Goodness dear, forgive my awful Japanese. I used Google translator. I'm afraid there will be much more of that to come, so if anyone more knowledgeable than I would like to save me from butchering a wonderful language, feel free to send me an enlightening message/review.

Chapter three:


Sunlight glinted off of his forehead protector, Konoha's stylized leaf etched darkly in the center. It seemed like real metal, the navy cloth textured and sturdy. Definitely not commercial merchandise. Frizz escaped his brown ponytail, framing his temples. Sharp, half-moon sunglasses granted an eternal deadpan expression.

Not Shino, then, but definitely an Aburame, judging by the jacket. Long, almost to the knees. Olive green. The high collar zipped to his nose. Voluminous sleeves obscured hands tucked into large pockets. A thick belt secured twin messenger bags to each hip. Medical tape wrapped the ends of loose, navy pants to his shins. Typical ninja sandals.

Outstanding quality, all of it. Probably home-made or commissioned.

I was staring.

"Watashi wa—" The cosplayer leaned forward. "—'anatawadare?' to nobemashita."

Fear thrilled in my stomach. That tone sounds serious.

(Do something. Cosplayers mean civilization.)

I felt frozen. Sheer astonishment stalled my brain. Today hardly seemed real. As if I would wake up from a particularly elaborate dream. No. Stay in the present. This is real. The loamy forest smells, throbbing of my temples, and moisture clinging my T-shirt to my back. Think, girl. Act. Don't be incompetent.

My mind utterly blank, I opened my mouth to speak:

"Uh." I swallowed, my sore throat clicking. "I'm so sorry. You startled me." My manners had more presence than my brain. "I...can't tell what you're saying." There. Pertinent information. Keep going. "My name is Amy Wilson. Do you speak English?"

"Nanda ittai?"

A new voice. Male. Incredulous.

"Oh, f—!" My fingers flew to my mouth as I spun around.

Upon a root taller than myself stood another cosplayer. Foreboding weighed in my stomach. Two. There's two of them, now.

The man considered me with raised eyebrows, olive-toned arms crossed. The Konoha hitai-ate glinted on his sleeveless bicep. His flak vest could have belonged to any background character, but it looked functional, like something a soldier would use. A strangely shaped shadow drew my attention to the side of his face—

Alarm and concern lurched within me. Politeness snapped my gaze back to his eyes. Goodness, he's missing half an ear.

Leaves crunched behind me. I flinched badly, finding the Aburame within arms reach. There was—buzzing.

Skin crawling, I took a step back and raised my hand. "Hey, now—"

"Shitsumon ni kotaete." Hands still in his pockets, the cosplayer stepped closer. "Anata wa koko de nani o shite iru no?"

"Look, I'm sorry if I'm trespassing," I said soothingly, hoping my tone would communicate where English couldn't, "but I'm lost. I don't know how I got here. I need help." Keeping one hand raised, I slowly reached for my back pocket to retrieve my cards. Terror squeezed my chest. Creepy costumed man advancing on me in the woods, another one directly behind me. Dear Lord. Keep me safe. Let this be a blessing. Let me be overreacting. Please.

I nearly dropped them. My stomach plummeted. Holding the student and debit cards close, I proffered the driver's license to the Aburame.

My hand was trembling.

The buzzing intensified as the man withdrew his pale hand from his pocket. The sound shivered beneath my skin, between my teeth. An audio device, certainly, and A-plus cosplaying... I wanted to clutch my ears. He took the card without our fingers brushing.

He peered at it from different angles—examining the hologram overlay. I chose it over the cheap student ID for that reason. It looked official. The collar and sunglasses betrayed nothing of his expression. Switching the license to his other hand, the Aburame retrieved a small, waxy piece of paper from his messenger bag, then held the two side-by-side. A familiar hairband dangled from his fingers.

"Oh!" I exclaimed, far louder than I had intended. "My receipt!" Looking into the deadpan sunglasses, I pointed excitedly between myself and the receipt. "That's mine!"

Why does he have it?

The smile slipped from my face.

