Anko was worried when she watched the young child reunite with her overjoyed cat.

The black, furry menace had not even waited until she had fully opened the door before it had already launched itself at its favorite human.

And her little sister had caught her with an expression of such relief that it almost bordered on desperation.

Now the two of them were sprawled out on her living room floor. Narumi's hand brushed gently through the black fur, while Yoru had stretched herself out on the child's chest, one of her ears placed right above the girl's heart, as if to assure herself it was still beating.

It was a cute picture and yet very heartbreaking.

Something in her little sister had changed.

Narumi seemed both stronger and more broken than before.

It was not a presence that should belong to a child as young as she was, and not for the first time, Anko wondered what this "special training" had entailed.

She had tried to investigate, even went as far as knocking on those blasted Hyuuga clan's overly pompous gate, but no one had told her anything.

Now Narumi had finally turned up. But she was in this state and Anko wanted to know what had happened to her little sister, so she could go and beat up the right people, damn it!

A familiar spike of chakra told her that Genma was approaching, and she silently went to open the door. "I heard you have a visitor." He held a box up. "I've brought some sushi."

Anko stepped aside to let him in. "Come in, but be quiet. She is resting."

Genma nodded, and the two returned to the living room.

Neither the cat nor Narumi had moved at all.

"They have been like this for over an hour," Anko told him quietly.

Genma raised an eyebrow. "An hour? They must have been really worried then. Well, it really shows how close they are. I don't think Yoru will let Narumi go off on her own any time soon." He snickered. "That reminds me: Did you know that Kakashi's ninken used to be very clingy when they were younger and followed him everywhere, trying to stop him from getting hurt?"

Anko smirked. "Really? I would have loved to see that. Tiny Hatake being protected by a yipping puppy."

Genma laughed. It was not loud, but audible enough to get the two cuddlers to twitch.

Narumi turned her head. "Genma-san. You are here, too? I didn't hear you."

"Doesn't surprise me, kid," Genma answered cheerfully and walked over to smile down at her. "You were too busy squishing the stuffing out of your cat to notice anything."

Narumi huffed.

"Now, if you two are quite done being adorable," his grin widened when Narumi blushed slightly, "I brought something to eat. Sushi."

Narumi perked her ears. "With salmon?"

"With salmon," Genma agreed. "Now can you get up on your own or do I have to rescue you from that black scary monster?"

Yoru raised her head and meowed indignantly.

Narumi laughed. "I think I can manage. Thanks for the offer, though."

Anko threw a thankful look towards Genma.

The man winked at her.

"Ibiki-san, do you have a moment?"

Morino Ibiki turned around to see Yamanka Inoichi walking up towards him. "Inoichi-san. What is it?"

Inoichi threw him a serious look that immediately put him on guard. "I have something to discuss with you concerning a certain genin in your care."

Ibiki's eyes narrowed. "Are you talking about Uchino?"

Inoichi nodded. "Indeed."

"Well, what did the brat do this time?"

"Are you aware that this child is suffering from panic attacks and disassociation?"

"She is what?!"

"I don't want to."

Anko pouted. "Come on, Rumi-chan. It's gonna be fun!"

"Not interested," the child repeated. She really did not feel like attending a party now.

"Rumi-chan." Anko skipped over and threw her arm around her shoulders.

Narumi side eyed the insistent woman. "No."

"Come on!"


"You'll have fun!" Anko blew against her ear.

Narumi shifted away. "No."



"Alright, that's enough!" Genma placed his cup down and walked over. "I don't know what happened but hiding and isolating yourself won't help you at all. Trust me on this, kid. You need to unwind once in a while, or you will break under the constant strain. You are going. That's an order. So, are you complying, or do I have to drag you?" He crossed his arms and looked down at her with a stern look.

Narumi stared up at him. "Are you pulling rank on me? Over a party?"

"I am."

She tilted her head. "You know this can be considered abuse of authority?" she inquired dryly.

Genma smirked. "And who's going to tell on me? Anko? You know what they say: No witnesses, no proof, kid."

"Genma-san…," Narumi asked slowly over Anko's cackling laughter. "Have I ever told you that you are very scary?"

The smirk widened. "You did just now. So? Your answer, kid. Do I need to toss you over my shoulder, or are you going to comply?"

