Finding Your Voice

Chapter Ten: Finding Your Lack of Faith Disturbing

"Naruto-san! Don't do it!"

She groaned as if in pain under her breath.

"I know you're lonely and I know how much being alone can hurt but this isn't the only way out!"

More groaning. She tossed and turned, hands clamped firmly over her burning red face.

"Please Naruto! Please step back from that ledge and talk to me!"

She flipped on to her stomach and kicked her legs up and down against the mattress, her thin blue and white blanket sliding off her body and collecting in a pile on the floor.

"I won't let you jump Naruto! You're my friend, and I look out for my friends!" Naruto reached down and very hesitantly tapped the top of her head to get her attention. When she looked up at him, she was shocked to see such an tender expression on his face. It was a look of awe and surprise, mixed with what might have been happiness. He then pointed over the edge of the wall, simply telling her to look. She did so, and was unable to comprehend what she was seeing. On the other side of the wall was...

"Another roof..." Shion groaned under her breath as she finally settled on to her back, letting her hands slip from her face and land at her sides with a soft thump. She opened her eyes, gazing at the ceiling and the little glow-in-the-dark dots she had pasted to it to resemble the night sky outside. The red flush slowly faded from her cheeks and she sighed heavily.

'Kami, that was embarrassing,' Shion thought to herself, 'If it had been anyone but Naruto, I would never have been allowed to live that down...' The day that she had found out about his secret spot, and shared lunch with the voiceless boy was both utterly embarrassing and yet so very essential for learning more about who he was as a person.

She sighed heavily. She knew that befriending him had been the right choice, both for him and herself. Kazuna was an unexpected bonus, as she was a good person overall and really rounded out their little group. However, seeing Naruto at his job, and how he was on such good terms with the owner and his daughter really forced her to ask some difficult questions about why she was trying to help him. Was just to bolster her own ego? To feeling good about doing 'the right thing'? She was not doing it for the girls who asked her to bring Naruto out of his shell, that was for certain. After all, this was not something you would be able to accomplish so soon; it was an investment, a personal one. So then, why was she, Shion the new girl, spending so much time improving someone else's standing with the class rather than her own?

After all, the only female friend she had was Kazuna. The other girls still referred to her as 'Shion-san', which was way too formal and meant that she still wasn't a classmate in their eyes. The boys, well, they were probably already done with the whole introduction thing, but she still had not properly met them, or taken them up on their offer to have lunch with them. And if she kept on hanging out exclusively with Naruto and Kazuna, forcing them into events that they had not been invited for, like when she had asked Ino if she could bring Kazuna to the Tuesday night slumber party (gosh, that was rude!) then Shion herself would be known as 'Shion-san and her awkward 'plus-twos' (+2's)' and would likely not be invited to future events, thus ruining her standing with the rest of the class.

This was not Shion thinking selfishly for her own personal gain; if she was not considered a part of the class, then she would be unable to bring Naruto, and to a lesser extent Kazuna, into the class as part of the group. Her little group would end up skulking on the outside of the social circles, much like Ami and Noriko. That wouldn't do Naruto, Kazuna or herself any favours.

"Auuuugh." Shion moaned out loud, reaching for the little alarm clock on her bedside table. [3:42am] glowed red on the digital readout. "Auuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuugh!" Shion's groan was longer than before upon realising she had been tossing and turning since she had gone to bed at 11:15pm. Sleep wasn't coming tonight, and the slumber party was on the next night, so she probably would not be getting any sleep then either.

Resigning herself to the fact that she would have horrific bags under her eyes for the next two days, she flicked on her reading light, picked her blanket up off the floor and covered herself, and fished around in her bedside drawer to find something to fill the time until her alarm went off. Her fingers closed upon something smooth and hefty and she withdrew her hand, her old metallic blue PSP sitting in her small palm. A little more digging unearthed the charger cable, and once it was plugged in, the device booted up, with the preview clip for Kami Eater playing in the UMD slot.

"I can't even remember where I got up to in the story... Oh well." She muttered as she pressed START.

~Wednesday Morning~

How was the slumber party?

Naruto held up his notepad as his two friends dropped into their seats wearily. Kazuna yawned widely, triggering a yawn from Shion, who quickly covered her mouth. "M-Morning Naruto-san. It, uh, wasn't too bad." Said the blonde haired girl, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye.