"Ā..." At the sound, I turned to the half-eared cosplayer. He pointed at me, arms still crossed, and jutted out a hip. "Watashi wa mae ni sono gengo o kiita koto ga arimasen." The comment appeared to be aimed at the trees.

A voice of indeterminate gender wafted from above: "Tabun kanojo wa hontōni watashitachi o rikai shite imasen."

"What the crap?" I followed the half-eared man's gaze, but saw nothing. My eyes traced the trunks stretching to the sky, finally landing upon the overlapping branches and canopy.

Still nothing.

This is really weird. Who did he talk to...? Is there a speaker system? Thoroughly confused, I scrubbed my eyes. Stress filled them with tears.

"Uchiha," called the Aburame cosplayer.

That word I recognized. I looked at him strangely, sniffling. His hands drew my attention; they flicked and formed shapes. Not the Naruto hand-seals, but actual sign language. I didn't know any of his signs. Hey. Where'd my license go?

The Aburame tucked his hands into his pockets. Before I could question my license's whereabouts:

"Rikai," a fourth voice said crisply. A man rounded the wall of a tree, striding over roots as easily as stairs. Apparently these woods are just full of people. He wore a flak vest with a black, long-sleeved shirt underneath, the Uchiha fan emblazoned on the shoulder. He moved with a certain competency of body, like—ah.

These guys act like soldiers!

It'd been on the edge of my brain. They reminded me of seeing a plainclothed soldier in the grocery store. Something about their economy of movement, or body language.

Huh. Soldiers cosplaying together. That's...super nerdy and adorable. And would maybe explain why they'd follow a trail of a receipt and carved arrows. Especially if I'm trespassing. Hope I'm not grasping at straws. God, please let these guys help me.

The Uchiha cosplayer stopped at a comfortable speaking distance. Deep-set eyes stared from a long face. His tearducts hinted an epicanthical fold. Dark brown bangs partially obscured a Konoha hitai-ate. Not a character I recognized.

I tilted my head to the side, examining his contact lenses. "Uh... Hello."

His Sharingan's three thingamabobs didn't look like commas, as I had seen in pictures. More like baby pupils that branched off from the center. Interesting. Exquisite detail in the iris, as well: two rings of muscle, one within the other, with all of the differing hues one would expect from a natural eye...

All thoughts swept away when he spoke: "Watashi ga iu koto o wakarimasu ka?"

"Huh?" I said intelligently. "I don't..."

When did he get so close?

Doesn't matter.

His eyes are...big.

"Anata wa Konohagakure ni kyōi o ataeru nodesu ka?" His voice filled my ears like water.

Another word I know.

"What're... Are you...talking about your...show?" I asked, confusion growing into incredulity. "This isn't about your LARPing." My tone stayed soft and calm. "Please take this seriously. I'm kinda freakin' out."

The Uchiha looked at the Aburame, his crimson gaze abruptly turning black. All at once, he was back where he'd started, and the forest-sounds resumed—not that they'd ever stopped. "Watashi no Sharingan ni wa itsuwari ga kenshutsu sa remasendeshita."

What? I rubbed my throbbing temples. Their words flowed over my head; I didn't bother trying to discern them. I cannot zone out like that. Dangerous, being that unaware. Get ahold of yourself.

His eyes...

They're definitely dark now. Normal. I frowned, feeling strangely muddled. Is it based on direction? Must be. Like a picture that changes depending on the angle you look at it. Whatever those were called. That's really clever. I didn't know contact lenses could be made like that.

The Aburame turned to me, ponytail brushing his coat. "No wa, kanojo no naka o jisan shimashou."

That sounded like an order.

A crunch of leaves—the half-eared man had leapt from his tall perch as easily as breathing. Impressive, but perhaps not unexpected from an athlete. He stood at attention with the Uchiha. More evidence for the cosplaying soldiers theory.

"Gōmon oyobi torishirabe ga kanojo o narabe kaeru koto ga dekimasu." The Aburame craned his neck, revealing a plain, clean-shaven face. He addressed the trees: "Kanojo o kensaku shite kudasai."

Wind, usually absent in the maze of bark walls, brushed my neck.

