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Determined

Chapter Text

Determination

 

Prologue

Childhood Whimsy

 

Yamamoto Himari was three-years-old and seventy-two-years-old at the same time. She was a black-haired, dark eyed little girl as well as a gray-haired, hazel-eyed old woman. Her Kaachan was a seamstress and her Touchan was a baker, and her Mama was a farmer and her Father was a soldier.

She was Yamamoto Himari, but she was also Maude Louis.

And yet she wasn't at the same time.

Himari was three-years-old, the daughter of Yamamoto Akari and Yamamoto Haruto of Konoha. Maude Louis was an old woman who died when a semi-truck crashed into the bus she and her fellow elders were riding to go visit a museum. And that was where the main difference between they laid, where Himari was able to recognize herself and not Maude.

Maude was dead. She'd lived a full life, a farmer's daughter with four older brother, two younger sisters, and another younger brother. She had been a history teacher, had taught young minds about the past so that they could focus on the future. Had married her high-school sweetheart, had four sons and two daughters of her own, retired to live on her farm and raise chickens and goats alongside her husband who had also been a soldier. She had lived well, died suddenly but not unexpectedly, and that was it.

Himari wasn't Maude. Himari was a little girl, she liked to help her Kaachan sew and her Touchan bake. She likes the color purple and doesn't like spinach and can already read her Kanji really well! But, because she was Maude, because she remembered being Maude, Himari was more than just a little girl.

She could see the signs that the other little girls she saw missed, that the older kids missed or ignored. She listened to the talks about Sannin and Hokage and Shinobi and she heard Politics and Military Dictator and Assassins. And, when she looked around with wide, dark eyes, she Saw a Village that was like the military bases her first three sons had been born on, saw the Civilians living alongside the Soldiers and trying to be similar but always just a step too far either right or left. Trying too hard or not hard enough, creating a fine line of discourse that was hidden beneath the uniform stigma of Patriotism and the motto Will of Fire.

Himari is three-years-old as she walks next to Touchan towards the bakery, watching the Shinobi leap from roof to roof, watching them wander the street and talk to the merchants and seeing young children, only a few years older than her, run around with toy weapons and fighting it out with fists and seeing parents and strangers alike treat it as expected. And she heard them talk. Talk like the way people liked to talk when she was Maude, with only a slight twist.

Boys will be Boys!

Better where I can watch them than out there where I can't!

Pulling your Pigtails, sweetie, don't worry! That means he likes you!

Oh, don't worry, it's just a phase! As soon as some boy catches her eye, she'll drop this Shinobi business and settle down like the good, Civilian girl she is.

He'll get over this rebellious phase, honey, don't worry. He's just acting out! He doesn't actually want to move out already, he's twelve ! Genin or not, he's still a little boy. He's just starting to grow up! Remember when you were that age?

And, the more she listened, the more she Heard, the more Himari thought like Maude.

Thought about how her own Mother had chided and rebuffed her as she determinedly studied for college so she could teach History. Of how her Father had grimly taught her how to shoot and been banished to the living room couch for weeks because he taught her with her brothers. Of how her own Husband had occasionally dismissed her opinions as "Womanly worries"�, or chided her for "working too hard"� after their first child had been born and she'd gone back to work sooner than he'd liked.

About a world that had only just been making way in acknowledging that there was still a severe gender-bias, that there were differences in sexuality and romantic attraction and that drunk didn't mean consensual and...

Himari is three-years-old when she looks up at her Touchan and tells him she wants to be a Kunoichi. And later, when she tells her Kaachan, she sees the same exchange of looks that those other Civilians had done when their children said the same thing, the fondly exasperated it's-just-a-phase look.

Himari is three, and seventy-three, and she's going to become the best Kunoichi she can be.

 

()()()()()()()()()

 

She starts with books. She reads stories and scrolls and everything she can get her tiny hands on that talks about their Village. She reads about the Founding, about the Wars and Warring Era and about the trade treaties her parents have to know to get ingredients and clothes and styles to work with. She studies numbers and terminology as she struggles through careful stretches and forces her tiny body to run until it collapses. More than once, her indulgent parents carry her home and tease her about sleeping in the flower beds and becoming a little flower herself.

They don't think she's actually comprehending what she's studying, she knows. They think she's just trying to prove to them she can study, "like the big kids". But Konoha promotes the mindset of self-study when it comes to the Academy, something that Civilian students lack the self-discipline to do until they either fail the Genin Exam or the test that Jounin give after that. Himari learned a lot from just listening now-a-days. She is three, and no one thinks she's smart enough to understand, that she's just parroting what she's heard, like all those her age.

But Himari was once Maude and that means she not only understands, she learns.

Learns about the differences in Shinobi Clan and Civilian Clan and Orphan and Non-Clan and Transmigrant (she loathes the term Transplant when it comes to people. A transplant is something that replaces something defective. Not adding something that wasn't there before. That's an Improvement). She watches the way stall owners and merchants and customers all interact, learns the ins and outs of the society she's found herself in. And because she is three, she asks questions, and gets answers to some but evasions to most.

"Why is his hair red?"�

"He's from Sand, sweetie, they have a lot of red-heads there."�

"Why don't the Inuzuka come here?"�

"Because they insist on bringing those dogs of theirs, honey, and you know how dirty doggies can be."�

"Where did the Clans all come from?"�

"From faraway, sweetheart!"�

"Why don't you like that boy?"�

"Because he's a little monster."�

"Why?"�

"Just don't go near him, okay, sweetie? Do as your told, now."�

And, in asking, she learned. She learned that her parents were biased against the Shinobi, against the orphans, against their fellow merchants and bakers. That her Kaachan was a part of a minor Merchants Guild that tended to only sell within Hi no Kuni, and her Touchan had no guild at all. That they were both willing to smile politely when you were of a certain level of respectable, but just as quick to bad-mouth you when you left. It was... An eye-opening realization, to be honest. Himari loves her parents and they love her, of that she has no doubt, but...

But their mindsets are in distinctly different directions.

Himari is logic and practicality and contingency plans for contingency plans. She tends to over-think things, to consider not only A and B but the entire alphabet. She considers the ramifications of her actions both before and after she does something, and plans for either recompense or revenge depending on what happens.

Her parents, were emotionally fueled and, outside of the money and creativity part of their businesses, shallow and near-sighted. They set a few plans in place, and worked for those plans in the ways they deemed correct, and ignored any signs that the plan might not work out. They didn't care that they made an enemy of a certain Clan or non-Clan person, because they didn't see the inner workings of the Village as a Whole.

Himari could see the reward and the punishment of sacrificing both One for Many, and Many for One mentality. She could understand sacrificing oneself or another for the Good of The Village, but also acknowledged that humans, as a whole, were selfish and self-loving creatures and would gladly sacrifice strangers for their loved ones. A Mother would let a bus full of strangers die rather than sacrifice her child, after all.

Her parents were of the mindset that what was Best for Them was Best. What did it matter if the Inuzuka didn't shop at their stores? They had plenty of customers despite that! Himari was the one that noted that because the Inuzuka didn't shop at their stores, a large majority of all the Shinobi Clans didn't, ether. To shun one was to shun all.

But Himari was three, and no one was going to listen to her even if she told them. So, she watched and listened and trained and learned. Because, even though she was three and knew all of this already, there was still more to learn, and always would be.

 

()()()()()()()()()()()

 

Himari is five and it's the first day of the Academy. She's wearing a dark purple dress with black leggings and bright purple shoes, with a lavender headband keeping her short black hair out of her face. There are four classes of new Academy students, each with thirty students. In six months, there would only be two. By next year, there would only be one. It was the way of the Academy, the chipping away of weakness from the Greater Good of the Village. A majority of students in this first year were spare children of larger families, Clan children, and orphans. At the six-month mark, dozens of these students would be removed by either their parents or the Chunin-Senseis themselves for inability to keep up.

They would be tested for Chakra Capacity, Mental Ability, Emotional Stability, and Physical Attributes. It was possible, for example, for a child with very poor mental and chakra to pass the sixth-month cut-off if they were exceptionally stable emotionally and had exceptional physical capabilities. If you were lacking in all four fields, however, you were taken from the roster and sent to the Civilian Academy instead.

Himari sat next to a sleeping boy with his hair up in a spiky ponytail, and made sure she had her books on hand in case she got bored, a notebook and pen to the side so she could take notes. Taro-Sensei greeted them all with a bright, warm smile, and called their names one-by-one. The sleeping boy next to her was named Nara Shikamaru, and he barely woke long enough to grunt at their Sensei before going back to sleep. Himari wished she had that sort of confidence, she later decided when it was proved that he already knew what they were learning. She knew it as well, but the chance to learn it in greater depth kept her focused.

Still, she was content as she listened to a dumbed-down version of Konoha's history, idly reading her book about anatomy where it was hidden inside her history book. Soon enough, however, the anatomy book was pulling her full attention, as she learned new things about tendons, ligaments, and nerves...

