Shakespeare once wrote, "Nothing is so common as the wish to be remarkable." In my opinion, it's an apt quote to describe the human condition, but right now it couldn't be further from the truth. With the arrival of the day I was to be tossed head over heels into the training of a shinobi, all I could think about was how much I wished to be someone else – anyone else. Preferably a person who was as plain and boring as possible.
The morning had started off terribly, not that I should've been surprised. Everything was crashing and burning around me, so why not include my morning routine in that equation? Not that there was much of a routine since Yokoburi had been destroyed. Hina wrenched me from my blessed slumber in the freezing hour before dawn and hustled me into my clothes. I was almost too busy shivering in the frigid air outside my bed roll to notice when she crammed my feet into a pair of too-big shinobi sandals.
She cut me off before I could open my mouth to ask, understanding my confused look, "We were given a pair when I signed you up for the classes."
Of course. I'm sure I would've been barefoot otherwise. I thought bitterly as I experimentally wiggled my toes around in the shoe. Whoever thought it was a good idea to design shoes with open toes in the Land of Rain was a moron. I could just imagine the mud squishing in between my toes, causing friction which would lead to more blisters and had to resist the urge to take the shoes off.
I would've almost been better off with bare feet, as I usually was, but I suppose with the knives they were going to hand us later, it would've been too much of a risk. Can't afford to have their child soldiers injured too soon, can they?
Oh well. If all went as I planned, I would be out of those lessons within a matter of a week, maybe even sooner. What happened afterward was up in the air, but I was willing to chance it. Hina would most definitely be disappointed in me, but after the way she threw me under the bus, I couldn't be blamed for taking the initiative to climb out of the viper pit.
I was knocked out of my thoughts as I was quickly ushered to the dining tent, forced to cram food down my throat despite my lack of appetite, and then hustled through the winding paths of the tent city. The sun was just starting to crest over the horizon, judging by the lightening grey tint around us when we arrived at the field that spelled out a miserable week for me.
Before I could get a good look at the make-shift training grounds, Hina turned me around and crouched down so she could look me in the eyes.
"I know you don't want to be a kunoichi, Chieko-chan, but this really is for the best," she attempted to reassure me. "You'll be able to protect yourself, and that's what counts."
I resisted the urge to snort in derision and let her continue with her little pep-talk.
"I've been set up to work with some ladies to patch up clothing, but I'll be back to pick you up when you're all done training. Please, Chieko, behave," she pleaded.
Silently, I nodded, but refused to say anything. Technically, I wouldn't be breaking any rules, but we both knew I wasn't going down without a fight. Stubbornness was in my genes in both my past life and this life.
With a resigned sigh, she kissed me on the forehead and stood up. She did a weary scan of the training grounds before turning to walk back into the tent city, leaving me on my own. Attempting to ignore the irrational sting of abandonment, I turned to face the field again, ready to face my doom. …well, maybe that was a bit dramatic, but it rolled off the tongue nicely if I do say so myself.
The field itself was uninspiring. It was full of trampled grass and muddy puddles, and don't even get me started on how thick the actual mud was. It was on the outskirts of the clearing, likely to prevent any accidents, so a large wall of trees bordered the other side of the field. Preemptively setting my standards low, I turned my gaze to the students milling around the field.
To my surprise, there were a lot more than I had thought there would be. At least forty to fifty kids were dotted around the grounds, though none, I noted appeared to be over the age of ten. The younger ones clustered together, either talking animatedly with each other or meandering around and I could tell by their excited expressions that this was their first lesson.
The older kids, on the other hand, were quietly performing stretches in a regimented cycle, obviously past the enthusiasm of the first few lessons. Flitting my eyes between the two groups, my stomach began to sink as I realized I was probably one of the youngest there. Where were the other kids my age? I wasn't particularly fond of their company, but I would've rather been kept with my own age group. Unremarkable, unnoticed, and completely unashamed of it.
Trying to shove that unfortunate realization to the back of my mind, I scanned the area more thoroughly to see if I could spot Tarou or Daichi. I wouldn't be surprised if they were observing the groups to scope out potential talent. Silently, I skulked closer to the younger group of kids; close enough to blend in, but far enough away to prevent conversation.
My eyes drifted over clusters of children near me, eavesdropping on random conversations, trying to get a gauge of what they expected from the lessons. Considering that I had just arrived the other night, any tidbit of information was welcome.
