused. Hadn't he told her to take the scroll? What was going on?

"You are an idiot, aren't you?" he gave a glance over his shoulder urgently, "Do I have to spell it out for you? I tricked you, you dumb demon."

Demon?

The conflicting images of her instructor became one as Naru quickly tried to deduce what was going on. He had taken her for a fool and used her for his own uses. And she had been a fool – so caught up in her sadness about the exam that she listened to every word he said, never mind how indifferent he had been to her all her years at the academy.

Her foot struck the scroll as she backpedaled. Both their eyes zeroed in on it.

There was a second of silence before a jumble of motion happened at once. Naru swooped down to snatch the scroll just as Mizuki made a dive for it. Naru stumbled back from him and took to the trees, ignoring her aching hands and arms as adrenaline began to pump through her system.

A volley of throwing knives dug into the tree she ducked behind. She breathed heavily as she moved, hysteria and stress about the situation frazzling her nerves.

He was going to kill her for this scroll.

"Come out, Uzumaki!" He called , "Just give me the scroll!"

Naru scowled at his demeaning tone. At once she remembered herself. She was a stealth and trap specialist in training, darn it!

It was time to disappear.

At once, Naru put herself into her very best stealth mode. Her breathing quieted and her footsteps softened. The lid on her chakra was tightened and Naru hid.

She could hear his confused grunt as he slowed to a walk. He sounded a muffled curse as he stopped behind her hiding spot.

"Where did she go?" he mumbled to himself. Naru smirked slightly, watching a bug crawl on her burnt arm, then fly away.

"Come out, Naru, there's no time for games! If only that dart to your throat all those years ago had killed you, then I wouldn't be in this mess!" Mizuki scoffed miserably to himself.

The smirk slid off her face at his words. She sucked in a deep breath of surprise as she put a hand to her throat and Mizuki's head shot in her direction.

Naru barreled out of her spot but was not fast enough to escape. He snatched her arm and held it in a death grip.

"Found you."

Naru struggled but he only held on tighter. The wounds on her arms stung at his grip, cracking and starting to bleed. But, like before, the cuts closed up, leaving only the burns behind.

"Unnatural creature," Mizuki said in disgust, taking the scroll from her hands. "Funny how a demon can only keep you from bleeding."

Naru stared up at him, willing answers to come from his lips. Why did he keep calling her a demon? How did... How did he know about...?

He snorted, "Your face is too expressive for a ninja. But I suppose that makes up for your mute mouth."

Naru glared at him, baring her teeth ferally. She saw a flash of fear in his eyes before he brought a kunai to her throat. Naru heard a faint buzzing sound in the distance.

"Behave, Kyuubi. You may have been able to save yourself from death so many years ago, but my master will not tolerate failure again."

He raised the kunai and Naru panicked, pushing him a step backward. He dropped her arm and the kunai like they were on fire, feeling an electric shock run through his body. Naru darted away as Mizuki looked down at the electric trap he had stepped on.

"When did you...?!"

"Enough."

Both Naru and Mizuki whirled around to meet the new voice. Naru grinned in relief at the sight of the Aburame head and her best friend's father.

Shibi wasted no time in sending out a hoard of bugs onto Mizuki, making quick work of sucking out his chakra. He only had time to let out one yell before he collapsed to the ground in a dead faint.

Naru, too, collapsed, all adrenaline out of her system and leaving behind a tired, hurt, confused girl. But she did not fall far before Shibi caught her. He gazed down at her from behind his dark glasses as her eyelids drooped tiredly. He took in the sight of her abused arms and hands and the scroll lying next to Mizuki with a stoic expression.

"Shino has been very distressed." He said simply as he started to carry her away, trusting an ANBU officer to pick up Mizuki shortly. He wasn't going anywhere soon, regardless. "I assume we will be meeting him along presently."

Naru gave a nod, trying to sign her thanks before giving up at the sharp pricks it caused. Blood dripped from her fingers for only a moment before sealing again.

Was that what Mizuki meant? He called her a demon – the Kyuubi – multiple times. But the Kyuubi was a fire demon – the nine tails. It was dead, according to what Shino had explained. Was she some sort of reincarnate...?

"Do not trouble yourself on his words, Naru." Shibi said, examining her expression, "I have heard much of your conversation through my insects. I will explain once we find Shino and you receive treatment."

Naru blinked, but nodded. They walked in silence for a few moments back to the village. The trees were starting to thin and Naru could catch a glimpse of Konoha through the branches.

"Your trap was very well executed," Shibi commented suddenly, "I see you have improved much on your stealth as well."

Naru beamed at the compliment, nodding her thanks.

