note1_Beta-ed by Bruhaeven. We're sisters on facebook. Yeah, uh huh. I see your jealous eyes.


ii. Pin the Blame on the Donkey

Do you get it? Donkey? Ass? Very clever yes?
Not that I'm calling my mom an ass. I love my mom.
When she's not being a donkey.
Okay, shutting up.

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Okay let's just get things straight. I did not "volunteer" myself to work at Sunny Leaf Institute, I was coerced. Coerced. I guess it would sound less melodramatic if I just said I volunteered unwillingly, but that's an oxymoron and I try not to associate myself with anything that contains or pertains to the word "moron".

Anyways where was I? Oh right, coerced. And the one responsible for all this coercion was my mother. And it's not like I'm trying to blame her but—oh screw it, since I'm asphyxiating in a cabinet I have every right to be shameless— this is her fault.

I blame you, Mom, because Sunny Leaf sure as hell wasn't part of The Original Plan.

My TOP (that's The Original Plan for those who are abbreviation challenged) entailed me spending my summer working as a volunteer at Konoha General Hospital. You know, be a good citizen, make some kids smile, get some more stuff to pad out my college applications with, that kind of thing. Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm some over-reaching, neurotic keen bean. I was doing it for the kids.

And my possible future as a med school student. Shutupdon'tjudge.

Anyways, moving along, moving along.

So, I sent in my volunteer application to the hospital, and what came back in the mail was an envelope with the words "Sunny Leaf Institute" typed across it in some bastardized cursive font with a letter inside that thanked me for offering my services and a "you will begin this Saturday. Please report to the front desk at 8:00 A.M."

Say wha—?

It turns out Sunny Leaf just happens to also be a subdivision of KGH (that's Konoha General Hospital for all you AC's, try and keep up) and the grand Pooh-bah, or whoever ran the joint, had just fobbed off my application to one of the hospital's mooks—sorry, I mean subdivisions. Subdivisions. My application was fobbed off to a subdivision of the main hospital…I am not bitter.

Of course, I tried to cop out but Mom wouldn't let me get through the escape hatch without a fight.

"I don't understand why you don't want to volunteer," she finally asked me when she got sick of all the turd I was giving her about wanting to do something more productive and how I didn't think I even had the time.

"It's not that I don't want to," I hedged. I just wanted to volunteer at a KGH. Hell, any another branch would've been fine, just not Sunny Leaf.

"Then what's the problem?"

Was she blind? Could she not see where I was being posted?

Oh right, did I mention Sunny Leaf Institute's little tagline? It's really cute. Sunny Leaf Institute: Mental Hygiene Center.

The place was a freaking loony bin! And besides I wanted to be a physician, not a psychologist who sat around listening to people talk about the voices in their heads.

Plus, I couldn't see how I would actually gain anything by volunteering there. Well, aside from the karma-points, but then I could always save a cat in a tree or something if I ever felt myself slipping down the redemption ladder.

I opened my mouth and gaped like a fish for a few seconds before closing it again.

It was catch twenty-two. The only chance I had of getting get out of this was if I told my mom the truth. Unfortunately, by doing so, I'd also come off as a paranoid, neurotic asshole. Plus, the truth didn't really even guarantee my safety—er—freedom. The only thing I knew for sure was that Mom would be shaking her head and giving me that "I expected so much better from you, you disappointment" look which, by the way, drives. Me. Insane. Oh hey, is that a pun? I think it is. I think I just made a pun. You know, since we're on the topic of mental clinics and all—

Forget it.

So anyways, I didn't throw in the towel exactly; more like I had to pry my fingers open with the other hand and let the damn rag hit the floor. "Fine. I'll do it," I ground out because I knew it was the answer my mom was fishing for all along.

"Sakura, if you don't want to, nobody's forcing you to." Bull. She had only said that for her benefit so she could play the "I never made you do it" card if I ever blamed my horrible time there on her tyrannical rule.

"Yeah. Sure."

"What was that?"

"I mean, I want to do it." I could've used the same tone of voice to ask her to shove bamboo splinters under my fingernails.

"Are you sure?" Do you enjoy me shoving bamboo splinters beneath your finger nails?

"Yeah, I'm positive." I managed to not sound too pained.