"Kashikomarimashita," said the voice of indeterminate gender from right beside me

Squawking, I thrust my elbow outward. It didn't connect; the auburn head ducked my reflex. I stumbled back, hands fluttering anxiously—and looked down.

"Warukunai." The lady smirked. She stood a head-and-a-half shorter than myself. Chin-length hair framed her round face. Armor plated her shins and forearms, matching the hitai-ate tied around her neck with maroon fabric. She made sarcastic jazz-hands. "Odoroki."

Oh, thank goodness. I pressed a hand over my startled heart. Relief poured over me. I couldn't have even been annoyed. A woman. Not surrounded by men in the woods where no one can hear me scream anymore.

Then she plucked the pencil from my bun. My ponytail spilled down my back.

"What on—" My hand flew to my hair. The cosplayer turned the mechanical pencil over, examining it. "Hey!"

She slid it into a pocket of her flak vest, and said airily, "Daijōbuda yo."

"You do not just take things from people. That is not how we behave." I employed my best Mom Voice, although I suspected adults older than myself were immune. Maintaining eye contact, I held out my palm. "Please give that back."

The crazy cosplayer raised an eyebrow, then gave my Psychology class T-shirt a judgmental once-over. A picture of Sigmund Freud adorned the front with the caption: If It's Not A Cigar, Then It's Your Mother. (The back displayed the names of my yearmates in tiny lettering.)

With a frustrated noise in my throat that dissolved into frustrated coughing, I turned to the men in the clearing, hoping for some assistance. Only the Uchiha cosplayer paid any attention. He looked bored.

"Itsuki." The Aburame gestured the half-eared man closer, then opened one of his messenger bags. "Anata wa saikō no watashitachi no horyo o yusō suru no ni tekishite imasu." He handed two rolls of something, one of them metallic, to the half-eared man—Itsuki? Was that a name? "Keisei ni watashi o kirikaemasu."

"Hai," chirped Itsuki.

Something's touching my hair.

"What is wrong with you?" I whipped my ponytail out of the weird lady's grubby hands. "I don't have any more pencils."

"Daijōbuda yo." The kunoichi cosplayer stepped into my personal space, patting my front pockets. I slapped her hands and scrambled away. She stuck to me like a bur, waving my protests with: "Daijōbuda yo. Daijōbuda yo!"

She stole the pocket knife from Daddy.

Scarlet fury rose in me like acid. "That—is—mine!"

A long, sleeveless arm reached from behind me and grabbed my far wrist. Itsuki spun me around so I faced him, my back to crazy lady. "Sumimasen."

I gaped openly, and tugged at my wrist. He didn't let go.

"What the fuck?" I grabbed at his thumb with my free hand; he captured that wrist as well. Fear dripped ice-cold down my spine. "Am I being mugged?" I demanded incredulously. Let that be all. Please let that be all, God. "What are you doing?"

Ignoring me, Itsuki reached for his thigh pouch.

Sensing an opening, I struggled with all of my might to escape his one hand. Nothing worked. I used my wrist bone 'like a knife,' as I was told, against the weakest part of his grip; I tried to knee him in the groin, but he twisted his hips away and raised my wrists so I stood on my toes; I kicked his shins, which had some sort of protection under the navy pants and wrappings. Stupid practical costumes.

"Let me go," I begged weakly, knowing it was useless. Even if they understood me, there was no reasoning with them. This can't be happening. I'm suffering a mental break or something. Oh, God.

Itsuki lowered my wrists so I could stand. My hands throbbed as blood returned to them. He struggled one-handed with something held close to his side. Behind me, the kunoichi cosplayer freely pilfered my pockets. I barely felt her. Had I not already known she was there, I probably wouldn't have noticed being robbed.

Sighing, Itsuki raised a roll of bandages to his mouth, and used his teeth to peel off a long, white strip.

My eyes bulged. Hell no.

Without warning, I lunged with bared teeth to bite his fucking thumb off

"Ah!" I choked as the kunoichi cosplayer yanked my head by the ponytail.

Calm as could be, Itsuki began wrapping my wrists in the bandages, like they did this every day. Well, shit, maybe they do.

"Sore ga kenmeidesu ka?" asked the kunoichi cosplayer, releasing my ponytail. She patted down my legs.

