Hiro had set about looking for rooms to rent as soon as she had made it to her room, finding listing after listing of too expensive apartments and outrageously priced dorm rooms. She had some money saved, but not much. Asuma helped a little with tuition prices, but she still had to pay the rest and cover the rest of her own expenses.

She could always suck it up and try for one of the smaller dorms- surely the room wouldn't be too out of her price range.

Hiro saved a few of them to look at on her next day off, then climbed into bed and forced herself to sleep.


The young brunette rolled out of bed feeling like a zombie. She hadn't slept very well, tossing and turning- her mind riddled with anxiety.

Kurenai was cooking breakfast when she stumbled downstairs, and the woman offered her a cheery "Good morning!"

"Good morning, Kurenai-san."

"Please, just Kurenai. Do you want some breakfast? I'm just cooking up some eggs and bacon."

"Sure," Hiro agreed, her stomach growling slightly. She'd surely have little to no time to eat between school and work, and crispy-fried bacon sounded delicious since she'd gone to bed without dinner.

Kurenai hummed happily and began cooking her breakfast as Hiro trailed over to the coffee maker and began brewing a pot according to her father's tastes. He wouldn't eat the breakfast (except for a bite out of one of her slices of bacon) and instead would beeline for the coffee pot and pour himself a large cup of super-strong joe, then he'd disappear out the back door to smoke a cigarette before high-tailing it across town to get to his morning lecture.

Asuma's routine hadn't changed since Hiro was old enough to walk herself to school, which was really only a few blocks away, at the youth center. There were never really many children in Nonin City, so they all were either home-schooled or went to the youth center as Hiro had done. It wasn't anything fancy, but Hiro didn't have anything else to immerse herself in, so she put all of her effort into school. If she wanted to be at the top, she had no other choice anyway.

By the time the coffee machine beeped, Kurenai was sliding the bacon and eggs onto a plate and set it down at the counter for Hiro. She sat next to the girl and took a plate of her own, adding a small orange to the mix.

"Kurenai, what do you teach?"

"I'm in the Biology department," The raven-haired woman offered a small smile, "A zoologist to be exact. Are you interested in the topic?"

"Well, not so much. I'm in anatomy right now. When they asked what I wanted to do with my life, I just said 'doctor', so I'm in anatomy right now."

"But… that's not what you want to do. I understand that it's a big decision to make. You're feeling trepidation. My advice is to take some time to figure out what you love to do and go from there."

Hiro nodded. "Thanks, Kurenai-san. I've got to get to class."

Kurenai nodded and checked the time. "Shit, me too. Want a ride?"

"What about Papa?"

Kurenai shook her head. "He had some business this morning, he already left. Here, come on, I'll drop you off at your building."

"Is that appropriate, Kurenai?"

Kurenai shrugged, "I'll drop you off at the gates, then. You'll be late if you take the bus or walk."

"Alright, thank you."

Since Kurenai had been so insistent on giving her a ride, Hiro had twenty extra minutes to kill before her first class of the day began. She sat on the steps of the art building and flipped through her textbook, scanning through the pages to recap what she'd already learned.

"Hiro!" She didn't hear the voice calling her until a hand slapped down on her textbook, knocking it across the pavement.

"Hey!" She snapped, jumping up and collecting the book before turning on her aggressor.

Deidara flashed a wide grin at her, "Sorry, yeah. I was calling you."

Hiro flushed and dusted her book off, then placed it back into her bag. "Oh, well… What is it?"

"Jeez, sorry. I didn't mean to bother you." Deidara took a step back.

"No, sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you, I just didn't sleep well." Hiro scratched the back of her head.

"Aw, having bad dreams? Need me to come over and check your closet for monsters? How about under your bed?" Deidara's baby blue eyes light up mirthfully as he joked. He was teasing her.

"I'd like you on my bed." Hiro hadn't meant to say it- she'd only thought it- but somehow, against her will, it slipped out. Her face immediately flushed and she turned around before Deidara could react. "Ohmygod, I can't-"

"Hiro-" Deidara called, but Hiro ignored him, quickly grabbing her backpack and slipping into the building as he called, "Did you just hit on me?"

"Oh my god, Deidara!" She called back, letting the door slam shut behind her. Why did she say that?

Thankfully, Deidara wasn't in her first class of the day, otherwise, she would have died from mortal embarrassment. There was always the chance of seeing the blonde around campus as well, and that wasn't desirable at the moment.