"Yeah! It was a bit awkward at first, but once all the other girls dipped into the candy and went on sugar highs, Shion and I could sit back and watch the mayhay!" Kazuna said happily.

Seeing Naruto's confused look, Shion interjected with "She means 'mayhem'." To which the blonde boy nodded in thanks.

And what about the burning of the... Pads?

Naruto scrawled on the notebook and showed it to Shion and Kazuna. "Ah, that didn't go as planned." Replied Shion. "Ino-san had this elaborate pyre made from cardboard and sticks with the pads glued to the top. She set it on fire and insisted we dance around it, but when the fire went out, the bra pads were just sitting amongst the ashes, blackened and slightly melted."

"Then she went and grabbed some petrol and splashed it all over the black stuff and set that on fire!" Kazuna said, continuing the story. "And it worked! ...kinda. See the pads burned and stuff, but the plastic and gooey stuff inside became this really stinky black smoke that made everything hard to see and got all over our clothes and stuff. Then Ino's mum called the fire department, and we got lectured for ages! The firemen were really nice though, cause after the lecture, we got Firewoman Fran the Safety Lamb plushies! I was the only one who took one though..." She said, throwing Shion a disappointed look, who rolled her eyes in response.

"Honestly Kazuna-san, don't you think we're a little too old for-" Shion stopped when she noticed the frowny pout on the brunette's lips. "Ah, sorry. Kazuna-chan," Kazuna smiled brightly upon being given the right honorific, "Don't you think we're a little too old for-"

"You can never be too old for Firewoman Fran! And fire safety!" Kazuna said with uncharacteristic seriousness.

"Right, right. My apologies." Shion said placatingly. Glancing at Naruto, she noticed what looked like a 'Naruto-style' amused smile towards his friends antics as he wrote once again in his notepad.

So nothing else happened?

"Nope, nothing else happened." Shion and Kazuna said simultaneously, looking at the reader with a knowing stare (Paintball arc? What?). Naruto glanced towards the spot the two girls were staring at.

What are you two looking at?

Naruto held his notepad up in front of their gaze. "No idea," said Shion. "It just felt like the right thing to do."

"Yeah..." Kazuna added, looking mildly confused, well, a little more confused than usual.

Naruto shot them both a puzzled look, raising his right eyebrow ever so slightly up. Just then, the whole class went silent as Pakura-sensei strode into the room, and faced forward in unison with the rest of the class as she stood at her desk, picked up a clipboard and waited for the class presidents to start the morning greeting.

~Wednesday Afternoon~

"...and finally, midterm exams are coming up very soon, so I expect you all to start revising your notes and redoing the practice questions." Pakura-sensei said, shooting her students a knowing look, a look that said 'the questions that none of you have actually attempted'. "That is all."

"Stand! Bow!" said Shion and Sasuke in unison as they stood to their feet in a flash. The sound of twenty-eight chairs scraping back and the unrehearsed yet perfectly synchronised movements of the students would have put any organised military exercise to shame. Pakura-sensei successfully hid a bemused look as she barked "Dismissed," and watched her students file out in a neat line. As Shion, Naruto and Kazuna passed her, she nodded to them with a slightly less intense look on her face than usual, which had come to be known as her version of a smile. The trio bowed back respectfully and scuttled out the door, breathing a sigh of relief as they stepped away from the commanding presence of their teacher.

I have to work today, so I'll see you both tomorrow.

Naruto held up his notepad for the two girls to see, gave them a 'Naruto smile' and slunk off, sliding his headphones on to his ears and ducking his head to avoid any strange looks thrown his way. "Hey Shi-chan, I don't feel like going home today." Kazuna piped up, throwing an arm over Shion's shoulders and leaning on her. "How about we go out to the pier?"

Shion didn't know whether to feel amused or annoyed by the even shorter nickname Kazuna had begun throwing around so casually since the party. Honestly, only Shion's mother called her that! But still, Shion was glad that Kazuna was acting more like her usual self, possibly even more affectionate than before. Giving her friend a rather sadistic grin, she murmured "Oh Kazu-chan, did you forget about that mountain load of practice questions we should be starting on?"