"Yamamoto-Chan,"� Taro-Sensei called; she poked her head up over the edge of her book, blinking at the exasperated Sensei as her classmates snickered. "If you're listening, now,"� he drawled at her, "perhaps you could answer the question on the board?"� Himari blinked at him again, then glanced at the board.

Who founded Konoha and why?

"Uchiha Madara and Senju Hashirama,"� she told him easily. "They founded it together in an effort to stop the senseless deaths of undertrained children in an attempt to make a peaceful future. However, upon discovering that they were actually from feuding Clans, Madara-Sama chose to follow the creed of his Clan and continue their feud while Hashirama-Sama tried to choose peace."� Idly, she turned the page in her book.

"After a battle where Madara-Sama's only remaining brother was killed by Hashirama-Sama, he declared the Feud personal and continued to force his Clan to battle. Senju Tobirama, Hashirama-Sama's remaining brother, tried to kill Madara-Sama in order to stop what he believed was a senseless battle, but Hashirama-Sama stopped him. Upon offering to end his own life to return Madara-Sama's Honor and the Honor of the fallen Uchiha Izuna. Moved by the offer, Madara-Sama laid the feud down and the two Great Clans, with those smaller Clans that followed them, came together to form Konoha as we know it. Originally,"� she added absently as she studied a diagram of a dissected kidney, "Hashirama-Sama wanted Madara-Sama as the Shodaime Hokage, but Tobirama-Sama had the vote put to the Village, and Hashirama-Sama won, most likely due to the clear bias Tobirama-Sama had towards the Uchiha as a whole due to the deaths of their two other brothers as well as the deaths caused by Madara-Sama's feud with his brother..."� she trailed off, peering closely at the kidney on her page.

"But, yeah,"� she added, peeking back up over the edge of her book to blink at her blank-faced, dumbfounded Sensei. "Uchiha Madara and Senju Hashirama founded Konoha."� She stared at him for several long seconds, before nodding and returning to her book.

"R-right,"� Taro-Sensei said finally, clearing his throat. "Very good, Yamamoto-Chan. Now, who knows..."�

It was the beginning of an interesting time in the Academy for Himari.

Chapter Text

Determination

 

Chapter One:

Childhood Lessons

 

Himari had expected the Academy to be both difficult and easy. She knew a lot of the general subjects that First Years studied, after all, and she adored History so she knew a good deal about various Clans and their Beginnings and Present-Day habits or customs. She liked that sort of information, so she collected it and hoarded it and memorized as much as she could. You could tell a lot about a place by their culture and customs and Konoha was no different.

She was expecting it to be difficult because, even though she used to be Maude, she was Himari, and Himari was five. No level of intelligence, either inherited from a past life or gained through study, could make a Civilian born-and-raised five-year-old as physically capable as Shinobi-Clan kids. Maybe if she had been from a Farming family in this life, but she wasn't. So, during physical training, she was far behind a good chunk of her class, which, again, she had expected. She'd also expected to be behind in Chakra, as both a Civilian and a girl, although they wouldn't learn until their third month at the Academy how to unlock and access their Chakra (again, Shinobi-Clan kids were the exception, not the norm here).

Something she hadn't expected? Bullies. As in young children trying to bully and push and mock her and those around her. That's what she found herself dealing with on her third day at the Academy, a quartet of other five-year-old girls sneering and jeering and calling her names like know-it-all, dummy, and the ever-impressive Stupid-Chan. Staring at them in disbelief, Himari slowly closed her book on the Warring Clans Era, setting it on the grass beside her as she stared. The girls were still mockingly singing Stupid-Chan, Stupid-Chan~ as they pointed at her and laughed meanly.

Himari is five-years-old, yes. But she is also Maude, and Maude was seventy-three with multiple siblings, children, and relatives. And she had been raised in a time where any woman who wasn't barefoot in the kitchen or who dared to put her job over being home for her husband every night was seen as something shameful. Rising to her feet, she crossed her tiny arms over her chest, idly noting the slowly sitting up form of Nara Shikamaru nearby, his dark eyes narrowed and considering, as well as the sharp eyes of Taro-Sensei in the distance, both ready to come to her aid if she needed it.

Cute.

"You're all idiots,"� she told the girls calmly, making them abruptly stop chanting her apparent nickname. "How have I been stupid at all in the last three days? I have more practice in writing, reading, and speaking than the four of you together, with facts and notes to back up everything that comes from my mouth. I do my research, I study, and I focus on my work. I am working to be a good Shinobi for my Village." She eyed them all and arched a brow, something she'd learned from both Maude and her Touchan. "How do you contribute to class? Definitely not creatively if your nicknames are an example of your intelligence,"� she drawled, rolling her eyes after a few moments at the wide-eyed, uncertain looks she was getting. No doubt she'd once again spoken outside the comprehension level of her peers...

Sighing through her nose, Himari shook her head, reached down for her book, and dusted it off while giving the girls a bland look.

"Listen,"� she told them mildly. "I get it, you don't like that I'm smarter than you. You don't like me because of it, and that's okay. It's okay to not like someone. But, if you're going to try and be mean? Pick something to be mean about, and make sure it's something good. And please, please come up with a better nickname."� Her piece said, Himari bowed shallowly to them and walked away, leaving them shifting uncertainly and looking at one another in confusion as she made her way over to the slouching form of Nara Shikamaru. "May I read next to you, Shikamaru-Kun?"� she asked him; the boy stared at her through slit eyes, then grunted, flopping backwards to once more doze, watching the clouds as he did.

"Troublesome,"� he muttered after she'd settled down and re-opened her book. "You okay?"� Himari blinked, glancing over at him.

"Yes,"� she told him easily. "The lack of creativity bothered me more than the actual so-called confrontation."� Shikamaru grunted, glancing at her before re-focusing on the clouds.

"If you say so,"� he muttered; Himari hummed, and the two fell silent as they returned to their preferred hobby.

The rest of lunch break was peaceful and quiet.

 

()()()()()()()()()()()

 

The first month of the Academy passed in a series of routines that slowly rose in difficulty. So did the second month. And then the third, with only the added Chakra Unlocking and the exercises it added to their days changing. The fourth month, however, found Himari facing yet another unexpected encounter. This one in the form of a meeting between each student and their Senseis and the Village Elders about their future Careers.

Apparently, the Elders were given summaries of each student's capabilities and, twice a year, they do what seems to be some sort of Review and Councilor meeting. Everything was one-on-one, and it was only about ten-minutes a piece at the longest. Still, Himari thought dubiously as Taro-Sensei called her into the meeting room, she didn't like that their lessons were being interrupted by it.

"Don't be nervous, Yamamoto-Chan,"� Taro-Sensei told her kindly as he gestured to the lonely seat across from the three Elders. "This won't take long, and you haven't done anything wrong, alright?"� Himari hummed in agreement, cautiously taking her seat and eying the three Elders warily. Taro-Sensei quickly introduced the three Elders and her to one another during her staring. Shimura-Sama was dark-eyed and bandaged, no doubt forced into retirement due to injuries, something Himari had no doubt had made the man shrewd and bitter Mitokado-Sama was bespectacled and bland-seeming, but it was in her experience that uninteresting people could be the most dangerous, especially in the Shinobi line of work. Finally, Utatane-Sama, the lone Kunoichi, was severe-faced and stiffly proper, and, considering the way Kunoichi were treated now compared to when the Elder had been a Genin? Himari couldn't blame her.

Sometimes, Professionalism was the greatest shield you could wield in any battlefield.

"Now, we're going to review your work over the last few months,"� Taro-Sensei informed her simply as he took his seat, separated from the Elders, a copy of Himari's folder set before each of them. "I've noticed that your physical work could use some more training,"� he started, and Himari nodded calmly.

"I need to work on my stamina and speed,"� she told him simply. "Strength can wait, or I risk permanently damaging my tendons, muscles, or even my growth. And, as I am smaller already than a lot of my classmates, especially the Clan children, I believe I should focus on those two things, as dodging will be very helpful when we start sparring in a few days."� Taro-Sensei smiled at her warmly.

"That's very well-thought out, Yamamoto-Chan,"� he told her; Himari blinked,

"Actually, its more practical than thought out," she replied with a half-shrug. "I am smaller and slower, so, since I can't get bigger, I have to get faster. Simple logic." The Elders shifted as Taro-Sensei chuckled a little.

"And is there anything else you believe you should work on, Yamamoto-Chan?"� Utatane-Sama asked her calmly; Himari blinked again.

"I will need to practice more on my Chakra exercises,"� she informed the Elder simply. "I currently have similarly-sized reserves as my Civilian-born Classmates, especially my fellow Kunoichi, and its unlikely I will ever deepen it to the same level as my Shinobi Classmates, especially those from Clans, but I should still work on it, because even a drop more than is expected of my gender is a drop more I can use in battle or on a mission. No weapon should ever be dismissed out of hand," she added firmly, nodding. "Which is another thing I need to work on,"� she mused. "My aim is rather... Lacking, at the moment,"� she winced, grimacing a little before shaking her head.