"Kanojo wa nani no chakura, mu kin'niku-ryō o motteinai—" Itsuki passed the bandages to the kunoichi cosplayer, who proceeded to bind my ankles. "—to kanojo no sode de kanojo no kokoro o mi ni tsukete iru ka—" The half-eared man retrieved a second spool, then wound metal wire around my wrists. "—watashi ga imamade mita naka de saikō no ki no joyūdearu no izureka."

Itsuki clamped the spool between his teeth to free a hand. He produced a terrifyingly real-looking kunai—my heart stopped—and severed the wire. It only loosely surrounded my wrists, not tight enough to restrain. He passed the metal coil to the kunoichi cosplayer. "Daijōbu; kono hōhōde wa, kanojo o hakobu tame no yori benridesu," he said with an air of finality.

The female cosplayer wrapped the wire loosely around my ankles.

Maybe I'm not crazy. Maybe these guys are crazy. I glanced at the others—

Off to the side of the clearing, the Aburame spoke into an earpiece.

"HELP! I'M BEING KIDNAPPED!" I screamed so loud my ears rang and my throat burned. Birds took flight. My voice echoed up the trunks, into the sky.

The thieving lady slapped my hip. "Sore o teishi suru!" she complained. Itsuki leaned away from me. The Aburame and Uchiha cosplayers stared at me, but otherwise didn't react. The Aburame continued speaking in a calm manner.

I groaned in distress. Whoever they spoke to wouldn't help me.

Itsuki released me and stepped back. I swayed on my bound feet, fearful that I would fall. He formed a Naruto hand-seal.

Looking more crazy by the second.

The metal around my wrists and ankles came to life.

"Shit! Shit, get it off—!" I screamed, wobbled, but kept my balance. The wire coiled like a snake, squeezing tightly, conforming to the shape of my limbs. It sliced through the top layers of thick bandaging. Light reflected from the metal like water. The severed ends melted together, then the wire stilled.

Before I could recover, Itsuki scooped me off of my feet, bridal style, as if I weighed nothing.

I was trembling.

The kunoichi cosplayer stole my shoes. I stared at my purple Batgirl socks. I did not stare at the possessed restraints. She examined the sneakers from every possible angle, then thoughtfully put them back on my feet. I did nothing. I was beyond words, or even tears. Her hip cocked to the side, the kunoichi pointed at her own eyes, then at Itsuki's.

He snorted.

Finally, she gave the Aburame cosplayer a thumbs-up.

The buzzing man nodded to the Uchiha cosplayer. "Ikou."

As if that word was a gunshot and he a runner, the Uchiha cosplayer took off...straight toward a tree. He navigated the enormous roots with admirable grace. His momentum even carried him up the trunk several feet—surprisingly far—farther than I would have thought possible—

He's not falling.

Vertigo scrambled my brain. My body felt gravity, knew what Up and Down were; my eyes saw gravity, knew that Up and Down were in relation to the Uchiha. My world tilted. Nausea churned my stomach.

Itsuki began running.

"Oh no." Terror climbed up my throat like a shriek. Each step jarred me. The tree came closer. "Oh, no. Oh, no." Itsuki forewent the tall roots. He leaped clear over them, leaving my stomach behind. "OH, NO—"

His sandaled feet impacted the bark. I squeezed my eyes shut, still expecting to fall. Rhythmic steps, smoother than on the ground. Wind blew straight down. Itsuki's arms didn't support my weight, his chest did, his arms only held me in place. I curled into a cramped, painful ball. Gravity is wrong. This is wrong. We keep going up. Keep going up. Gonna fall. Worse than a rollercoaster. I'm gonna throw up. I pressed my fists against my mouth.

My kidnapper squeezed me tightly, which I actually really appreciated.

I forced my eyes open, because the imagined fear was worse than the seen fear. Jaws logic. Batman logic. Also I had stopped believing we were running up a tree.

We were running up a tree.

Holy shit.

Or I'm insane. Probably that. Sunlight glittered between the canopy like stars. Dark branches as thick as roads loomed closer. The Uchiha cosplayer ran above us like something made from CG. All the world's a hallucination. The wrist and ankle bindings signify my straight jacket. The cosplayers signify escapism.