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And that's how I found my self in my car come 7:00am, Saturday morning. After a few hiccups that involved almost backing into the cars parked on the curb and the obligatory-almost-running-over of the neighbor's cat (I tried not to put any meaning behind the fact that it was black), I was on the road.

As I left the comforting uniformity of Suburbia and drove towards the outskirts of Konoha (because there obviously was some sort of rule in the Urban Planner's Manual that mental hospitals had to built at the edge of a city), the town slowly began to melt into the landscape. The distance between homes grew longer and the trees began to thicken in numbers until it was no longer trees in a backyard but a house in the woods.

Summer had taken to the forest and everything that bordered the two-lane road I was driving down was filled with colors that could only be described in terms of Crayola: Fern, Forest Green, Mountain Meadow, Illuminating Emerald, Malachite (by the way, do you seriously expect a five-year old to be able to pronounce that?), and a bit of Granny-Smith Apple wherever the sun's rays dappled through the treetops. My windows were rolled down and the wind blowing through felt like it was coming straight down from the sky: clean and crisp.

Basically it was a kickass day with the early morning sun already blazing and even though there was too much static in the airwaves for the radio to work, the sound of rubber humming on asphalt filled the silence in a way that wasn't too bad.

You'd expect with all these trappings of a quintessential summer I'd be frolicking in the glorious joys of teenage-hood, letting myself go rampant with the raw, burning passions of a fiery youth…

You know, be in a good mood. Paint the town red. That sort of deal.

Truth was, I barely even felt the breeze on my face, too preoccupied with the mutant butterflies that were flapping around in my stomach: first day jitters. Which, I suppose, would have been normal but it wasn't even the kind of nervous excitement you got during your first day back to school (that's not just me is it?). It wasn't even the kind of nervous that you got on your first day of work at whatever joint you were going to start flipping burgers for.

I was just nervous— horribly, horribly, terrifyingly, I-should-just-turn-back-around-right-now nervous.

By this point I bet you're all wondering, what the big deal was; it's just a psych ward. And yes, I know that in the Greater Scheme I didn't have it that bad and there are children starving in Oto and I shouldn't be whining and blah blah blah.

But it was a big deal because Sunny Leaf was a freaking psych ward and I did not want to spend my summer being surrounded by killer psychos.

Yes, yes, I know. Haruno Sakura, the shallow-minded ignoramus that thinks everyone that goes to a mental clinic is a head case. Let's all burn her at the stake for being soooo politically incorrect.

Shut up and put your matches away.

I know not everyone that's admitted to a psych ward is insane, but the Sunny Leaf is, in itself, creepy as hell. Actually, I've never even seen the place, but there have been times throughout the years that Konoha has gone on high alert because the mental institute has had patients escape.

Yes. You heard me right. They've had to go on high alert. And it's the kind of thing where the news and radio broadcast warns everyone to stay indoors and lock all doors and windows. If you see the escapee, do not approach and contact officials.

At first it sounds like some b-grade scary story you tell to the kids at Camp Pee Wee: and there, hanging from the door handle, was bloody hook (cue: pre-pubescent gasps of terror).

Then the fridge horror kicks in: just what the fuck kind of people are they keeping in there?

Oh, and let's not forget that some of the potentially dangerous crazies have actually managed to escape. I mean, you have to wonder, how safe is it to actually work there? Seriously, what if one them got out while I was on duty? (Oh the irony).

As you can now see, my reluctance to work at Sunny Leaf was not the product of groundless paranoia and ignorance. It was based off of nights spent cocooned in blankets with the doors locked and TV turned on, waiting to hear the news that they've caught the runaway madman.

And so, I spent the rest of the twenty eight minutes of my drive psyching myself out with things like mental images of eighteenth century lunatic asylums (you know, giant, gray-stoned buildings, black-iron gates, dying weed garden out in the front, etcetera, etcetera) and morbidly wondering if I was going to have to help tie people into straight jackets.

The last thought gave me such a bad case of goose bumps that it looked like a colony of polyps had sprouted up on my skin.

Oh gods. The horror, the horror—

Welcome to Sunny Leaf.

Well then. That was anticlimactic.