Unsurprisingly, chats about toys one kid brought, whines about having a snotty little sibling, and yammers about famous ninja stats were all that graced my ears. Snorting indelicately, I slowly wandered over to where the older children were wrapping up their stretches and watched as they deliberately moved through each position.
My eye brows rose slightly as I observed the next few positions. Instead of a typical exercise warm-up, they were flowing through poses that looked like they were extracted right out of a yoga guidebook.
Triangle pose, a hybrid of the eagle pose, and even the classic warrior pose made their appearance, interestingly enough. I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but this was definitely not it. Without a sound, the older kids finished, and then broke apart to stand in small groups, just as Tarou and Daichi waltzed out onto the field and gave a short whistle for attention. Like a bucket of ice cold water poured on a lively flame, all the students, myself included, quieted and made their way to stand in front of the two shinobi.
Observing the obvious space between the two instructors, I had to stifle an amused smirk. Tarou was visibly irritated, his arms crossed tightly over his chest and an angry quirk in his eyebrow. Compared to Daichi's blank expression which was only marred by an unamused scowl, Tarou was like an open book. Mentally noting that little tidbit, I turned my attention to their instructions.
"Listen up, brats," Tarou grudgingly addressed the group, "we've been assigned as your instructors for the next couple months." He spat out the word like it was some type of vitriolic sludge. Someone clearly wasn't excited about his new position.
"Daichi-san here doesn't tolerate any bullshit and neither will I," Tarou drawled and judging by his expression, he wasn't kidding, "If you aren't willing to do your best then get out now."
Interesting idea. I mulled over the merits of up and leaving that very moment in my mind, but tossed the idea aside after a moment. It was clear this camp was unused to the idea of a kid who didn't idolize the ninja lifestyle, judging by how they so easily gave an out to the group. Then again, with the propaganda they pump the kids full of from an early age here, that's not exactly shocking. Nonetheless, I wouldn't truly get myself out of this without putting a little effort into it, so to say.
Daichi grunted, as if in pain, when Tarou stepped a little back and glared over at him to indicate that he needed to participate. Obviously unhappy to be there, he grumbled, "Ten laps around the field. Now."
Mentally sighing in exasperation, I waited for most of the children in to start running before joining them. I didn't exactly enjoy running, but I wasn't horrible at it either. I found it easy to stay somewhere in the middle of the pack and avoided the attentions of our irate teachers who were busy haranguing the slowest kids to put more effort into it.
By the time I finished the ten laps I was breathing heavily and ready to sit down and relax for a few minutes, but Tarou quickly dashed that hope when he started us on pushups, jumping jacks, and sit ups. Now that was something that I genuinely loathed.
Pushups had been my mortal enemy in High School gym from my first year all the way until graduation. My arms had always been weak and thin, to the point where my brother called me noodle arms for most of my teenage years. And it seemed I fared no better in this new body.
At about the thirteenth pushup out of the fifty Tarou had ordered, my arms buckled underneath me, plummeting me down face first into the mud. I probably could have shook out my arms and attempted another few pushups, but I figured now was a good time as any to kick start my plan to be the absolute worst candidate for a kunoichi this camp had ever seen. Originally, I had just taken the kunai throwing and hand signs into account, but I supposed I could start early.
Mentally girding my loins for the derision my actions were going to cause, I peeled my body off the ground and looked up at Tarou who was looming over me with a scowl on plastered on his face. It seemed I had taken longer to make my decision than I had thought.
"Tarou-sensei," I whined in a deliberately shrill tone, quelling my own cringe with the mental reassurance that sounding like a brat would be well worth it in the end, "I just can't do anymore pushups!"
Tarou visibly cringed at my grating objection before putting on a truly fearsome glare, "Shut up and get back to work, runt. I don't have time for your complaints."
"But sensei," I dragged out in the highest pitch I could possibly reach, which was pretty damn high considering I was only three years old.
"Enough," he growled before stalking off to talk with Daichi, assuming I would resume the exercises.
Actively resisting the ingrained response to respect authority and to not draw attention to myself, I sat down in the mud and stared up at the cloudy sky, letting the rain wash the mud on my face.
Moments passed by and I could hear the whispers of the other kids as they finished up the pushups, and I could feel their stares burrowing into me as I deliberately disobeyed Tarou.