Kazuna shrunk away from Shion in horror, as the memory of piled up papers on her desk rose to twice its actual size in her imagination. Shion laughed as she grabbed her bag and motioned for Kazuna to exit the classroom before herself. "Tell you what, if you make a good start on your revision during the rest of this week, you and I can meet up on the weekend and spend the day at the pier. Sound good?"

"Yes!" Squealed Kazuna, hugging Shion tightly around her waist. For once Shion didn't try to slip out of her clutches, slowly coming to realise that close contact with others wasn't such a bad thing. And to think the pair of them learned that lesson at Yamanaka Ino's bra pad burning slumber party. Kami works in mysterious ways!

During said slumber party when the other girls were in the midst of their sugar highs, Shion and Kazuna were sitting back and laughing at the chaos around them. Soon enough it was Kazuna's turn to dip into the candy, and Shion's job to 'take responsibility for her' as Ino had said began. The problem was that Kazuna didn't quite respond to the sweets the way the other girls did. Her speech seemed to drag slightly, turning into a wavering drawl much like how pot-smoking hippies talked in the 70's. Her demeanour was like that of a drunk uncle at the annual family get-together; a hilarious train-wreck you couldn't help but watch.

Still Shion had a job to do, and she did her very best to keep Kazuna out of trouble. It wasn't until midnight, when the other girls attending the slumber party finally crashed as the sugar wore off, that things started to get a little strange. The bodies of their classmates were scattered all over the living room, slumped over couches and laying on top of sleeping bags. The sounds of breathing and quiet snoring filled the house as Shion went about the house switching off the lights and locking the doors. She found Ino buried headfirst in a pile of dirty laundry, her head resting on a pillow of panties that were most certainly not clean. Taking pity on her host, Shion rolled her fellow blonde onto her personalised purple sleeping bag and dragged her gently into the living room with the other girls.

As Shion moved Ino into place next to Sakura, the blonde girl stirred slightly, teal blue eyes peeking through the soot stains and botched makeovers smeared across her face. "T-Thanks babe, love ya loads." The host muttered sleepily, patting Shion's shin fondly before slumping back into her pillow, fast asleep. Shion smiled, whispered "Good night," and wiped away the worst of the mess on Ino's face with a tissue before zipping the slumbering girl into her sleeping bag.

After checking over the rest of the house, Shion was ready to retire to her own sleeping bag, feeling tired but oddly cheerful. She had quite enjoyed herself at the party, whether she was willing to admit it to herself or not. She got into her bag, shifted around a bit until she made herself a comfy spot and was watching her eyelids drooping downwards when Kazuna's face flashed through her mind. Shion's eyes snapped open, and she bolted upright, glancing to her left and spotting the empty sleeping bag that was supposed to be filled up with little miss Vegetable. A jolt of panic bloomed in the blonde girl's chest as she searched the room for her missing friend. The sound of the upstairs toilet flushing figuratively drained her anxiety away, and a few moments later the soft padding of fuzzy slippers on wooden steps could be heard.

Kazuna's head popped out from behind a wall, eyes half-closed with drowsiness scanning for her friend. Shion waved her over, and soon enough the brunette was snuggling into her own sleeping bag, wiggling her way closer to the blonde girl to speak with her without disturbing the others, in a rare show of consideration for her surroundings.

A few moments passed in silence, except for the odd snort coming from Sakura's spot under the coffee table. Shion could feel her eyes closing and was all too ready to fall into the warm embrace of sleep, when Kazuna broke the silence with a whispered "Hey."

Shion stopped herself from sighing out loud, and turned over to face her friend with the best smile her sleep deprived face could muster. "Hi," she replied softly.

Kazuna was studying Shion's face with a distant look on her own sleepy face. A minute passed before the brunette opened her mouth to speak.

"Listen Shion-chan," she began hesitantly.

"Yes Kazuna-san?" Shion prompted her gently, hoping this conversation would not be a long one, seeing as she had not slept well the last few nights and it was starting to catch up to her.

"C-Could... I mean... Hmm..." Kazuna seemed to be struggling to figure out how to say what was on her mind. She stopped to organise her thoughts, then spoke with her eyes firmly locked onto the zipper of her sleeping bag. "We're friends right?"

"..." Shion was rather taken aback by this question. Raising an eyebrow, she replied "Of course we are, I'm hurt that you have to ask."