I chose not to look down.

With the majesty of a whale diving in an aquarium, an enormous branch became level with us. It seemed impossible for a tree to grow so huge.

"Tsukamatte iru," said Itsuki, his voice right by my ear. His upper body tensed. Preparing for something?

Ahead, the Uchiha sprang from the wall of bark, flipped as lithely as a gymnast in the leaf-strewn sky, and landed upon the branch beside us. His stride didn't break. He continued running.

We're gonna do that.

A scream built in my throat like a teakettle's whistle. My fists pinched my lips between my teeth. We dipped as Itsuki bent his knees, then we launched up—

Weightless. Like the peak of a rollercoaster. I held my breath. Falling. We're falling. My stomach flipped. The world turned on its axis. Gravity righted itself. Up was the sky. Down was beneath Itsuki's feet. His arms bore my weight.

The landing jolted the breath from my lungs.

Running. The rhythm of Itsuki's steps felt different. Less smooth. I looked at the Uchiha's legs. By Naruto rules, chakra-running requires a foot on the tree at all times. Less bumpy. Not when normal running. But that's fiction. This isn't real. This can't be real. I pressed my bound hands to my racing heart. It felt unusually fast. Bad. There wasn't enough oxygen. My head swam.

The wind became stronger; or, rather, we ran faster. I squinted against the drying of my eyes. The verdant glow of sunlit leaves blurred. Ahead, the Uchiha's arms drifted backward in the wind. It seemed natural. My sister laughed when she first saw Naruto-running on TV.

The Uchiha leaped impossibly far, arms akimbo to dive chest-first, and landed on a perpendicular branch.

"Oh, no—" We dipped, then bounded into the air. This is worse. This is worse. I preferred freaky vertical running.

I looked down.

Dizzying. Blurred. So far to fall

Sudden landing. My cheek smacked his bicep. Tree bark, painted golden in the sun, covered the view.

"Oh, I'm gonna throw up." I pressed my face into the stiff neck of Itsuki's flak vest. "Don't lemme throw up. Lord preserve my sanity. Shit, shit, shit—" We dipped. I clamped my mouth and eyes shut. We soared, weightless, then jarred a landing. I hate this. I hate this. Sandals hardly touched the bark for a moment, then we were soaring again, and again—

Saliva flooded my mouth. I swallowed repeatedly, trying to stave my rising gorge. Up and down. Yanking my stomach along by a string. Time became elastic. Ambivalent. Stretching and shrinking at once. Up and down.

Nope. Bile seared my throat. Don't got this. I don't

Frantic yanking against my restraints yielded nothing. I lurched over Itsuki's arms; he yanked me back as we dipped, then launched up

Vomit arced through the air.

Itsuki began yelling. Unseen, boyish laughter from the kunoichi stifled quickly. I closed my eyes as we fell toward another branch.

As we had every time, we landed without injury. Itsuki prompty deposited me upon the bark. I curled over my knees, shaking uncontrollably. Bark grazed my forehead. Spit and bile dribbled from my lips. Tears caged behind my eyelashes spilled over. My breath hitched quietly.

Birds sang overhead. Voices spoke a language I couldn't understand. I didn't try to listen.

The world spun. My skin burned hot and cold. Sweat itched under the restraints on my wrists and ankles. I wiped my mouth on my denim-covered knee. Everything hurt. I felt sick and miserable and scared.

Someone knelt beside me. Gentle hands on my shoulders turned me toward a flak vest. Black sleeves, red and white fan. The Uchiha. I looked up blearily—

—into bulging, crimson eyes. The three tiny pupils were spinning...impossibly...

Sleep swallowed me.


End chapter three.

Whew, that was long. This chapter was shockingly difficult to write. I couldn't seem to find a good place to break it. Hope it didn't drag.

I apologize again for what I've done to the Japanese language. It deserved better.

Please inform me if you find any mistakes! I don't have spellcheck. (Weejee instead of Ouija from the first chapter comes to mind. Yikes. Thanks for the catch, anon!)