Refusing to acknowledge their stares and whispers, I tilted my head back down and stared past everyone into the trees. I knew what I was doing was for the best in the long run. I desperately wanted to get out of being a shinobi and though acting like this was almost physically painful, it had to be done.
I suppose Tarou and Daichi had come to the conclusion to ignore my disobedience for the moment, because once the last kid had finished up their calisthenics, they called everyone over to the line of trees I had been observing earlier.
"This," Tarou gestured to the wickedly glinting knife in his hand, "is a kunai. Each of you will be given one to practice throwing at the target."
Daichi lumbered over with a large pouch, likely containing the kunai, and stood sullenly behind his comrade.
Tarou continued, grasping the kunai loosely, "Now pay attention because I won't repeat myself twice."
Someone's impatient. I mumbled in my mind as I watched, eyes glued to the blade.
"You hold the kunai like so," moving around the group to show how he was grasping around the handle, not the bladed part, "and flick your wrist sharply to release it at the target. For best results keep your wrists loose and flexible. Don't set them in a rigid position." He then demonstrated by throwing the kunai at one of the targets, burrowing it halfway into the wood at dead center.
Just like the knife that had been buried in the throat of that ninja at Yokoburi. My mind supplied unhelpfully, or the one that killed Hiroki. Trying to banish the traumatic thoughts to the back of my head, I reached out with shaky hands to grasp the kunai that Daichi offered up with a frown.
Shuffling to a tree further away from most of the kids, which was no problem since they wanted to avoid interaction with the newly-branded problem student; I distanced myself appropriately and engaged in a staring contest with the target 10 meters away.
With an uninspired sigh, I gave the kunai a lackluster throw, barely getting it halfway to the target. Resigned to "attempting" to throw the kunai for the foreseeable future, I slunk over to the fallen knife, careful to grasp only the handle and went back to the throwing point.
Over and over, I tossed the kunai to the target, for lack of a better word, and I could tell it was starting to garner Daichi's notice. Seeing him stride over, I quickly tried to make it look like I was putting all my effort into throwing while still completely failing at the lesson.
For several tense minutes, Daichi loomed over me without saying a word; just watching as I repeatedly threw and retrieved the knife. I was about to toss the blade for the umpteenth time, when he grasped my wrist, adjusted my hand to the proper position and guided me through the throw. With a solid thud, the kunai imbedded itself in the tree trunk a couple centimeters in, right next to the bulls-eye.
Moving to stand beside me, he grunted and nodded toward the knife, clearly expecting me to run and grab it. Stifling another sigh, I strode over, yanked the kunai out of the tree and went back to where Daichi was waiting for me.
After a moment of me staring at him, wondering if Daichi was going to try to help again, he nodded at the tree. Attempting to contain a grumble, I purposefully grasped the kunai in the wrong position again, poised my arm to throw, and released it, watching with a sense of satisfaction as it hit the ground long before it came near the target.
Looking up at him with a confused expression plastered on my face, I took in his disgruntled expression with no small amount of internal glee.
"Get the knife," he ordered bluntly, pushing me in its direction.
Seeing no reason to disobey at the moment, I retrieved it and returned to the surly shinobi. We went through the motions of him showing me how to do the throw properly, and once again, I found myself standing with the knife, having retrieved it from the target.
He stared me down as I grasped the kunai in the wrong position again but before I even got the chance to throw, he grabbed my hand and corrected the position. Seeing no way to subtly adjust my pose back, I tensed up my wrist and gave a decent throw, launching the kunai somewhere into the tree line.
I turned to Daichi and was about to release another god-awful whine when we heard Tarou call everyone over into a group to start learning about hand signs.
Daichi looked to me and grumbled, "Go grab the knife. We'll fix your throw tomorrow." I nodded complacently and headed off to the tree line all the while thinking yeah, right.
Even though it had barely been over a day since I had been within the forest, I felt some tension melt off my back as the familiar sounds of the chirping bugs and rustling foliage surrounded me when I passed the tree line. The smells of damp earth, mystery mulch and fresh greenery flooded my nose and I inhaled greedily. Though the time spent on our death march to the rebel camp was horrid, it seemed I still felt a modicum of affection for the jungle. At the very least, I could drop the act I maintained around my teachers for a moment.
Crouching under ferns and moving over fallen logs, I wandered around the foliage attempting to find where the kunai ended up. Moving aside what had to be the tenth fern leaf in a row with no luck, I was about to turn around and resign myself to going back to the group kunai-less when a flash caught the corner of my eye.