"Thankfully," she continued, straightening as she did. "I am ahead of the class in theoretical and informative studies, and am able to use that knowledge to self-study some at home, although it's difficult, to be honest,"� she added reluctantly.

"How so?" the female Elder asked, and Himari idly noted that, although silent, the two other Elders were watching her just as keenly, Shimura-Sama's dark eye sharp like steel behind a mild expression.

"My parents, as stated, are Civilians," she informed the Elders easily. "And they are from a family of Civilians. My closest Shinobi relative would be my third-cousin's wife, and therefore not a blood-relation. As a result, my parents seem to be under the impression that I am going through a 'Phase',"� Himari couldn't resist the air-quotes she added, voice dry as a desert as she did so. "because of this, they chide me for any sort of Academy work I try to do at home unless it's my worksheets. As a result, I have to go 'play Ninja', and either return here to use the Training Grounds, which are usually being used by the Upper-Years, or locate a few of my yearmates to train with, of which a majority are either Clan children who prefer to Train at home and want to relax outside of it, or are Civilian boys, whose idea of training with girls is to sneer, tell me I have something called 'cooties', and declare that I can't play with them because then they'd lose."� Himari rolled her eyes without a thought. "The closest to a training partner I've gotten is Shikamaru-Kun and, well..."�

"He's a Nara,"� Taro-Sensei offered easily; Himari nodded.

"He does help me with Scenarios, though,"� she added quickly. "Those are fun, and we don't have to stop Cloud-Watching to do it, either."�

"Scenarios?"� Mitokado-Sama asked; Himari bobbed her head.

"He offers me different Scenarios to consider, with a goal in mind and a Mission to work with," she told them. "Like, say I have a Mission to take a scroll from here to... Tanzaku Gai,"� she decided on. "It's a C-Rank Mission, with myself, two other Genin, and my Jounin-Sensei. He then gives me what sort of Specialties each has, what kind of opposition we're supposed to face, and then will throw something extra in occasionally, like one of the Bandits that attack is actually a low-level Nuke-Nin who specializes in narcoleptic poisons. And my hypothetical Sensei, a Taijutsu user, gets poisoned, leaving myself and my teammates, all mildly injured, alone against this Nuke-Nin and whatever Bandits are left, with a scroll to deliver and a Sensei to try and help."� She blinked at them, shrugging again at the mildly surprised stares of Utatane-Sama and Mitokado-Sama. "He's really good at coming up with interesting twists,"� she told them. "Sometimes, my Team loses because of it, which is good as well."�

"And why is it good?" Utatane-Sama asked; Himari blinked at her.

"Because it's logistically improbable for someone to always win,"� she told her simply. "Even if the Mission is completed, it could result in the death of the whole squad, or demotion, or forced-retirement due to serious injury, or maybe even a sever loss of reputation for myself, my Sensei, or the Village as a whole. There are consequences in every action, Utatane-Sama,"� she pointed out calmly. "It's impossible to counter every possible encounter one might have, and one should be prepared to adapt at a moment's notice and improvise otherwise. It's also far better to learn that in this way in hypothetical situations with hypothetical people, than out on the field with real lives and real consequences."� The Elders stared and Taro-Sensei chuckled.

"And that's a fine example of this class's Top Kunoichi,"� he told them fondly; Himari blinked, startled, because the Exam they'd taken two days previously hadn't had its results posted yet, and last she'd checked, an Uchiha girl in her class named Ayame had been Top Kunoichi because of her physical scores... "Ah, don't worry, Yamamoto-Chan,"� her Sensei told her, obviously catching onto her confusion. "Uchiha-Chan scored better in both Physical and Aim, true, however you have the highest scoring academic scores of your year, by quite a margin, as well as a higher maturity than Uchiha-Chan. Work on your aim and physical issues, and the only thing that would keep you from being Rookie of the Year is your Chakra, which is sadly expected because of your upbringing and gender, as you said."� Thoughtfully, Himari nodded, already making a mental list of exercises she'd need to work on and noting that she would probably see Uchiha Ayame in the sparring circle a lot, because Uchiha's were nothing if not competitive to an insane degree.

"Thank you for informing me, Sensei,"� she told him calmly. "I'll keep this to myself, so I can properly prepare for the backlash once scores are posted."� Immediately, something alarmed crossed his face. "I have no doubt Ayame-Chan will want to spar with me, upon realizing I beat her out of the Top spot,"� she informed the Sensei and Elders calmly. "I am now prepared for that, so I won't be caught flat-footed in the Sparring Circle. I appreciate the heads-up."�

"You're, ah, welcome, Yamamoto-Chan," Taro-Sensei told her, sounding both bemused and sheepish. Himari didn't think he'd considered the ramifications of a Civilian-Born Kunoichi beating out a Clan-Born Kunoichi, let alone being the Academic Rookie of the Year, as he'd stated. No doubt the Clans would be watching her to see if she could be brought into their families later in life, if she continued to rise through the ranks like this. Absently, she made a mental note to keep an eye for any Shinobi approaching her family's stores out of character, just in case someone tries to get her parents to agree to a "play-date"� or something.

"While it is nice to know that a young Kunoichi is taking her Career so seriously,"� Mitokado-Sama spoke quietly, "we are, unfortunately, on a schedule. If we could perhaps continue with the meeting?"� Once Taro-Sensei nodded with a quiet, sheepish apology for his distraction, the Elder inclined his head towards Himari with a mild smile. "What Specialty were you hoping to get into, Yamamoto-Chan?" Himari blinked.

"I thought it was obvious?"� She asked, uncertainly. "I am a Kunoichi, which means my reserves will likely never get high enough for a Ninjutsu expert, and I don't have the physical capabilities, and likely never will, for being a Taijutsu expert unless I allow my other studies to fall behind and focus solely on that. While Genjutsu or Iryo-jutsu would be typically acceptable for both my gender and reserves, neither interest me personally out of understanding and utilizing the basics of both for my future Teammates. I will never be pretty enough to be a member of Seduction, if taking my parents and female relatives' physical aesthetics into account, I will only every be the sort of blandly pretty that most Civilians can get to. And I'm too physically invested to be a Cipher or Intelligence member, and Torture and Intelligence, while a very valuable team, isn't something I know I could psychologically handle for a long period of time. Perhaps as a moonlighter, or part-time, job, yes,"� she mused, getting distracted as she considered. "But not full-time. I also lack the qualifications of a Tracker, Hunter, or Sensor, so that's those three out as well..."� She nodded her head firmly. "So, yes, there's really only one track I can see myself fully specializing in, really."�

"And what track," Shimura-Sama said, voice deep and almost-harsh sounding, "would that be?"� Something about his face, blank and stiff, made Himari think that he knew what track she meant, and something almost pleased edged around the dark eye staring at her beneath his heavy brow. Staring back, Himari blinked once, and then offered the four adults the same mild, polite smile that Maude had given her In-Laws and disgruntled parents during meetings, that her Kaachan and Touchan gave customers they didn't particularly like but whose money they wanted.

Himari gave them this same, mild smile, and let her eyes go just that slight bit darker, colder, until it was Maude looking out of her gaze to meet that grimly-pleased stare of the crippled Elder. She knew that, that old gaze on her young, smiling face was singularly unsettling, and was morbidly pleased to see Taro-Sensei lean back instinctively, and the other two Elders stiffen slightly.

"Why, Assassination, of course,"� she replied easily, sweetly, and the lines around Shimura-Sama's eye, the ones that denoted how pleased he was, deepened.

And Himari just continued to smile back.

Chapter Text

Determination

 

Chapter Two:

Childhood Friends

 

Himari's measure of Uchiha Ayame was correct, and the final three months of the first half of the Four-Class First Year was spent with the Uchiha girl as her sole sparring partner. If she had been any other Civilian-born girl, Himari would have not only cried foul at constantly being put against a physically stronger and better-trained opponent, but might have become downtrodden and depressed over the multiple losses she suffered. Thankfully, she wasn't any other little girl, she was Himari, who was Maude, and she took to these spars with narrow-eyed focus and calculation. And yes, she lost a lot of the spars, in the beginning, but now? Months after the Spars started, after the rigid self-study and exercise course she gave herself, after observing and memorizing the Uchiha's fighting tactics?

Taro-Sensei had, indeed, been correct in his review that the only thing keeping her back from being Rookie of the Year was her Chakra capacity. Now, for every single win Ayame gained, Himari won 5 more. The steady, obvious increase in her skill seemed to both infuriate and interest the Uchiha, and Himari noted that the days leading up to Class Spars, Ayame tended to show up at school dusty and faintly sweaty, and would stay after to use the Training Grounds. Himari saw her there when she herself was there to work on her aim and stamina. Sometimes, Ayame would join her as she practiced, subtly, of course, and the two of them would have an impromptu competition. The number of times Himari had found herself gasping for breath barely five feet from the other girl, who was just as tired, outnumbered those where neither of them was exhausted, constantly pushing one another to their limits and beyond in the face of competition. And, as the days passed, and they both improved, and Himari managed to eke out just that little bit more each time, when she made the Uchiha work just that much harder? The interest grew to overpower the irritation.