Seeing any of the residents of New Dawn would surely be awkward, but the thought of seeing Deidara after that absolute horror show of a conversation left a sour taste in Hiro's mouth.

Unfortunately for her, Humanities was next.

Humanities meant Hidan.

Hiro hoped that he'd ignore her, but with as shitty as her luck had been lately, he'd probably approach her and try to induct her into his cult.

Deidara was nice and she really should have stayed and explained herself, but the mortification overtook her at the moment and she just needed the mindless droning of her professor to take her mind off of him for a while. Maybe she'd text him later and give him her phone number since she'd had to replace her cellphone the day before.

So much had happened in such a short amount of time that she just needed the normality of school to set her mind straight.

She spotted the silver-haired sharp-tongued man when she entered the lecture hall, but avoided his line of sight and chose a seat near the back of the room.

Settling into the hard plastic hair, Hiro took out her humanities textbook and her notebook and sat back, waiting out the time until class began.

Not too long later, the professor- a thick, short woman with spiky hair and a knack for wearing trench coats- came in, a sour look etched across her face. "Today is our last section before the mid-finals. We have a project coming up next week, so I'll be dividing you into two-person teams. Today, we'll be doing that. No, you cannot choose your own teams-" A round of groans escape the class, but she held her hand up, effectively silencing them. "-I will be teaming you up based on the grade curve. The students with a lower grade in my class will have one last chance to learn something before we dive in deep after fall break."

Hiro gulped. She had a good grade in Anko's class, so this meant that she'd probably be pulling the weight with whoever she was paired up with.

She dropped her head into her hands as Anko sat down to begin reviewing their grades and calling off names. It didn't take her long to begin going down the list, and the students either cheered or grumbled as they moved and shuffled around to take their new places.

After what felt like an eternity of waiting, Anko reached Hiro's name.

"Sarutobi Hiro, let's see. You're going to sit up front next to Hidan. I want to keep an eye on you two."

"Aw, yeah. It's the Convenience-store-bitch!"

"Please don't refer to me as a 'bitch', Hidan-san." Hiro bit out, picking up her bags to take her new seat at the front of the class. Hidan shrugged but followed suit, picking up his backpack from the back of his chair and stomping down to the front of the lecture hall.

Anko settled everyone quickly, returning to the front to continue her lecture.

"We already know about Greek vs Roman gods, blah blah blah… We're moving on to what ancient civilizations did for fun. Your upcoming project is to choose an ancient leisure activity to study and make a presentation based on it. The official guidelines can be found on our class page, you should have all received an e-mail with the link by now. Right now we're going to cover some of the different ways they used to party in the old days, so take out your notebooks and turn to page 135 in your textbooks."

Hiro flipped to the page and took a pen from her bag, glancing at Hidan as she shifted to start taking notes.

"Can I look at your textbook?" He asked, looking at her from the side of his eye. "I left mine at home."

Hiro shrugged and pushed it closer to him.

Anko began her lecture, projecting her copy of the book onto the large presentation screen. Hiro jotted down notes as Anko spoke, writing everything the woman said verbatim.

Hidan didn't even look at the book, instead, he steepled his hands under his chin and watched Anko move across the floor, waving her hands as she talked about medieval party days.

Hiro stood up from the small table an hour later and slipped her books back into the satchel. "Don't forget your textbook next time, Hidan-san."

"Sure," Hidan shrugged, then turned on his heel and stalked away. Hiro shook her head but followed in his tracks, stepping out of the classroom and following the stream of students out of the building.

Feeling refreshed by the clean air, Hiro stretched her arms out and checked the time. Her last class would start in an hour and a half, so now was the time to grab some lunch and take a minute to figure some things out.

A quick trip to the cafeteria for a sandwich and a bag of chips solved lunch, and Hiro found a nice place on the grass to eat lunch, pulling out her laptop and connecting to the school wi-fi to check her email.

She read over Anko's rubric and saved it to her desktop, then looked through the class list for Hidan's email address. She typed up a quick email, letting the zealot know that he could reach back out to her for any questions about the project. Presentations were due the following Friday, so Hiro really wanted to make sure her grade was as good as possible, especially with Hidan as her partner. She doubted he'd even read her message, but hoped he would at least put some effort into the project. Closing out of the email window, Hiro opened up the tab for her upcoming class, scrolling to the message board and reading the update from the professor.