Narumi huffed. She was not putting it past him to go through with that threat. "Yes, sir," she answered sarcastically. "I shall submit to your power."

"Good girl." Genma patted her head and quickly stepped back when Yoru waved an angry paw at him. "Meow!"

"I think," Anko managed to get out between two bouts of laughter, "that means: Don't touch my human. I guess she really did not like being called a monster."

Genma snorted.

Narumi snickered.

Yoru turned her back on him.

"Whatever," Genma walked back to the chair and snatched up his jacket. "I am off now, see you later." He pointed at Narumi. "No backing out, kid. You know what happens if you don't turn up."

"I'll get hounded by a very menacing ninja, yes, yes. Got it. Now please have mercy and leave. I am dying of terror here."

"Try saying that again when you are not stuffing your mouth with salmon, kid, and I might actually believe it."

Narumi smiled after the leaving man and looked up as Anko brushed her hand through her hair. "Are you alright, little sister?"

Narumi leaned against her shoulder. "Not really," she admitted. "But I will be," she added. She had to.

There was a moment of silence as the two simply sat next to each other and Narumi idly stroked through the cat's fur. "Anko?" she finally asked, "Could you do me a favor?"

"Of course," the woman agreed easily, "What do you need?"

"I want to see Itachi and Shisui." She missed them.

"Then how about inviting them over?" Anko suggested with a bright a grin.

Narumi threw a surprised look at her. "Would that be possible?"

Her older sister smirked. "Have you already forgotten who I am? I know just the one for passing the message along."

Shisui stared at the tiny garden snake slithering up excitedly towards him as he was on his way back to the district. It stopped right before his feet and let out a muffled hiss that was swallowed by the scroll in its mouth.

Shisui blinked. "Sorry, could you repeat that?"

The snake spit the scroll to the ground. "I've a message for Uchiha Shisui. That's you, right? Right?"

"Eh, yes, that's me," Shisui replied intelligently, taken aback by the snake's strange behavior.

The snake slithered happily around his feet. "I did it right! I did it right." It raised his head and peaked around Shisui's left leg. "Praise me!" it demanded.

"Well done," Shisui answered automatically.

A pleased hiss escaped his slithering messenger. "I got praised. I got it right and got praised. I am a good snake. Yes, yes. Oh, I have to tell Anko-sama about this. Maybe I'll get a nice juicy mouse for it. I am good snake!"

The snake happily made off, muttering something about juicy mice and how good it was.

Shisui scratched his head. What an odd summon. He picked up the scroll and unrolled it. What did Anko want?

Yo, boyfriend one,

if you and boyfriend two have some time, come over. If not, make time and come anyway.

Your girlfriend wants a threesome.

He snorted. Yes, that was Anko. So, Narumi was back. Good. Itachi would be pleased. His friend had been extremely worried. Of course, Shisui had been anxious, as well, but the two younger ones shared a special bond built on a deep understanding of their respective positions. They were both being pressured and weighted down by outside expectations. But there was a big difference between the two. Narumi was extremely intelligent, Itachi a natural genius. He had the skills, she the potential.

He pocketed the scroll. Time to smuggle his friend out.

Itachi looked from the box to Shisui and back. "No," he stated flatly. "You are not carrying me out in a tomato crate."

Shisui crossed his arms. "Then how else do you think you can get out, huh?"

"Maybe through the gates," Itachi suggested drily, "Like a normal human being."

"You are not normal," Shisui shot back, "You are Uchiha Itachi and you are being watched."

"My, my, is our dear clan heir trying to sneak out? Without permission? How naughty."

The two Uchiha boys froze as they heard the darkly amused voice behind him.

"No answer? Did the cat get your tongue? Or was it a snake?" Uchiha Akio stepped casually out of the tree line.

Shisui's jaw tightened and Itachi's gaze cooled. "What are you doing here, Akio?" he demanded.

Akio smiled pleasantly. "So hostile again, little heir?" He sighed dramatically. "And here I wanted to offer you a hand."

"Offer us a hand?" Shisui repeated incredulously. "How could you help us? Why would you even?"

"I have grown quite fond of your precious little friend," Akio commented as he leaned against the tree and crossed his arms loosely in front of him. "Little Narumi is such an adorable child. So delightfully innocent and yet so beautifully broken. Unfortunately, the poor thing is currently quite distressed. Ryo-chan was very harsh with her." He tilted his head. " How about it, children? Would you like to see her?"