Whipping around, I scanned the ground for whatever it was that caught my attention, hoping it was the wayward blade, and meandered my way over to an innocuous looking shrub. Crouching down, I shifted the leaves slightly, preparing myself for disappointment only to find some type of little critter.
It was brightly colored, that was for sure, like a flaming, chili pepper red and it had various black dots up and down its reptilian body. Bemused, I plopped down on my butt in front of it, ignoring the mud that was caking on my backside and stared at it, chin in hand.
It has to be some type of lizard. I mulled to myself, strangely fascinated by the tiny reptile. Interestingly enough, it hadn't skittered away when I stumbled over with all the elegance of a drunken moose and it even stuck around when I plopped myself down right in front of it.
By that point, I had completely forgotten about the kunai and the teachers that were probably wondering if I had been eaten by one of the giant bugs that inhabited the forest with how long I was taking, but I couldn't have cared less. The lizard-thing shifted a bit, but made no move to take off, seemingly just as amused by me. I couldn't blame it with how messed up I surely looked. I'd be entertained too if I saw someone with mud caked on most of their body and hair sticking up in random directions.
Heaving a sigh that sounded too weary for my tiny body, I looked at the reptile, "I bet I look like a disaster to you." I attempted to drag a hand through my disheveled locks, but it got caught in a massive tangle toward the end, resulting in me releasing a pathetic yelp. The lizard-thing released a strange wheeze that I barely heard over the noises of the forest.
"Did you just laugh at me?" I questioned it incredulously, "You'd be messed up too if your mom tossed you to the shinobi for training."
It just stared. I dragged a hand over my face, releasing a strangled groan, "Oh God, I'm talking to a lizard. I seriously need some help."
Right as my groan trailed off, I heard Tarou calling for me, a noticeable undertone of irritation in his voice. Quickly, I launched myself into a standing position and turned to face the direction of the camp. Mentally schooling myself to deal with the lecture that was sure to come my way, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I was so focused on preparing to deal with Tarou that I almost missed the voice that knocked my entire game off kilter.
"I'm a salamander not a lizard," a gravelly voice grumbled before a light sounding poof sounded from my left right as my instructor burst onto the scene.
Quick as a whip, I turned around to look at where the lizard—no, salamander—had been; only to find nothing there that indicated its existence.
"Kid, what the Hell do you think you're doing?" Tarou growled at me as he yanked me toward him by the back of my cloak and started to drag me off to the training grounds.
"Wait! Didn't you see – " I tried to interrupt, only for him to ignore me and continue ranting.
"That idiot Daichi shouldn't have even sent you in the forest to retrieve the kunai. The lazy bastard just didn't want to get it himself. If you had died or disappeared then I would have been blamed. Asshole," Tarou continued griping, less angry and more annoyed than I had expected all the way back to the group. I guess it wasn't an uncommon occurrence for children to disappear into the forest. That's reassuring.
The other kids stopped attempting to make the hand signs and blatantly stared as Tarou hauled me to the front of the line, grumbling about "having to keep an eye on this one" before moving to stand next to Daichi.
Mind whirring with the thoughts about the salamander back in the forest, I genuinely struggled to keep up with Daichi as he slowly flipped through each hand seal. The primary though that kept popping up, though I knew that I probably should've expected it was Oh shit, an animal just talked to me, promptly followed by unwarranted thoughts of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty with their repertoire of woodland creatures.
Am I going to turn into an effed up version of Sleeping Beauty or something? I thought wryly as I bent my hands awkwardly into the bird seal. My sense of humor was overcompensating for the dread that was curling deep inside my gut though. Despite the way I was acting, I was not an idiot. Though I couldn't remember a lot about the series, Hanzo of the Salamander was a pretty telling name. I had just unknowingly conversed with one of his summons, which just so happened to be located close by the rebel camp. I complained to a summons about mud in my hair…and mentioned that I was in shinobi training.
Fuck. If that didn't confirm its suspicions about the camp, then I don't know what will.
The question here was whether or not to say anything about it. If I brought it to a shinobi's attention then they would immediately be suspicious. Why was I in the forest in the first place? What took me so long to find the knife? Why did I sit and talk to it instead of get help? Somehow I doubt they would've accepted that I thought it looked like a good listener. Hanzo could be preparing for an attack, but why was the salamander just sitting there, out of view of the camp in the first place? It definitely couldn't see anything important underneath a nondescript shrub yards from the tree line.