'Due to unfortunate and personal circumstances, all classes for this week are canceled. Please use this time to read through Chapters 11 and 12 in your textbooks and complete the online questionnaire that will be posted Friday. Thank you.'

Great, Hiro thought. She quickly finished her sandwich and closed her laptop. With the rest of the afternoon free, she could look at a few of the available listings she had found last night.

One of them was a dorm located on campus, but from the looks of the posh building and up-kept lawn, it was most likely a sorority.

Hiro swallowed her doubts and marched up to the door, pressing the bell button firmly. Taking a step back, she looked around the porch. It was spacious, wrapped in white picket railing, with ornate columns and spandrels running the perimeter of the porch. There were a few white wicker chairs on one end, and a matching white porch swing occupying the other side of the porch, giving off a cozy feel.

After a minute or so, the door opened up and a girl with a soft, round face and her brown hair tied up into twin buns on top of her head answered. "Can I help you?" The question wasn't harsh, but she did seem annoyed to be interrupted.

"Um, I'm here about a room listing-"

"Oh, sorry. There are no more rooms available, sorry. Temari was supposed to take the listing down…"

"Ah, sorry to bother you then."

The girl gave an apologetic smile, then shut the door.

Hiro moved on to the next option- an apartment downtown, some five blocks away from the south entrance to the school. It wasn't ideal, but within walking distance and still manageable, if she pulled extra shifts.

The row of storefronts and the street underneath the apartment seemed nice enough, well-kept, and mostly litter-free. Hiro had called the owner on her way over and they'd said they could meet at 2:30, so she had a few minutes to spare before the agreed-on meeting time. She sat down at a table outside of a small coffee shop and pulled her laptop out, clicking over to the page she had saved of available rooms. The apartment she was looking at looked decent enough from the pictures, although it seemed a bit small. She gave the page one more look before closing her laptop and sliding it back into her backpack.

"Hello?" A young woman stood at the other side of the table, looking professional, but not stern. She wore a matching gray skirt and blazer with a white button-up underneath, her dark hair pulled into a bun at the nape of her neck. "Are you Hiro?"

"You must be Masumoto-san." Hiro greeted the older woman, standing up and bowing. "I am Sarutobi Hiro, here to see your apartment."

"Please, Lyra-san is fine. If you'll follow me, the apartment is above the shop here." The woman waved her hand to the windows on the story above the coffee shop. "There are three units, two are available right now. I can show you both if you'd like."

"Oh, I didn't realize there was a second space open.

Lyra gave a weak smile, "Yes, but it's listed under the Two-Bedroom category, and is a bit more expensive."

Hiro's smile dropped, "Well, can we start with the one-bedroom, then? I don't have a roommate."

Lyra nodded, and Hiro followed her around the back of the building to a small door. Lyra's keys jingled in her hand as she unlocked the door and led Hiro through.

The building smelled a little musty, but the odor wasn't too strong in the hallway. They went up a flight of stairs and into the hallway on the top floor.

"This is the unit, feel free to look around," Lyra told her as she unlocked the door and pushed it open.

The pictures didn't do it justice. It was kind of small, and the smell of mildew intensified when Hiro stepped in the door. The living room and kitchen had a kind of open floor plan, but an island counter divided the two rooms. Off to the left of the kitchen- which had one tiny window looking out to the back of the building- was a door that led to what Hiro could assume to be the bedroom. The living room wasn't too bad but was it really worth $1,400 a month? Hiro only brought in $1,000 after taxes, and that was on a good month. She'd either have to get a second job or take on extra shifts to even afford rent, much less her other necessities.

"What's that smell?" She asked, resisting the urge to cover her nose. "Sorry, it's kind of strong."

"The sink in the kitchen broke and leaked, but it's been fixed. There isn't any damage left behind, it just needs to be cleaned- you can take a look if you'd like." Lyra offered.

"No, that's fine. It's just… a bit small for the price, don't you think?"

"Sorry, I don't set the prices, I just show the units… I can get you an application if you want?"

Hiro sighed, looking around the apartment one last time, "Yeah, I'll take an application."

Lyra handed her a slip of paper, "I'll need to see a copy of your ID, and then when you've completed the application, you can drop it off at my office, the location is listed on my business card." She gave Hiro a small card, tucking her clipboard under her arm. "Now, there is a credit check and background check before you can get approved, and those both may take up to three weeks, so I'll be in touch."