"Father!" Shino dropped down in front of them both as they stepped into the village gates. He opened his mouth to say more, but stopped short at the sight of Naru being carried by his father. Naru shifted nervously as the young Aburame's eyes trailed over her arms and hands, taking in the abuse in a shocked silence.

"Naru has been through a great ordeal, Shino," Shibi's deep voice intoned, "All will be explained once Naru is healed. I am sure she has as much to say to you as you do to her."

Shino nodded once, but the stiff posture of his shoulders did not relax. Naru offered a feeble smile, but Shino did not return it. The smile dropped and she sighed.

They trekked in silence to what Naru assumed would be the Aburame compound. The hospital refused to admit her, for reasons unknown to her. Well, if she really was a demon, she couldn't blame them...

Naru must have started to doze as they walk, for she awoke to the sound of a door slamming open and a loud, familiar voice.

"Shibi, Shino!" called Minami, "Did you – Oh, dear!"

"Some chakra ointment and bandages, if you would, Minami."

Minami cast one concerned look at the trio before rushing back inside to get supplies. Shibi led the two children to the living room where he set Naru down on a couch gently. Shino did not hesitate before hopping up beside her, stiff and at attention.

Naru wished she could use her hands so she could talk to Shino. He had not said a word since he had found them, and it was concerning Naru. Despite how well she knew him, Naru could not see past his emotionless and silent wall this time.

Minami rushed back into the room and immediately started to tend to Naru's wounds.

"Oh, dear, how in the world did you get these...?"

"I am sure we will have much to talk about once Naru regains use of her hands."

Minami nodded, worrying her bottom lip in concern. Naru gave her a fleeting smile as she applied some thick ointment. There was almost instant relief, causing Naru to sigh and sink more into the couch. After the ointment, Minami wound some bandages over her arms, from fingertip to just above the elbow. Naru gingerly tried to flex her fingers, and only experienced a fraction of the pain from before.

"Now," Shibi said as Minami and he took a seat on the opposite couch as Shino and Naru, "Perhaps it is time to tell your story, child."

Naru nodded and began from the beginning. She didn't dare look at Shino as she told of running away from the academy instead of going to meet her friend. She felt him shifting for a moment beside her, but he did not say a word. She then rushed to tell about meeting Mizuki and his task given. The infiltration into the Hokage tower was skimmed over quickly in her shame. Then she told of the next few hours of torturous trial and retrial of the jutsu that burned her arms with every attempt and the chase when Mizuki found her.

Minami dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief at the conclusion of the story. Shibi and Shino sat in stoic silence, but the air was thick with emotion.

"I see," Shibi said at last, "There is much you must be told, then."

'Why did he keep calling me the Kyuubi?' Naru signed, 'Am I really...?'

"No, child," the Aburame head said firmly, leaving no room for argument, "You have merely been host to the Kyuubi no Kitsune."

"But the Kyuubi is dead," Shino spoke up for the first time. Naru whipped her head around to look at him. He was staring at his father with his eyebrows scrunched, trying to piece together the puzzle.

He gave a glance to her and his expression relaxed a tad. After a moment he offered a tentative smile, which Naru returned with a relieved grin.

"According to our history, that is correct." Shibi affirmed, "However, the truth is that instead of killing the beast, the Fourth Hokage imprisoned it into a child born on that very same day."

Naru gasped silently. It made sense now how her birthday was on the same day as the Kyuubi festival and how harshly the villagers tended to treat her sometimes...

'Doesn't that mean the same thing, though?' Naru questioned with a frown, 'If it's inside me...'

Shibi looked at her thoughtfully as Shino rushed to speak.

"You are not a demon, Naru."

Naru smiled at her friend, but awaited on Shibi's response. She had to be sure.

"Answer me this," Shibi began after a moment, "Since we Aburame house a colony of bugs, are we ourselves insects? Do we become one in the same?"

Naru shook her head at once, 'No, you are separate.'

Shibi nodded in approval, "Then you have your answer."

Naru nodded with a large smile. As if Minami could handle no more, she rushed forward to gather Naru in a hug. "Oh, you are handling all this so well!"

Naru carefully squeezed her friend's mother back before she let go, her hands beginning to ache again from use. Minami dabbed her eyes once more as she resumed her seat.

"But, wait," Shino added with a tinge of uncertainty in his voice, "What did Mizuki mean, 'the Kyuubi saved her from death so many years ago'?"

The smile slipped off Naru's face faster then it had appeared. She froze, feeling both Shibi and Minami look in her direction.

"That, I am afraid, is not something I can tell you," Shibi replied, looking sternly at his son, "It is Naru's story to tell if she so wishes."