Heaving another sigh, I forced myself to return my attention to Daichi who was moving at a faster rate through the seals and resigned myself to remaining silent for the moment. It was better than risking suspicion and getting me and Hina executed.
Originally, I had planned to do something drastic while learning the hand seals, but after my deliberate disobedience, pathetic kunai throwing skills, and my unexpected disappearance, I felt I had met my quota for the day. Breaking my finger would have to wait for tomorrow. That's if I didn't do enough to get kicked out today.
I passively surfed through the rest of the lesson and finally, at about three o'clock, we were released from the lessons. Feeling soreness beginning to settle into my muscles from the run earlier, I began to slowly shuffle toward the outcropping of tents silently hoping for Tarou to call me over and tell me I was completely unfit to be a ninja.
No such thing happened. Hina greeted me at the edge of the tent city and from there I was quickly taken for a wash that took far longer than necessary, to change clothes while my freshly cleaned ones dried and then to dinner where I mechanically ate the offered rice and meat. I tried to ask Hina how her mending went a few times, but she shut me down each time, apparently deciding that I didn't need to know. We puttered around in the 'common area' of our small tent for about an hour before finally deciding that waiting up for Kumiko was futile and resigned ourselves to going to bed without her.
A couple weeks passed by at that pace, slowly developing into a routine, interrupted only by socializing with Nanami in one of the big tents and occasional walks around the camp with Kumiko. I kept to my trend of whining, mediocre work, and acting like a total ditz during my shinobi lessons, but it only angered my teachers rather than led to my dismissal. I was disappointed by my lack of progress and shocked that they had tolerated my presence for so long. I suppose that they decided that they would need cannon fodder for the front lines and that I was as good as any no-name soldier.
Since the day I started my lessons, we had already moved through the initial stances for taijutsu, standard skills for shurikenjutsu, reviewed basic battle tactics, and now we were focusing more on kunai and where to hit on the human body when throwing. Needless to say, it was a disturbing lesson.
The salamander didn't appear again, at least, I thought it didn't. I wasn't skilled at spotting things like that, so I wouldn't be surprised if it was skulking around somewhere. Since nothing serious happened, like the camp getting razed to the ground or the sudden appearance of enemy shinobi, I figured either the salamander dismissed me as funny but irrelevant or Hanzo was planning something. I preferred to think it was the first option.
During all that time, I saw neither hide nor hair of Yahiko or his teammates. I can imagine that they had more important things to deal with than an impertinent three year old such as myself, but knowing Yahiko's character, the absence was a bit suspicious. He was stubborn, nearly as stubborn as I was and he had, for whatever reason, found an interest in me. The uncomfortable night when I saw Konan and Nagato for the first time was definitely not the last I had seen of him.
And I was proven right during a night in the third week of our stay in the camp. Hina and I had finished up dinner and we meandered back to our tent silently, taking in the bustle of the camp around us. Spirits had been high all day, for some unspoken reason, leaving the refugees to chatter happily amongst themselves and even the shinobi looked pleased in their own, emotionally constipated, way.
The walk to the tent itself was anticlimactic, but what had greeted us in the common area of the living space caused my hackles to rise. There Kumiko sat, amicably chatting up the equally talkative Yahiko. At our entrance, both looked up and Kumiko happily waved us over to sit with them.
"Hina-san, Chieko-chan, come sit! Yahiko-san here has been keeping this old woman company while we waited for your return. Such a strapping young lad," Kumiko boisterously commented, causing Yahiko to redden slightly and stretch the back of his head.
"If it's no trouble to you, Kumiko-san, I would like to speak to Hina-san and Chieko-chan alone for a few minutes," Yahiko insisted with an imploring expression, like he would actually take her opinion into account. We all knew he basically ran the camp. If he wanted to talk to us alone, we wouldn't have much of a choice.
Hina and I exchanged looks as a flustered Kumiko acquiesced and took off for one of the bigger tents, muttering something about meeting up with a friend to chat, leaving us alone with a suddenly stern-looking Yahiko.
A few moments of tense silence had passed when Hina tentatively asked, "Is there something wrong, Yahiko-san?"
"I'm afraid there is, Hina-san," Yahiko answered, a serious expression on his face as he addressed her. "I've come to ask your daughter something, and I would appreciate it if you would humor me."