And then, the day before their Class was to merge with one of the other classes, Himari was surprised when, after taking her customary seat beside Shikamaru, the third seat, which was usually taken by whoever wanted it, was late, or it was simply left empty, was immediately claimed by the Uchiha girl.

"Troublesome,"� Shikamaru groaned, lolling his head on his folded arms to watch the Uchiha with barely open eyes. Himari arched a brow at the other girl, who had shoulder-length black hair like Himari's own, but porcelain toned skin that made Himari think that she would do very, very poorly in direct sunlight. Her narrow-shaped eyes were dark, as well, darker than Himari's, looking more like pure pupil than simply a dark-colored iris like the Civilian-born girls.

...Actually, that probably explained their capability to both see and comprehend faster than non-Uchiha's could. They were a mutated, unstable branch of the Hyuuga, who had no pupil, so perhaps there was a legitimate science in their doujutsu? And the Sharingan could be a simple Chakra direction aspect, with the Tomoes being something like hyper-focused Pupils? It made sense, as they would be similar to a telescope or other focusing tools that Maude had dealt with. Maybe a Sniper Scope plus camera-zooming lens? The camera lens seemed rather appropriate, considering the photographic aspect of that Doujutsu...

"Train with me,"� Ayame ordered, breaking Himari out of her contemplation.

"I... Already do?"� She managed, blinking in confusion at the other girl. "I train after school with you a few times a week, Ayame-chan,"� she reminded; the other girl's determined face sharpened.

"I mean,"� the Uchiha stressed, dark eyes narrowing further. "Train with me, at the Compound. Today."� Himari blinked at her slightly bemused. Uchiha's, she'd witnessed, had a very... Strange, way of speaking. Almost like their vocabulary and grammar was shifted one step to the left of everyone else's. She'd witnessed more than one of the Uchiha in the Military Police have entire conversations with barely vocalized hums, grunts, eye-contact, and the occasional shift in the shoulders. It was an entire, localized language, and, from what she'd been careful to learn, Himari knew a lot of Uchiha's relied on body-language, actually rather similarly to the Inuzuka, but to a different level.

If Inuzuka relied of canine body language and reactions, Uchiha were felines, relying on subtle head tilts, shoulder curves, hip arches, and eye muscle shifts more than verbal cues. Much like adult cats, they only really verbalized with their younger members and those outside their Clan, just like how cats only really meowed towards humans and their kits. Usually because they deemed you too stupid to understand their sub-vocal conversations.

And, because Himari had been purposefully learning the Uchiha language, she found herself eying the tension around Ayame's eyes, the slight curve of her shoulders, and the stiffly straight hold the other girl had on her spine even as her pelvis was shifted so she was more on her tail-bone than usual. Himari knew, then, that the other girl was nervous, and hesitantly hopeful. So, Himari shifted her own shoulders back, leaving her chest more open, half-closed her eyes and relaxed her expression, and shifted in her seat so that she was facing the girl at a slight angle, her right leg stretched out a little further than her left. It was... Difficult, to communicate this way when she wasn't standing, but Himari was once Maude, and Maude had studied the importance of acknowledging and learning and appreciating a Culture before even trying to involve herself with it. And she'd spent the last two years, since Maude's memories woke up in her head, to study and memorize and learn. And so, as she bobbed her head shallowly towards the other girl with a quiet, agreeing hum, she got to witness Ayame's instinctive reaction, her body language shifting in response to Himari's own, as the girl straightened her pelvis to a more comfortable position, her shoulders settling back, and her eyes widening faintly in surprise, then narrowing in consideration.

"...Troublesome,"� Shikamaru groaned tiredly, burying his face in his arms, and Himari shifted so that she once again faced forward, feeling faintly, smugly, pleased. No doubt the Nara had either understood what had just happened, or at least realized what she'd done. Either way, as Taro-Sensei greeted them all and began to read off the list of students who would be going to which class, Himari was pleased and even anticipatory.

And, hearing that she would be going to the same class as Shikamaru and Ayame, that the three of them wouldn't have to try and connect with others that weren't at their intelligence level...

Well, she was even more pleased.

 

()()()()()()()()()

 

The Uchiha Compound was a mix of Non-Verbal Communication and Overly-Emotion Reaction to those non-verbal cues that Himari had memorized. What seemed to be extreme levels of Anti-Social, Prideful, and nearly Old-Fashioned Clan Ideals to those outside the Compound, Himari was seeing in a completely different way. Attentively watching the Uchiha she passed as Ayame lead her towards one of the Uchiha Training Grounds, she witnessed dozens of instances of emotional reactions and whole, silent conversations. She saw the elderly couple who were walking towards a koi pond tease one another with shifted shoulders, head tilts, side-glances and finger twitches, ending in soft mouths that were never quite smiles and the faintest edge of pink on the man's cheeks as the woman brushed their sides together lightly. She saw an argument between three Uchiha Chunin that was made up of tight expressions, sharp 'hn' noises, and thin lips, shoulders arching and curving like hackles rising, as the three of them stood outside a house that doubled as what looked like a seamstress.

And, as Ayame lead her past more and more Uchiha's, who cast sharp glances at Himari as she followed the other girl, she wondered why, exactly, they'd been forced into a corner, as they had. Because, walking among them, reading the signs, that's what she was seeing. Tense shoulders, hurt and betrayed eyes, grim looks exchanged between Jounin and other adults, twitching fingers that wanted to curl into achingly tight fists. And, outside the Compound, she saw more than one narrowed, suspicious gaze aimed at the Clan member, and she'd heard the hissed comments and muttered insults that actual five-year-olds probably shouldn't have understood. And all of it was building up, waiting for just that one, final push that would be too much.

A majority of the Uchiha Clan were Fire Natured. And Himari didn't doubt that, when that final, last push happened? They would explode. And, with them, so would the Village. And in the Aftermath, she doubted there would be any Uchiha left to regret their actions, and the Village would feel vindicated, that they were right all along, and the determined girl leading Himari past a bush that looked vaguely like a hedgehog and into a large, cleared out area with training poles would be just a casualty of circumstance. Collateral damage in the Smear Campaign against the Uchiha Clan.

Himari didn't like that idea at all. And yet, there was nothing she could do to go against the Villagers distrust or the Uchiha's agitation. She could only keep an eye on the tensions, and go for cover when it happened.

Maybe, she could bring Ayame or one of the other Uchiha in the Academy with her when she ran for cover.

"What are we going to work on, first, Ayame-Chan?"� She asked calmly, body carefully positioned in a way that spoke of preparedness and attentiveness, causing Ayame to straighten and lift her chin just a touch higher in pleased anxiousness herself.

"Taijutsu,"� she declared firmly, eyes narrowing a bit and left hand twitching faintly. Mild annoyance mixed with eagerness and battle-readiness. "You're starting to pick up the Uchiha Interceptor from Class Spars. Let's see how far you are."� And, as the two of them slipped into the corresponding stance for the Interceptor, Himari found herself smiling faintly.

It was nice to have a friend who liked to work with her.

 

()()()()()()()()()

 

"Welcome, Class A!"� Himari's new Sensei greeted, smiling warmly at them as she finished writing her name on the board. "A lot of you are new faces, so we're going to do some introductions! When your name is called, please stand up and introduce yourselves with your name, likes, dislikes, and your dream for the future! I'll go first,"� she declared, spreading her arms wide, showing off her Chunin vest over a black blouse-like short-sleeved shirt with a long-sleeved under-mesh shirt. Her pants were dark blue and slightly baggy, with dark-gray-colored bandages wrapped around her thighs and ankles to pin the excess fabric down. Her head-band was on her forehead, with a dark green cloth, helping pin back her pale blue hair in a slightly-messy bun, with pale green eyes standing out from deeply olive-toned skin.

"My name is Inoue Chika, but you can call me Chika-Sensei! I like plums, rabbits, and sunsets! I dislike tardiness, cats, and people who think Kunoichi are weak just because we're female! And my dream is to see as many of you as possible become a great Shinobi!"� Himari was amused to see that a large majority of her new and old classmates seemed to puff up at their Sensei's declaration.

"Troublesome," Shikamaru muttered from her left, slumping further onto the desk.

"Hn,"� Ayame agreed stoically from her right; Himari refrained from rolling her eyes, sighing through her nose at her friend's ridiculousness. Ayame had mellowed out, now that she and Himari were training together at the Compound as well as after school on the Academy Grounds. Because of that, she had firmly attached herself to Himari's side. Wherever Himari went, Ayame drifted after, body-language lazy but edging into possessive, dark eyes sharp and glittering. Shikamaru, as a result, seemed to develop some sort of... Well, Himari wouldn't call it a rivalry with the Uchiha girl, as that denoted some sort of competition between the two.