Greeting me at the entrance to the parking lot was a sign that looked like it belonged in front of a nursing home, complete with a nice little arrangement of flowers planted in front. The parking lot itself was pretty empty, and I took the car for a bit of a whirl, trying to decide where to stop (so many choices!) and finally settled for a space at the center of the lot.

Taking my keys, I popped out of the car and took a look around. Trees crowded against the lot's edges, like the woods were trying to take over the wide open space but were thwarted by the asphalt. And aside from a few warbling birds it was quiet, the atmosphere as slow and languid as summer itself. It wasn't just the sign; the whole place reminded me of an assisted living center.

As I crossed the blacktop towards the main building, the mutant butterflies in my stomach degenerated back to their pupated state, albeit they were still alive and wriggling. At the building's entrance I just barely had time to catch the words "Mental Hygiene Clinic" stickered in white letters across the glass door when it slid open with a mechanical zip and hit me with a blast of chilly air.

"Hello there!" A woman welcomed me cheerfully from the reception's desk. She was a bit wrinkled around the edges and looked like she could have been a school nurse (although, that is an admittedly ambiguous description, but you know what I mean. She seemed nice in the I-like-to-bake-pies sort of way).

"Uh, hi." I made my way over to the counter. "I'm Sakura Haruno?"

The lady smiled and nodded encouragingly, "Yes?" Naturally, she seemed pretty accustomed to dealing with the lost and confused.

"I was told to come here at eight o'clock?" Before she mistook me for a prospective patient, I hurriedly added, "I'm the new volunteer."

"Oh! Well, why didn't you say so? Just give me a moment."

As she rifled through the pile of papers at the desk I turned my head and surveyed the place. It was a lot like a hospital, everything from the fluorescent lighting to the shiny linoleum floors, all the way down to the smell of antiseptic wipes and bandages.

Maybe I had made a mistake? Maybe Sunny Leaf was in fact a neurological hospital and a mental hygiene center was just somewhere you got your brains cleaned out.

Dreaming is not a sin.

"Ah, here we go! Haruno, Sakura." I turned my attention back to Ms. I-like-to-hypothetically-bake-pies. She was looking over my volunteer form. "Oh, you're seventeen!"

I nodded. "Is that…a bad thing?" Say yes. Say yes. Say yes say yes say yes yesyesyes

"No, no! Not at all! We have another volunteer here the same age as you. A real sweetheart! Although," she frowned slightly and her eyes went back to the paper. "I think she told me she went to a different school."

"Oh, well, Konoha is a pretty big city," I offered.

She threw her head back and laughed like I had cracked the funniest joke in history. No seriously, her face was turning red. She looked back at me, eyes gleaming and cheeks all splotchy. "Of course! Hahahaha! Silly me! Silly me! It's just—" she devolved into another fit of laughter.

I smiled along politely and tried to look sheepish, like I hadn't meant to be so witty because really, it wasn't funny. At. All.

"Uhm…so," I tried to push the conversation forward.

Suddenly the double doors to our right flung open and a tall blonde wearing dark blue scrubs strode out. She surveyed the room before her eyes zeroed in on the pie-lady. "There you are Kimura-san!"

"Oh! Hello dear! I was just telling this young lady all about you!" Kimura-san flapped the paper in my direction.

"Dear" glanced over my way and gave an apologetic smile before going behind the desk. "That's very sweet of you Kimura-san. But remember? You're not allowed to—"

Suddenly the doors swung opened again and a strange looking man peered out. "Is she out here?"

"Yeah, I found her at the reception desk. Seriously Kakashi-sensei, you need to keep a better eye on things when you're on duty."

The man—Kakashi— waved a free hand in the air, trying to pacify the girl. His other hand was holding open a book that…dear god, was that Twilight?"Ah, sorry, sorry. I got distracted by—"

"Nobody cares about that trash you read," the blonde snapped. "Jesus, since you're in charge here, at least act like it." Then in a more gentle voice, "Come on Kimura-san, let's go back to the dining hall." She took the paper out of the lady's hand and began to lead her away by the arm.

"Oh yes, oh yes," Mrs. Kimura bobbed her head up and down like a hen. "I would like that. Bye Sakura- dear, it was nice meeting you."