"This does not concern you," Itachi replied coldly.

Akio laughed lightly. "Whatever you say, little heir." He pushed himself off the tree and strolled past them. When he was level with the boys, he stopped briefly and added, "Then I shan't tell you that the guards at the gates are currently very distracted and will remain thus for the following five minutes."

Itachi closed his hand around his kunai and Shisui narrowed his eyes. "Why are you helping us?" he demanded sharply. "You hate her."

"Hate?" Akio repeated, sounding honestly curious. "You are mistaken, young one. I am not an enemy."

Itachi met his gaze. His eyes were cold. "Then what are you?"

Uchiha Akio smiled. Amusement glittered in his unsmiling eyes. "Her protector."

Then, he vanished.

Narumi was in the middle of filling Yoru's food bowl with tuna when she heard a knock at the door.

Anko jumped off the couch. " I guess that's gotta be them."

She bounded towards the door and opened it with a flourish. "There you are! Quick, come on in. Rumi-chan, your cute boyfriends are here!"

Narumi sighed. "For the last time Anko, friends not boyfriends."

Her eyes lit up as she saw the two figures behind Anko. Uchiha Itachi and Uchiha Shisui dropped their transformations and entered the room.

Relief washed over her. "Itachi! Shisui!" She ran toward them. "Come in."

Anko looked back and forth between the three children and grinned widely. "I'll leave you to it." She winked slyly at them. "Behave yourselves and don't do anything I wouldn't do."

She skipped out of the door.

Shisui snorted. "She's something else." He bent down and stroked Yoru's fur. "Hello, little one." Yoru mewed, nudged him with her paw, and turned her head in Narumi's direction. "Meow." It sounded demanding.

Shisui laughed, but Itachi nodded solemnly at the cat. "We will take care of her. Eat your tuna."

Yoru eyed him critically, bobbed her head once and turned towards her bowl.

Shisui stopped laughing and turned towards Narumi. "We cannot stay for long," he told her apologetically and gave her a critical onceover. "We snuck out of the compound."

Narumi had already suspected as much. It was a pity that she could only see her friends for a short time, but it was better than not seeing them at all.

"We met Akio," Shisui continued, his expression turning dark. "He caused a distraction for the guards so we could get out."

Narumi froze. Akio had what? His face appeared in her mind's eye. 'I can set you free' She blinked to dispel the vivid memory. "Why?" she asked.

"He called himself your protector," Itachi replied, watching her with intelligent eyes. "Did something transpire between the two of you?"

Narumi hesitated. "He...he hugged me," she answered softly, playing restlessly with her sleeve. "When...when I collapsed."

"Narumi," Itachi sounded serious. "What happened?

"I... I killed a man," Narumi whispered in a barely audible voice. "He was begging for it. He screamed and screamed, but they kept sticking the needles in, and he just kept begging and screaming for it to stop," the words spilled out of her unbidden, coming out hasty and wavering. "It was so loud. They told me to end it. To kill him. I couldn't take it and then everything was red. So red." She buried her hands in her hair and shook her head wildly. "And he won't stop screaming!"

Shisui grabbed her wrists and pulled her hands out of her hair. His eyes were hard, but his grip was gentle.

"Who?" Itachi demanded. His voice sounded so cold that Narumi shivered. "Who was it that forced you to kill?" She could see red bleeding into his eyes.

"The masks."

Shisui froze. Masks? "Narumi," he asked urgently, "what did these masks look like?"

"White animals," she choked out, "Men. One of them was very mean. Three dots on the forehead. A line beneath the eyes. Crimson. Blood."

Shisui's mind whirled as Itachi placed his arms around the shaking girl. Thrush. Narumi had just described the thrush mask.

But it was impossible.

Because Thrush was him.


Thank you for welcoming me back, and leaving your thoughts. I know you are waiting for her to snap, but I am afraid that it will still take a while to reach that point. But I promise once it happens, it will be beautiful. (I can't wait for it either, you know.)

In any case, next chapter we will celebrate a party, so make sure to bring your party hats, yourselves and lots of alcohol. Emphasis on lots. ;)