Unease curled in the pit of my stomach as he turned his attention to me, forcing me to meet his eyes. Hina shifted uncomfortably, her hands fisted in the cloth of loose cotton pants before nodding wearily, sharp eyes watching him like a hawk.
"Chieko-chan," he started seriously, "why is it that I just got a request from both Tarou-san and Daichi-san to remove you from the shinobi lessons due to an unwillingness to follow orders, a total lack of talent in the shinobi arts and a startling deficiency of intelligence?"
Silence reigned in the tent as Hina's tense expression melted into a dreadful blend of motherly disappointment and anger, all the while Yahiko stared me down.
"Uh," I stuttered, caught off guard by his blunt question, "I don't know?"
I mentally cursed myself for not thinking about this outcome. I don't know why I thought they'd just let me drop out, no problem. They were likely strapped for troops to fill out their ranks, and to just let someone go, no matter how awful they were, would probably require approval from one of the upper-division commanders. Which Yahiko was, as one of the leaders of the rebellion.
"You don't know," He repeated in a flat tone, and I knew there was more to come, "I think we both know that's not true."
I didn't see the point in responding to that.
"You know what I think?" I had to actively resist the urge to spit out no, I'm not a mind reader, "I think that you deliberately set this us."
I saw Hina cringe slightly out of the corner of my eye while I maintained a stare-down with Yahiko. Saying anything at that point would just strengthen his argument, so I let him continue.
"You weren't happy when Hina signed you up for the lessons because you don't want to be a ninja, so you planned all this hoping to get out of it. The disobedience might have slid under the radar like you were just particularly headstrong, but the kunai throwing really gave you away, kid. Didn't you think it'd be suspicious that even after the instructors demonstrated and worked with you for days on fixing your throws that you didn't improve even the tiniest bit? Rookie mistake."
"I don't know what you're talking about," and even as the words came pouring out of my mouth, I knew it was a weak argument.
"Yes, you do," Yahiko said firmly then turned to Hina, "I knew she was smart when I found you in the forest, but this is unexpected. How long have you known that she possesses prodigy-level intelligence?"
Hina's eyes lowered slightly to avoid his gaze and she looked as if she wanted to grab me and run, but she reluctantly answered, "I've known for a while."
"And you didn't think it was important enough to mention?" Yahiko asked, unusually harsh, causing her to wince, and then he sighed and continued, "Well, I suppose it's a bit too late to worry about the past anyway."
I shriveled inward a bit as he met my eyes again and I knew that there was no getting out of this one.
"I'll be around the camp more often for the next week for recuperation, and since you can't seem to behave for poor Tarou-san and Daichi-san, you'll be with me. We'll see if we can't get you caught up with the rest of your classmates," Yahiko beamed at me, as if he had just offered me a lifetime supply of chocolate or a one-way ticket back to reality.
Attempting to get over the abject horror of how my plan went to Hell in a hand basket within a few brief moments, I sat with my mouth gaping slightly open, eyes drilling into the floor, as Yahiko thanked my mother for her time, told her when he'd arrive for my new lessons, and stood to leave the tent.
Unable to resist the stubborn desire to have the last word in our battle of wills, I turned to him just as he lifted a flap to leave and spat, "You can't make me be a ninja."
Ignoring Hina's horrified expression at my blatant challenge, I focused on his face as he turned over his shoulder and shot me an amused smile.
And, like that, he was gone, leaving me to deal with Hina's scalding lecture and the realization that I somehow managed to make my situation worse.
Life isn't fair.
A/N: What's this? I'm actually posting during the semester? XD Welll, the muse popped up once again, and stuck with me until about half way through this chapter. I had a hard time with this section trying to rationalize Chieko's irritating actions, but she's such a stubborn individual that there was no way she'd go silently into the night. Either way, she's in a bind now, yeah? She's met her match in stubbornness with Yahiko. That'll be an interesting dynamic.
Anyway, thank you all for your wonderful reviews, favorites, and follows! I appreciate each and every one and it motivates me to write faster. :) For those of you who I haven't gotten around to personally thanking via PM, I promise I'll get to that within the next few days. I'm about to get bogged down again with work and school, so who knows how that'll end up.
On another note, has anyone been watching the winter Olympics in Sochi? What do you all think? I was totally blown away by the opening ceremony – it was super pretty – and the athletes are superb!
As always, I beseech you to review! I would love to hear what you think about this chapter or the story in general.