All I could manage was a stilted smile that fell apart almost as soon as it appeared.

What. The. Fuck.

Screw deer, I probably looked like a freaking aye-aye in headlights.

On her way through the doors, the blonde slapped my form into the man's chest. "Go and try to do your job, old man."

"You wound me, Ino-chan."

Ino-chan just rolled her eyes and walked out with the lady in tow.

Kakashi-sensei sighed before he ambled over to where I was standing. "So," he drawled and looked down at the paper in his hand with his one eye. I say one eye because he was wearing an eye patch. Yes, like the ones pirates wore. "You're the new recruit?"

"Uh," I said stupidly, distracted by his appearance. I knew it was rude to stare, but he was wearing a surgical mask which was a little unnerving when paired with the eye patch. I couldn't help but wonder if he was trying to hide some sort of facial disfiguration. Maybe he had a horrible burn wound.

Or maybe he was just really ugly.

Anyways, I must have looked really freaked out because as soon as he looked up, realization flickered across his face (or what I could see of it). "Ah, right." He clapped the book (Twilight, Twilight, Twilight, oh my god, it is Twilight…in freaking hardcover) shut and tucked it under his arm as he pulled the mask down to his chin. His face looked oddly young when considering his silver hair. No horrible wounds, however. Not too bad looking either. "Sorry about that. I'm getting over a cold." He then pointed to his covered eye. "The eye patch stays on though. You really wouldn't want to see what's under that."

Beneath the black material I could see the gash that ran down to his cheek and figured he was probably right. I fidgeted and struggled to find something constructive to say. Finally, "So, I, uh, like your book?" Actually, I wasn't too impressed by the sparkling vampire and his girlfriend—sorry—soul mate who I guess smelled like buttercups or some other and was, apparently, very nosh-able. You know, if you were into the whole eating human-flesh thing. I mean drinking, drinking human blood. Same difference.

The man chuckled and took the book out from beneath his arm and stared at it like it was some sort of secret joke. "I'm sure you do." He then turned his attention back to my form, "Right then, where were we? Sakura was it?"

"That's right…" I was still a little knocked off balance by his general...general-ness.

"Well, Ino will probably back soon so she can show you around when she does." He looked up thoughtfully. "Hmmm…what else? Well, I'm the guy in charge so if you have any questions you can ask Ino or anyone else, I guess. Just try to make sure they're in uniform." He then smiled before pulling the mask back over his face. "And I guess that's about it. Welcome to Sunny Leaf, kid."

I cracked a pained smile.

Holy flaming shit on a stick Mom, what the hell did you get me into?

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The boy lies wide awake in bed, watching shadows twist on the walls as the dry, naked branches tap their fingers against the window.

His eye throbs painfully and he can still taste blood.

Their laughter is loud, cruel, echoing, ringing, ringing, ringing make it stop.

I'll make it stop.

He shuts his eyes and listens instead to the winter wind moan through the cracks.

I can make it all disappear, he promises.

The boy pulls the cover over his head. Someone save him.

I'll save you.

He is afraid.

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author's notes:

1. Kept the japanese honorifics. I thought Dr. Hatake/Kakashi was too jarring. In japan I think they use -sensei to refer to doctors too, because they do that in korean (and I did google it.)

2. Speaking of google, google aye-aye if you don't know what it is. Actually, even if you do, google image it.

3. can you even imagine coming across that image when you're only in second grade? well I did and it scarred me.

4. Crazy lady totally happened on her own and yes I did just go there with Kakashi.

5. I lurk on TVtroupes more so I'm referring to their definition of "mook" in this story, not Urbandictionary's (although the latter is admittedly great site where one can soak up our generation's crude, uh, AWESOME sense of humor.)

6. Yes I've read Twilight. I don't hate the series, because I used to love it. Now my feelings towards it have devolved into a mild sort of tolerance. Plus they're great books to read when your butt is glued to the the toilet seat and...never mind. I'm not going to finish that story.

7. for those of you reviewed. I love you. A lot. Here, sexy time with Kakashi for you. Unless you're male and totes not into that kind of thing...I then apologize. Profusely. Uhm, centerfold photo of Anko?

8. Writing is a lonely business. I'd love to hear your thoughts...in the review box?