Shino hesitated, but nodded, looking to Naru. Naru did not turn to look at him, but down at her lap. There was a moment of silence before Shibi stood.

"I must go report to the Hokage about tonight's events. I should be back soon."

Minami nodded, standing to walk him to the door. The two adults turned to leave the room. Minami turned back in the doorway at the last second, addressing her son.

"Shino, show Naru to a guest room. She will stay here tonight."

Shino nodded, standing to lead Naru down the hall. The girl followed him in silence, looking down at her interlocked hands.

Now that it was only the two of them, the air seemed heavy and tense. Shino opened a door and stepped inside, revealing a simple but cozy guest room.

He stopped with his back to her in the middle of the room. After a second of no movement from the boy, Naru stepped closer and put a hesitant hand on his shoulder.

At her touch he whirled around and wrapped his arms around her shoulders in a tight hug. Naru stood stiff for a moment in shock, but quickly relaxed and returned the embrace.

Shino had never before initiated a hug between the two.

"Do not worry me so again," He mumbled into her shoulder before pulling away.

'I'm sorry...'

Shino shook his head with a sigh. He went to sit on the bed, Naru taking up the seat beside him.

"I wish you had not run away when you found out you had not passed the test. I would not have abandoned you."

'I know," Naru signed shamefully, 'I was just... afraid.'

"I know." He said, "Do not feel badly for the events tonight. Mizuki took advantage of you."

Naru nodded, flexing her fingers. The bandage at the top of her arm became loose and started to unravel a bit. Shino took notice and wordlessly wound it back into place and secured it.

'Shino," Naru started, watching him tie off her bandage, 'I want to tell you about what Mizuki was referring to.'

Shino looked up at her quickly, examining her expression. After a moment he nodded, frowning slightly.

Naru took in a deep breath, looking away from his face to stare at the opposite wall as she signed.

'When I was very young, only four or so, I had gone out on my own around the village. I had been alone as long as I could remember, so it was normal for me to do so. However, I had forgotten what day it was. The Kyuubi festival – my birthday.

'I had wandered off too far. I was brushing the edges of the walls, walking along by myself. I remember... I remember singing to myself.

'And then, a felt something hit me in the throat and I couldn't breathe any more. I pulled out a poison dart and fell to the ground, screaming in my mind for someone to find me. They didn't for a while, I understand. Now I know the only reason I survived is because of the Kyuubi. But... but at the cost of my voice. Jiji says my voice box healed incorrectly, making it unable to use. They can't fix it.'

Naru felt the tears roll down her cheeks. A hiccup built in her throat as she thought of the last time she used her voice. Singing. She had been singing.

Shino placed a hand on her shoulder, warm and comforting. "I am sorry, Naru. I am so sorry."

Naru smiled up at him, scrubbing the tears from her cheeks. 'It's okay. I'm okay.'

Shino stared at her silently before nodding slowly. He opened his mouth to say more, but was interrupted by a knock on the door frame, drawing their attention to the open door.

Shibi stood there calmly, back from his meeting with the Hokage. Naru saw a flash of silver before he tossed something to her. Automatically, she caught it, staring with wonder and confusion at the object in her hands.

A Konoha leaf engraved headband, just like the one Shino wore. Naru looked to Shibi in confusion.

"The Hokage and I both agreed that your actions tonight thoroughly merited your graduation to Genin status. Congratulations."

A slow grin creeped up on Naru's face, overtaking it in a matter of seconds. If she could speak, she would be squealing loudly. She turned to Shino, seeing his own smile and glomped him in a hug.

There was a smile in Shibi's voice as he spoke, "Your team assignments will be the day after next. Get some rest, the both of you, for we have much to accomplish tomorrow."

Shino pushed Naru off of him with a smile, nodding to his father. Shibi exited as Shino stood, leaving Naru pouting on the bed.

"Sleep now, Naru," Shino admonished with a quiet laugh, "We can celebrate more in the morning."

Naru nodded as she felt lethargy slip over her at the thought of sleep. Her eyelids drooped as the weight of the day settled on her. Shino said nothing more as he saw her start to wilt into sleep. Quietly, he flicked off the light and closed the door behind himself as he left, a smile on his lips.

Naru blinked in the darkness, feeling so happy and safe, despite the danger she had been in hours before. She relaxed into the pillows of the bed, slipping effortlessly into dreamland.

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A.N.: So? Nice, long chapter this time. And without an unbearable wait too! What did you think?

In the next chapter: Team assignments! Who do you think Naru will be paired with?

STAY YOUTHFUL!