But, he stayed awake longer, head always tilted just that slightest bit closer to her, just enough so that he could eye the Uchiha with the smallest amount of effort on his part. And, because she was spending slightly more time with Ayame then him, Himari got to witness that lazy, yet watchful body-langue make the Uchiha react in response. Ayame was being deliberately antagonistic in her body-language, possessive and smug and 'see what I've got?' sort of feline smugness. And here Himari was, stuck between them, bemused and amused and exasperated to a degree that was just barely accepting enough to keep the two from having verbal confrontations, but...

Well.

Let's just say that in the last two days as they waited for their Classes to merge, Himari had found the two of them sharing meaningful, challenging staring contests.

"-Nara-Kun!"� Chika-Sensei called; Shikamaru groaned and reluctantly heaved himself to his feet, slumping gracelessly like a hung-over old man as he stared, gimlet gaze barely even glancing around the room before heaving a sigh, folding his hands behind his head ad straightening up enough that he could flop his head back and stare boredly at the ceiling.

"Nara Shikamaru,"� he drawled out dully. "I like cloud-watching and sleeping. I dislike being awake when I don't have to be and troublesome girls. My dream is to end my Shinobi career as a completely bland, normal Shinobi, marry a completely normal girl who's not too pretty or too plain or too troublesome, have two kids, a girl and a boy, and retire into obscurity as a completely forgettable man."� Himari blinked slowly as the whole classroom stared.

"...That seems like more work than just doing your job as well as you can,"� she informed him, amused. "After all, to be just a plain, unremarkable Shinobi, you'd have to constantly underplay your abilities just enough to not be seen as a bad Shinobi. On top of that, there's no guarantee that you'd have a boy and a girl on the first try, which means you'd have to keep trying or just abandon that ideal after the second child." Slowly, her friend lolled his head to the side to stare blankly at her. "On top of that,"� she continued cheerfully, "every relationship is a challenge, and I highly doubt whatever girl you marry would simply let you do what you want all the time, which would constitute as 'Troublesome' for you, and every woman, to one degree or another, is going to want the relationship to be two-way, which requires work on both your parts."� His stare had steadily grown more and more deadpan as she spoke, and Himari couldn't help but grin at him as she finished her little speech.

"So, Shikamaru-Kun, you might want to re-think your grand scheme a little there,"� she finished; Shikamaru stared at her some more, and, on her other side, Ayame trembling with gleeful amusement, body pressing just barely against her side as the Uchiha leaned slightly back in her chair so she could, no doubt, appreciate the full affect of Shikamaru's deadpan, thousand-yard-stare.

"Himari,"� he drawled at, voice dryer than Suna.

"Yes, Shikamaru-Kun?"� She asked pleasantly; if anything, his gaze grew more blank.

"Stop breaking apart my plans for the future."� Himari grinned at him.

"But you make it so fun,"� she teased. "And besides, you're my best friend. It's practically my job to make sure that you succeed in life."� Ayame stiffened faintly, and something like a spark of satisfaction flashed, quick-silver bright, though the Nara's dark gaze before he huffed out a sigh and slumped back into his seat with a sort of boneless, graceless flop that was almost disturbing if it hadn't been amusing.

"Whatever,"� he grumbled. "Troublesome girl."�

"Silly boy," she responded immediately, making him huff as he deliberately buried his face into his folded arms. Himari was amused to witness the back of his neck flush lightly as he did so.

"Er... Right, then!"� Chika-Sensei called, looking both bemused and bewildered, although something amused glittered in her pale green eyes as they glanced between Himari and the slumped Nara. "Yamamoto-Chan, why don't you go next, okay?"� Himari shrugged and rose to her feet.

"Hai, Sensei,"� she agreed as she shifted so that Ayame wouldn't still be leaning against her. The Uchiha had the faintest edge of a pout to her mouth, her hands folded in her lap, and no doubt the possessive girl was feeling sulky about the 'best-friend' comment, but, well, he was her best friend, so she would have to catch up.

"My name is Yamamoto Himari,"� she told the class as she smiled mildly at them all. "I like to read, mostly history and Shinobi-related topics, and I like to train and study with my friends Shikamaru-Kun and Ayame-Chan,"� she informed them, nodding her head at the two as she said their names. "I dislike prejudice, traitors, and narrow-minded people. My dream is to one day specialize in Assassination or, lacking that, make it to Jounin."� Shikamaru slowly lifted his face from his arms to eye her silently for a moment.

"Thank you, Yamamoto-Chan,"� Chika-Sensei told her; Himari sat back down as the Sensei called on someone else, something pinched in her expression that spoke of "why me?" rather than anything about Himari's introduction itself. No doubt she was wondering how she ended up in charge of a class with "prodigy" children.

"...Assassination, huh?" Shikamaru muttered.

"Yep," she murmured back; Ayame shifted slightly, so that she was once again pressed against Himari's side, more firmly than before.

"Suits your style,"� the Uchiha muttered; Himari's lips twitched as Shikamaru muffled his groan in his arms. After a few more minutes of listening to her classmates introduce themselves, Ayame was finally called upon. Immediately, she rose to stand tall and stoic as she eyed the class.

"Uchiha Ayame,"� she told them blandly. "I like pocky and training, usually with either my Clan or with Himari. I dislike tomatoes, tea ceremonies, and those who think my Clan is nothing but copy-cats with no actual talent."� Her dark eyes narrowed frostily at that, before he expression smoothed out again. "I want to become an Elite Jounin, and a Shinobi my Clansmen can respect."� Introduction finished, her gave the class a short nod and dropped gracefully back into her seat to lean lightly against Himari, who chuckled softly and shifted so that her free leg pressed against Shikamaru, who grumbled wordlessly but pressed back lightly.

Another few minutes of Introductions around the room, and then, suddenly, Himari noted a twitching, sudden shift in Chika-Sensei's expression, a shift of body language that, pre-Uchiha-Language would have just been hesitation, the sort of thing that would have been seen as a "was that all of them? Let's see..." sort of pause, the kind that meant did-I-forgot-something.

But that was before she'd thrown herself into learning Uchiha. Before she learned Inuzuka in order to compare the two. Before she people-watched for hours at a time. And so, that little pause, that tiniest flicker of expression wasn't hesitation, she knew. And, stiffening at her side, focus sharpening, Ayame noted it as well and, through the stiffening of her leg muscles, Shikamaru knew to loll his head, kunai-sharp gaze glittering out of the shadows of his folded arms.

"Uzumaki-Kun," Chika-Sensei called, and that shift of expression was still there, smile fixed, as the bright, spiky-blond head of a vaguely-familiar boy shot up as he jumped to his feet, the last to be named. And Himari felt her eyes go half-lidded, completely focused on the disgust and fear that was struggling to hide on her Sensei's face. On either side of her, her friends noted, memorized, and filed away the same information for later, and they kept watching.

"Uzumaki Naruto, dattebayo!"� The blond boy shouted gleefully, mouth stretched wide in a smile that forced his eyes shut and showed off his whisker-like markings. Himari eyed him for a few moments, and Ayame shifted more fully against her at the boy's body-language.

It screamed See Me, Hear Me, Don't Ignore Me, Please-Please-Please...!

Children shouldn't have that sort of body-language.

"I like Ramen an' Jiji an' pranks! I hate the time Ramen takes to cook, dumb Civilians, an' kanji! An' I'm gonna be the next HOKAGE!"� He bellowed, mouth stretching further and shoulders barely held back from curling defensively by a single, trembling thread of self-control. Immediately, there were several snorts, giggles, and jeers, and Himari narrowed her eyes and straightened up.

"Good for you,"� she declared, voice cutting through the classroom and silencing the snickers and jeers as the blond boy stiffened and trembled faintly. Immediately, his head jerked around, face stunned and blue, blue eyes wide with surprise. "It takes a lot of courage and dedication to go for the Hokage seat. You'll have a lot of work to do to get there, and you'll have to get over your dislike of kanji because some of the really important paperwork is in just kanji, but, if you're willing to do all that? You'll deserve the hat."� She nodded firmly, holding his eyes, and offered him a half-smile. "You can do it, Uzumaki-Kun."�

Those blue eyes watered, wide and stunned and so, so vulnerable, before they creased shut, tears dripping down his cheeks as he grinned so wide it had to hurt, and offered her an enthusiastic thumbs up.

"Hell yeah!"� he cheered happily. "You can count on me, dattebayo! I'm gonna be the best Hokage, believe it!"� And, if his voice was thick and slightly choked, Himari ignored it, bobbing her head gently with a soft smile as she did, and the blond boy roughly dragged his forearm against his face, wiping away snot and tears as he did so, tiny shoulders shivering.