"No no, that's not what I'm..." came the flustered response. Kazuna's cheeks were bright red, her eyes darting around the room, trying to look anywhere but at the blonde girl beside her. "I misspoke. I mean, I... I'm just trying to understand something."

"Go on."

"Well, you know that I'm not particularly smart or whatever," began Kazuna. Shion opened her mouth to politely disagree, but the 'come-on-now-admit-it' look on Kazuna's face made Shion hold her tongue.

Kazuna continued, "You know I'm slow and I fail at picking up on things. And I've never really had proper friends before..."

Shion was starting to see where this was going. But she waited for Kazuna to get everything off her chest before speaking.

"And I'm just new to this whole friend thing so I'm really worried about how I act and behave around you and the other girls. But mostly you Shion-chan, I really care about what you think of me. And it's kinda driving me nuts and gives me headaches. My brain's too dumb to handle stuff like this!" She finished with a desperate look in her eyes, a girl searching for answers to questions she'd never asked herself before.

Shion was speechless. For once her ego sat quietly within, as feelings of concern and guilt drowned out everything else. "Kazuna-san, I-I didn't know you felt this way. I want you to know, right now, that I'm always available for you to talk about things that bother you. You don't have to bottle them up - friends share everything, not just the good times."

Kazuna nodded, unable to speak as emotions choked her throat and filled her eyes with tears. Shion continued gently, trying to put as much warmth into her voice as she possibly could, "I don't know why you are seeking my approval so doggedly. You are worth so much, you are so beautifully unique, just by being you, and that's something I would never ever want to change. Kazuna-san, don't think for second that I treat you one way, and think of you scornfully in another way. I'm sure you know by now that I'm quite blunt and will say what I'm thinking - I find it much easier to talk through problems rather than agonise over them alone. I learned that hard lesson a long time ago, believe me."

Kazuna nodded and wiped at her eyes, "You're right, I'm being stupid-"

"No you're not," Shion said firmly. "How about you tell me why you feel this way, and we'll work this out together."

Kazuna sniffed and nodded again, looking very much like their other friend who communicated non-verbally. "Well for starters, you always call me 'Kazuna-san'. You always speak so formally and politely that it's a bit dis-con-cer-tina..."

Shion's bemused expression gave way to a smile as she figured out the word Kazuna was struggling with. "Disconcerting," the blonde girl said softly, holding back a chuckle, lest Kazuna think she was being mocked. Shion just loved how preciously cute her friend was.

"Yeah that. Like the way you speak makes you seem a bit distant, you know? It's confusing for a simple girl like me. I should know you don't do it on purpose but..." Kazuna trailed off, fearing that talking about it too much would hurt Shion's feelings. Shion was rather surprised, but took it in stride, realising that what Kazuna said was not wrong.

"I... I honestly never considered that. Huh..." Shion replied. "I suppose that yes, I do speak with restraint, but as you may know I grew up in a shrine. Manners were pretty important there." Kazuna nodded as Shion continued. "Nevertheless, I shall aim to be more casual in my speech, less standoffish, at least with my friends. Is that acceptable?"

Kazuna simply looked at her friend, her eyes prompting her to say... something. Shion was puzzled and hesitantly tried again. "Is that acceptable, Kazuna-chan?"

A big smile and a rosy blush that coloured Kazuna's cheeks confirmed that it most certainly was.

Shion smiled, "Right, now that's sorted. I'll say it one more time, just so it's perfectly clear and we can finally put this to rest. Kazuna-chan, I like you just the way you are. I don't expect you to be anything other than who you already are, because that's the you I became friends with. And I want you to stop holding my opinion in such high regard - I don't know everything, and being brought up in a shrine means I'm missing a few social skills myself. So let's work together to improve ourselves by being open with each other. Deal?" She held out a hand to her friend, who clasped it immediately.

"Deal," Kazuna replied. "With Naruto-kun too."

Shion nodded, smiling. "Absolutely. Him too."

Without another word, the two girls finally lay back to sleep, each feeling a warmth bubbling away in their hearts and an unacknowledged weight lifted off their chests.

The feeling of a open, honest heart to heart, supported by trust and acceptance.

Just as Shion was drifting off to slumberland, she felt someone huddling up to her side. Smiling faintly, she put her arm around her friend and sank into dreamless sleep.

Author's Note:

Hello. Sorry.