"I look forward to it, then,"� she told him, and it wasn't even a lie. If he could dedicate himself to it, push himself past his limits and the weirdly pointed discrimination of the Civilians and, apparently, some of the Shinobi, she would gladly see him in the Hokage Seat...

Unless he tried to make ridiculous laws or allowed himself to be manipulated from the shadows as a Puppet Leader. Then she"d have to arrange an accident for him, or commission one...

If either of them survived that long, of course.

"Alright, that's enough,"� Chika-Sensei spoke up, voice just a slight tone sharper than she'd used before. "Now that we've all introduced ourselves, it's time,"� she turned to her desk, before spinning around with a stack of papers and a bright smile, "for a pop quiz!"� Immediately, the whole class groaned or whined, Shikamaru's groan reverberating through their shared desk as Ayame grumbled noiselessly and Himari sighed through her nose.

Still, she decided as Chika-Sensei handed out the test sheets, it could have been worse!

And then she saw that there were thirty questions on the test, none of which were multiple-choice or true-false, and sighed again, louder and more expressively.

"Troublesome,"� came from her left.

"Hn,"� agreed on her right.

"Yeah,"� she sighed despondently, even as she reluctantly signed her name where it asked, glancing over the questions.

"Let's get started!"� Chika-Sensei chirped, and, slumping a little bit, Himari and her classmates obeyed, with a single, droned out answer.

"Hai, Sensei..."�

Chapter Text

Determination

 

Chapter Three

Childhood Compassion

 

Beyond learning how to recognize and interact with her new classmates, Himari didn't really expect anything new or difficult in her new class. And, indeed, there wasn't really anything.

Except for Uzumaki Naruto. Himari wasn't sure it was actually possible to fully predict the blond-haired boy.

Apparently, giving the child some sincere encouragement that wasn't some form of lip-service mattered. Who would have thought that not discouraging a child would make that child happy? It was almost like children deserved to have their interests encouraged.

Maude, and by extension now Himari, had views on how children should be treated. And constant belittlement, obvious insincerity, and the out-right malice a majority of Civilians and handful of Shinobi (usually older Genin or lower-leveled Chunin) was not the way. Even if his parents had been traitors or from another Village (which was the most popular rumors of the Academy), treating him like the scum of the earth made absolutely no sense to her.

A child doesn't choose who gives birth to them, or conceives them. They've got no choice in who raises them, especially at their current age, and they definitely have no say in their genetics. And alienating a potential asset to the Village (because Uzumaki had the largest Chakra Reserves of their entire Year, with extreme Stamina to boot) was just illogical and self-destructive.

So, she made a point of encouraging the boy. Of offering critique and advice and a friendly face and word and touch (it didn't escape her notice that his default body-language was "please don't hurt me". It made Ayame ridiculously protective, made Shikamaru narrow his eyes and focus, made Himari grit her teeth and fight the urge to wrap the blond-haired boy in a quilt and give him cocoa and cookies and hunt down those who taught him that a gentle pat was a cause for cringing in preparation for a blow...). She made an extra bento each morning for him, because he never had one for himself and the only food she'd seen him eat outside of that bento was cup ramen or take-away ramen from some place called Ichiraku. Listening to him sing the praises of the ramen stand, she had no doubt that his love of the noodles had been born from the kindness of the stall owners. If they'd sold dango, he no-doubt would be the same with that as well.

Kaachan was under the impression that she had a crush that she was feeding. Himari hadn't corrected her, but she hadn't encouraged the idea very much either. That the extra bento was being made a day after she complained about Shikamaru-Kun being too lazy to even eat some days was irrelevant. Ayame brought a bento for the Nara, after all, filled with energy-raising and carb-filled foods. It turned out that the Nara Clan burned through their bodies fat surplus with their Yin-Chakra thanks to their high-intellect and Shadow Manipulation Kekkai Genkai. It was physiologically impossible for them to get over-weight. On top of that, high-intellect didn't necessarily mean smart, and more than one Nara was under watch for anorexia and generally being underfed.

After all, food and eating in general was 'boring' (or, in Shikamaru's case, 'Troublesome'). Ayame had been mortally offended when she'd found out, bristling like an angry cat. The immediate result was her bringing a large extra bento for Shikamaru, and refusing to let him rest until he actually ate most of it. Shikamaru grumbled and groaned and pouted, but Himari was pleased to note that he had put on a bit more weight thanks to the Uchiha-girls fussing, his wrists no longer fragile-looking and his cheeks no longer as sunken seeming.

Anyways, her Kaachan was all sly smiles and soft giggles at the idea that Himari had a crush on the Nara Clan's heir, sighing wistfully about 'young love' and 'puppy crushes' and encouraging her in her reading and studies now that she believed that Himari was going the book-smart route in the hopes of catching herself an intelligence-focused future husband. It was... Useful, Himari supposed as she handed Naruto-Kun the spare bento. She just wished that her Kaachan could be more supportive of her training with the knowledge that it could save her life as opposed to such shallow beliefs.

Still, Kaachan not question who exactly the bento was for meant that Himari didn't have to check it for sabotage or something, which she'd done whenever Naruto-Kun brought his own meals. Trying to explain to that boy that ramen was a good between-meals snack and occasional dinner, but not really every meal every day sort of food, was difficult enough without having to explain that the 'surprisingly nice Baachan' that had once given him a bowl of rat-poison laced miso was something he had to watch out for.

(It was the first time she had ever met the Hokage, that incident. She had taken the blonds bowl, given him her own bento in exchange, and stalked from the school grounds to the Tower. She'd ignored the Secretary that had half-heartedly tried to stop her, interrupted a meeting between Hokage and the Elders with barely more than a respectful bow, and put the bowl on the Hokage's desk with a grim, cool stare as she informed him that one of her most promising classmates had nearly been murdered so cold-heartedly. Within minutes of examining the bowl and finding out who the soup was for, the dog-masked ANBU that the Hokage summoned with a diamond-hard expression had vanished from the room and she'd been thanked gravely before being dismissed, escorted back to the school by Utatane-Sama who quietly congratulated her on saving the life of her classmate. That, that same day, the 'nice Baachan' vanished and her family moved away soon after was inconsequential, just as Himari's own sudden interest in reading and learning about poisons was of no matter. Shikamaru's sharp eyes and Ayame's glittering, satisfied expression was also of no consequence.)

The bentos she made for Naruto were healthy and filling, with either steamed or grilled vegetables to go with either grilled fish, pork, or chicken. There was always a little bowl of miso as well as a mound of sticky rice with a few little tubs of sauce to choose from, and, for dessert, she always made him his own mochi, a little lop-sided and never really completely round, but large and filling. He'd cried the first time she'd given him a bento, and, even now two months into their combined class, he occasionally got teary-eyed and shy after she handed him the pale green-wrapped bentos.

It was as depressing as it was enraging that the young boy was so moved by something that was so simple, and on those days when his sunshine-smiles were just a bit like shattered glass and shadows...

Well, if Shikamaru-Kun complained about not finding a good place to cloud watch and instead found reasons to be around while she and Ayame-Chan beat one another into the ground to get rid of their impotent, protective fury over the blond boy... Well, his Clan was known for its medicinal studies and abilities.

Still, as she listened to Chika-Sensei explain how to do the Leaf Exercise to the class, Himari could admit that she was relieved for the constant distraction that was Uzumaki Naruto. After all, without the sunshine-bright boy, these repetitive lessons in things she'd already studied outside of class would have been dreadfully boring.

 

()()()()()()()()()()()()

 

Himari was surprised when Shikamaru-Kun drifted away from their usual lunchtime spot to the right of the school, and instead was heading towards a group of older students arguing about something. Brows furrowed, sharing a questioning glance with Ayame, the two girls followed him immediately, and were just in time to witness him blandly defend a chubby boy from their year, no doubt from the other Class.

"He can't be on our Team!"� one of the older boys declared, pointing at the chubby, sad-looking boy, with pale red cheek swirls and spiky, chestnut-colored hair. "Any Team he's on always loses!"� Himari narrowed her eyes as the unknown boy hunched in on himself, caramel-colored eyes glittering faintly with tears as he dropped his gaze.

"That just means you already sucked," Shikamaru drawled at the older boy, expression blank and bored and dark eyes glinting like kunai as he eyed the group.

"I agree," Himari announced, stepping up so she was on the chubby boy's other side, her expression falling into its usual calculative look. "The fact that none of you are able to adapt to someone whose techniques you're not accustomed to speaks poorly about your capabilities as future Shinobi."� The boys stared blankly for a few seconds, and Himari bit back an eye roll.

"She means you're stupid for not being able to win even with him on your little 'Team',"� Ayame-Chan drawled, crossing her arms over her chest body language matching her expression: completely unimpressed. Immediately, the lead boys face flushed furiously and he glowered.

"You're just girls,"� he snapped at them angrily. "It's not like either of you will ever be good Shinobi! You'll just drop out an' get married an' be useless, like girls always are!"� Immediately, Himari and Shikamaru straightened and Ayame's body shifted from 'unimpressed' to 'offended fury and the imminent threat of violence'.

"You tell your Kaachan such bullshit?!" Naruto-Kun's voice blurted as the blond boy bound up behind their group, closely followed by the equally bouncy form of Inuzuka Kiba, fierce scowls on both their faces.

"Yeah, dumbass!" The Inuzuka snapped, baring his tiny, sharp puppy teeth at the older boy. "My Kaachan is a Clan Leader AND a Jounin, and she can kick so much ass an' she's a girl, too! You tryin' ta say my Kaachan is worthless?! HUH?!" The feral-looking boy shook his fist at the older boys, who were starting to look a little wild-eyed themselves as they watched the growing group of younger students warily.

"What's happening?"� A little blond girl demanded as she wondered over, holding the hand of a pink-haired little girl in her own, pale blue eyes narrowed.

"These boys won't let... What's your name?"� Himari asked, glancing at the chubby boy, who flushed a bit.

"A-Akimichi Chouji..."� He muttered; Himari nodded.

"They won't let Akimichi-Kun play with them because they don't know how to use his strength to win, so they're saying he's stupid and can't play with them,"� she informed the blond, her little pink-haired friend peering up at her with wide, mint-green eyes. "When I told them how stupid that was, they said girls were stupid and worthless and only good for getting married and having babies."� Immediately, indignant offence filled the blond girls face, her glare bright and fiery, and even the shy, pink-haired girl's face creased in offense.

"Oh really?!"� The blond girl hissed, fists on her hips and pixie-cut platinum hair swishing as she stomped forward and got right in the older boy's face. "Think girls are stupid, huh!? You won't be saying that when we beat you into the ground, Baka!"� She shouted, leaning further into the older boy's face, making him lean back uncomfortably, wide-eyed and flushed.

"Let's make it a competition, then,"� Ayame-Chan drawled, eyes narrowed even as another Uchiha, this one a boy with fluffy black hair, wandered over with a frown, his eyes glancing over Ayame's body-language before scowling at the older boys, standing at the taller girl's shoulder as he crossed his own arms over his chest in solidarity. "Us against all of you. Whoever wins was right, and the loser has to apologize. In front of everyone."� Immediately, the older boys shared a brief look, before the ring-leader sneered at them.

"Why should we play with a bunch of babies!?" He demanded; Himari gave him a cool look.

"Seems like someone's scared," she mocked coldly.

"Aw," the blond girl cooed mockingly, teeth bared and pale eyes glinting angrily. "Someone knows that they'll lose, especially against us girls! Isn't that right, Sakura-Chan?"� she asked; her pink-haired friend nodded seriously.

"S-Scaredy-cats," she whispered; Inuzuka-Kun barked out a mocking laugh as the older boys flushed and Naruto cackled at them.

"You're on, then!"� Ring-Leader snapped, dark eyes glittering furiously. "You babies against us! Winner was right and Losers have ta apologize in front of the whole School!"�

"And say why they're apologizing!"� The Uchiha boy beside Ayame added firmly. "Kaachan says if you don't know what you're apologizing for, its pointless to apologize at all,"� he explained; the older boys agreed and then hurried away to huddle up and whisper to one another. Immediately, the blond girl spun and Himari nodded at her firmly.

"This is gonna be so easy!" Naruto boasted gleefully.

"Hell yeah!"� Inuzuka-Kun bellowed the two boys giving one another high-fives, sly grins on their faces.

"Introductions,"� Himari ordered firmly. "And what are you best at. I'm Yamamoto Himari, I'm best in my Class at everything but Chakra."�

"Uchiha Ayame," her friend told them bluntly. "Same as Himari, but I'm better at Chakra and she's better at planning and knowing things."�

"Yamanaka Ino!" The blond introduced herself clearly. "I'm top Kunoichi in my class! This is my best friend, Haruno Sakura!"� She added, pointing at the pink girl, who flushed faintly under the focus of so many people.

"I-I'm good at planning things, b-but I'm bad at running," she managed; Himari nodded politely at her and offered a half-smile when those shy, mint-green eyes glanced up uncertainly.

"Uzumaki Naruto!"� The blond boy cheerfully declared. "Future Hokage! I'm amazing at everything!"� Himari rolled her eyes a little, amused. "But I'm not too smart, dattebayo!"� He laughed, rubbing the back of his neck. "Lotta stuff the Sensei's say just got over m'head, y'know? But I'm fast an' strong an' ain't a single person can last longer'n me in a race! An' I can do traps!"�

"Hell yeah,"� Inuzuka-Kun barked, grinning. "Inuzuka Kiba! Same as blondie here! But I can scent-track people, s'long as I know what they smell like!"�

"Hell yeah, we got this!"� Naruto hooted, and the two loud boys once again high-fived.

"Uchiha Sasuke," the unknown Uchiha boy greeted. "I'm the top of my class. I'm fast, and I'm good at using wires and ropes, and I can already do a lot of Chakra Exercises. I can also throw really well,"� he added, chin lifting pridefully, but a happiness in his body-language that spoke of pleasure to be included.

"A-Akimichi Chouji,"� the chubby boy said nervously. "I, I'm not really good at anything, really... Sorry,"� he muttered, hunching in on himself, and Himari reached over and patted at his shoulder.

"You're bigger than all of us,"� she informed him seriously. "That means you probably hit harder, which is really important, because those older boys are bigger than us as well. That means you'll be very important for knocking anyone down or tackling people."� Ayame, Yamanaka-Chan, and Inuzuka-Kun nodded agreeably.

"That's super important!"� Inuzuka-Kun declared. "I'm good at tacklin' people, but I'm still really light an' my Aneki can throw me one handed, and she's only just become a Genin!" This time, Naruto bobbed his head firmly in agreement, grinning at the wide-eyed, awed look on Akimichi-Kun's face as the chubby boy stared around himself at them all.

(It made something in Himari's chest ache, that there were so many children here who were so surprised at kind words and encouragement. It reminded her of Maude's students, sometimes, kids who were told at a young age that they could be anything they wanted but not.)

"Troublesome,"� Shikamaru-Kun muttered with a sigh, slumping a little. "Nara Shikamaru. I can plan and strategize really well."�

"He can," Naruto added. "He helped me figure out how ta prank the Sensei's an' not get caught last week! Mean ol' Judai-Sensei was covered in glitter!" There were several impressed murmurs, and Yamanaka-Chan eyed Shikamaru-Kun and Naruto contemplatively.

"Problem,"� Uchiha-Kun spoke up suddenly, gaining immediate attention. He pointed at the clustered older boys seriously. "They have four more people than we do. And they're older, which means that they probably know more Academy stuff than we do." Immediately, the entire group frowned and shared looks.

"I can go grab Hinata-Chan,"� Yamanaka-Chan declared. "She's really, really, really, really shy, but she can already use the Byakugan which means she can see through stuff." Himari nodded thoughtfully as the blond girl darted away swiftly, leaving Haruno-Chan to flounder uncertainly before settling to nervously play with the red ribbon in her hair.

"That's still more of them then us," Shikamaru-Kun pointed out, fingers and hands folded into his 'thinking pose' as he eyed the group of older boys. Himari frowned as she followed his gaze, before spotting something from the corner of her eye. There, sitting beside a bush, was a spiky-haired boy in glasses and a large coat, one finger extended as he allowed a butterfly to drift from his hand to the bush patiently. Immediately she recognized the boy as an Aburame, and she nodded her head to him firmly.

"What about him?"� She asked; their group immediately turned to look.

"Eh, that guy?" Inuzuka-Kun asked, narrow-eyed in thought. "Eh, his name's Shino. He's kinda weird, but pretty strong... I'll go get him!" He declared, bobbing his head before bounding over towards the other boy on all fours. As he approached, Himari turned to eye the rest of the open field. A few of the Sensei's were dotted here and there, chatting with one another or working on papers or eating their lunches. Several of her classmates and the ones from the other First Year Class were clustered in different spots, cliques and groups firmly formed and unlikely to be separated.

"Alright!"� Inuzuka-Kun's voice exclaimed, causing her to glance back with a blink, to find he had re-joined the group with the jacket-wearing boy in tow. "This is Aburame Shino! He's got bugs that listen to him an' give him information!"�

"Well that's incredibly versatile,"� Himari commented; Aburame-Kun reached up and nervously readjusted his large black sunglasses. "Is it all insects or just those you Hold?"� She asked him, genuinely interested; Aburame-Kun straightens a little.

"Only our kikaichu, those we Hold in our Hives, react in such a way,"� he informed her. "Why? Because it would be illogical and potentially suicidal for control of all insects to be a part of our Kekkai Genkai. Why? Because control over such a massive and diverse species would be a threat to both the various ecosystems of the world as well as to the various Villages. If such a Kekkai Genkai existed, I have no doubt that they would have been hunted to extinction well before now."�

"True,"� Himari agreed musingly, nodding her head. "The potential alone for the uses of such a power are... Uncomfortable, to say the least. I am Yamamoto Himari," she added, which immediately started off introductions again, just in time for Yamanaka-Chan to return with not only the young Hyuuga she had set off to get, but also a slightly older girl with her brown hair in buns and hands covered in dozens of bandages, and a boy the same age with black hair braided back and thick, dirty and blood-stained bandaged on his arms and lower legs.

"I found Hinata-Chan!"� Yamanaka-Chan chirped, before bobbing her head at the two slightly-older students. "These guys heard what I was getting her for, and wanted to join!"� She pointed at the boy, who nodded seriously, expression determined, his thick brows managing to make his large, dark eyes look a little less round (he also had some ridiculously thick and long eyelashes and the part of Himari that is Maude was insanely jealous). "This is Lee Rokku! He doesn't have Chakra but I saw him break one of the training posts with his bare hands!"� Immediately, Naruto-Kun and Inuzuka-Kun got sparkly-eyed with enthusiasm, and even Uchiha-Kun and Aburame-Kun seemed to perk up with interest.

"This is Nakamura Tenten! She can handle kunai, shuriken, and senbon! And get's the bulls-eye every time!" Immediately, Haruno-Chan's eyes lit up with interest as the slightly older girl smiled at them all confidently.

"I figure it's a Senpai's job to help out her Kouhai, right?"� Nakamura-Sempai asked cheerfully. "And besides, Takahashi, the guy over there leading those jerks? He was in my class last year, and he's a pig. Knocking him down a peg or two will be awesome!"�

"Yosh!" Lee-Sempai agreed determinedly, clenching his bandaged fists near his chest. "It fills me with joy to see so many of my Kouhai working together for a common goal! And the knowledge that Takahashi-Kun would call the flowers of Konoha worthless fills me with indignation!"� Slamming one fist into the palm of his other hand, the no-doubt Taijutsu-specialist nodded seriously. "I look forward to showing him how wrong he is with all of you!"� Himari flashed him a mild smile even as she introduced herself, once more starting a round of calls from her Yearmates.

"Himari will assign the teams,"� Shikamaru drawled. "She's better at profiling than I am, troublesome girl that she is,� he muttered fondly, and Himari smiled a bit as she glanced over the huddled group.

"Yamanaka-Chan, Hyuuga-Chan, and Uchiha-Kun will be on one team,"� she declared firmly. "Hyuuga-Chan will help you keep an eye on the competition, Uchiha-Kun can set traps, and Yamanaka-Chan can recognize weak-points in her opponents thanks to her Clan's specialties."�

"Alright!" Yamanaka-Chan agreed determinedly, immediately taking Hyuuga-Chan's hand when the painfully shy girl meekly glanced at her. "Sasuke-Kun and I can do mid- and long-range fighting too, Hinata-Chan! So, you'll be our close-range fighter!"�

"I-if you s-say so, Ino-Chan,"� the Hyuuga agreed meekly, Uchiha-Kun nodding grudgingly as he stepped closer to them. Something around his shoulders had gone tense and unhappy at being paired with the two girls, until Himari had explained the reasoning, then it had shifted to calculating and contemplative, as if he was realizing that he could use his strengths to cover others weaknesses and that they could do the same to him. From what she'd heard about his Prodigy Brother, Itachi, while she trained with Ayame, he no doubt had an inferiority/superiority complex that he couldn't quite understand yet.

"I want Chouji on my Team,"� Shikamaru told her, and Himari didn't hesitate to nod, pointedly ignoring the startled, embarrassed-yet-grateful look that the Akimichi gained.

"You'll pair up with Naruto-Kun,"� she told him simply. "He's got more stamina and speed than you do, is best with traps, and can take some solid hits. Akimichi-Kun is stronger than he is from what I can tell, can also take some good hits, and his own Clan specializes in defense and Taijutsu. You're the smartest out of all of us, so you can better strategize with Naruto-Kun on where he needs to put his traps, and can best guide Akimichi-Kun on where to go and how to use his strength to the best of his abilities."�

"Got it," the Nara agreed without a fuss, blinking languidly as he slouched a bit, the glitter in his eyes letting Himari know that he was already planning.

"Haruno-Chan, you'll be with Nakamura-Sempai, Aburame-Kun, and Inuzuka-Kun. Sempai has long-distance and accuracy, as well as familiarity with Takahashi-Sans abilities. Aburame-Kun has intelligence gathering, Inuzuka-Kun has scenting and Close-Range, and you are obviously intelligent and can be both an extra set of hands and eyes, and Nakamura-Sempai might have a few tricks to share,"� she added with a small smile as the pink-haired girl flushed a bit.

"Sure thing, Kouhai!"� Nakamura-Sempai chirped, padding over and throwing her arm around the smaller girl's shoulders. "We'll talk shop while setting things up, okay?"�

"Ah, um, o-okay,"� Haruno-Chan agreed meekly, offering an uncertain, sweet smile.

"That leaves Ayame-Chan and Lee-Sempai with me,"� Himari declared easily. "Ayame-Chan and I are neck-and-neck for Top Kunoichi, but neither of us have a lot of physical strength or stamina. Ayame-Chan has more stamina than I do, but I know more ways to trap people than she does. And the two of us can help Lee-Sempai if something that requires Chakra is needed."

"Yosh!"� Lee-Sempai cried, punching the air enthusiastically. "I look forward to winning with you! Please take care of me!" He told them with a bright grin, showing off two missing teeth as he did.

"Hn,"� Ayame-Chan agreed, something pleased and satisfied with the decision and declaration both. It was very flattering, after all, for a Sempai to acknowledge their skill and be assured of their victory.

"Hey!"� Takahashi-San called, making them look up at the aggressive boy, his arms crossed over his chest confidently. "You babies ready to lose?!"  Himari stepped forward so that she was shoulder-to-shoulder with Akimichi-Kun and Shikamaru-Kun.

"I don't know, Sempai,"� she drawled mildly. "Are you?"� Immediately, he scowled, sneering at her.

"Let's get this done, then!" He snapped. "There's still an hour left of lunch. Whoever has the most points wins! Everything goes, Ninjutsu, Genjutsu, Taijutsu, traps and weapons included! No serious injuries! If someone gets hurt bad enough that they have ta go to the nurse, then whoever hurt them loses ten points! Each person is worth four points if captured! Five points for rescue! If you disable a trap its two points! Our Camp is that big tree,"� he declared, pointing at one of the large trees, this one directly next to a picnic table where one of the Senseis was doing paperwork. "Sora-Sensei is gonna keep track of points for us,"� he told them, making the grading Sensei lift a hand and wiggle his fingers absently. "The table he's at is the Prison where those captured will have to wait!"�

"Our Camp is the Sparring Square," Ayame-Chan told them, pointing to the clearly seen white-outlined square well away from the others Camp but still within sight. "Prison is the observation box. Is that alright, Sora-Sensei?" She called; the black-haired, purple-eyed Sensei lifted a thumbs up without looking up from his papers.

"Alright, then," Himari said, nodding firmly. "Anything else? Specialty Players?"� Takahashi paused consideringly.

"Two people will be Iryo-nin," he decided. "They'll be worth seven points and, if they're caught, then they can't be Rescued unless they're the only ones there."�

"Agreed," Himari said. "Uchiha-Kun and Lee-Sempai are our Iryo-nin,"� she declared.

"Iryo-nin are supposed to be girls, stupid,"� Takahashi jeered; every girl in their group immediately stiffened, eyes narrowing angrily. At the table, Sora-Sensei winced faintly.

"I guess that means you don't get Iryo-nin, Takahashi-San,"� Aburame-Kun stated coldly. "Why? Because none of you are girls... Are you?"� He asked blandly, tilting his head and making Takahashi flush furiously.

"Whatever,"� he growled. "Yuuto and Daimaru are our Iryo-nin."� The two boys named stepped forward, and not only were they the biggest, but they also cracked their knuckles aggressively when they did so.

"Yay,"� Shikamaru-Kun drawled out, completely deadpan. Yamanaka-Chan pulled out some bright colored ribbons from her pockets, similar to the one in Haruno-Chan's hair, and handed them out. Uchiha-Kun tied his bright yellow one on his forehead boredly, all but shivering in anticipation, Ayame-Chan much the same, balancing on her toes and ready to launch herself away at any second. Lee-Sempai cheerfully tied his pale green ribbon to his own forehead, offering Yamanaka-Chan an enthusiastic thank-you, making the bright-haired girl beam, pale eyes glittering brightly as she informed him the color suited him, making the older boy's cheeks go pink as he beamed at her.

(No one mentioned that Yuuto-San and Daimaru-San had gotten the pink and lavender ribbons, although their sour expressions told everyone just what they thought about it.)

"Let's begin,"� Himari called; with a sharp nod, both groups flung themselves into the bushes, trees, and thick grasses that made up the large area behind the Academy.

The battle had begun.