Hiro took the paper application and put it into her backpack before bidding the Realtor farewell and tracing her steps back out of the building and around the front of the shop.

So that was kind of a bust. She sighed and checked the time, nearly 3:00. Her shift started at 3:30, so she had ample time to get to the store and clock in before her shift started.

The walk was quick and she was undisturbed, so before she knew it, she was tucking her backpack into her locker and slipping her apron over her head.

"Hiro-chan, you're early," Kishimoto-san said as she exited the back room.

"Yeah, I'm here now so you can take off," she told the older man, "I'll take it from here."

He smiled and nodded at her, disappearing into the back room.

Hiro took over the register and began counting it out for her coworker's drop and stashing it in the safe as he gathered his items from the back room.

She began with cleaning the store, helping customers as they came in to purchase whatever small junk items that they required. It wasn't hard work, but sometimes the customers talked down to her. Asuma had always told her to take it with a smile. Combat their rudeness by being as nice as she could be. If she gave them no reason to be angry, most often, they would walk away, ashamed.

It was an act of revenge sweeter than honey.

She had just finished cleaning the bathroom and had stored the mop bucket back in the supply closet when she heard her voice being called out.

"Hello, Hirooo~" Hiro came around the store corner to see Konan standing at the register.

"Ah, Konan-san. How can I help you today?"

"Hi, Hiro-chan. I need to buy a pack of cigarettes."

Hiro crossed behind the counter and turned to the wide selection of tobacco products. "I didn't know you smoked, Konan-san."

Konan waved her hand, "I don't, but Pein does. And he's out, and getting grumpy. I can't bear to hear him grumble any more, so here I am. Marlboro Red Label 100s, please. Yes, those. Good girl."

Hiro grabbed the pack and scanned it, "Are you a rewards member?" She looked up at the blue-haired girl who shook her head. Hiro frowned and tapped a few buttons on the screen. They'd just moved to a new system and it chose now to give her grief. "Sorry, but I gotta see your ID. First-time purchase and all. Once I get you entered into the system it shouldn't be a problem."

Konan frowned, "Oh, I left it at the house. Gimme a second."

"Sorry, Konan-san." Hiro offered. The blue-nette waved her hand, putting her phone to her ear.

"Hey, can you bring me my ID? Yes, Hiro is at work. Just grab my wallet off of my bed, you idiot." She rolled her eyes and leaned across the counter, taking her phone from her ear and pressing the 'end call' button. "Fucking idiot. Anyways… While we wait, how's life been for you? Talk to your dad?"

Hiro nodded, stepping back. "Yeah, it's alright for now… Actually, I need to find somewhere to live but the search so far has been… unfruitful. I've looked at a few places but neither were right."

Konan looked up with a look of shock. "Oh, so Kurenai's moving in already?"

Hiro gave her an incredulous look. "How much do you know?"

Konan quirked a blue eyebrow at the mousy brunette, "I pick up on a lot. They've been seeing each other secretly for a while now, and they've done damn well at hiding it so far. I'm pretty perceptive, though." She winked at Hiro standing up straight. "So you're looking for a place to stay… Well, we've got a room open at New Dawn if you think you can handle it. I'd say to look for something else first, though, and if nothing works for you, come talk to me. There are some pretty cool kickbacks about living at New Dawn, you just gotta be able to deal with the… craziness. It's always an option..."

Hiro nodded, but she really didn't want to live in the madhouse. She'd probably become one of those crazy bag ladies that live out of shopping carts on the streets by the time she was a senior.

"Oh, here comes my wallet, then I'll get out of your hair," Konan remarked as Deidara entered the convenience store.

Hiro felt her stomach drop like a brick of lead. She couldn't seem to control her mouth around the blonde lately, so she wasn't too keen to see him after this morning's mishap.

"Hey, Hiro-chan." Deidara greeted, handing Konan her wallet before going down one of the aisles and browsing through the candy section.

The blue-haired woman gave Hiro a look, but fished her ID out of her wallet and handed it to the young brunette.

"If I add you into the rewards system, we won't have to ID you, you can either out in your phone number or scan a card and you'll be all set..." Hiro said, "There are also weekly deals, always deals for different tobacco products, and you can opt-out of the text messages and use our app instead."

Konan nodded, "Sure, I'll take the card."

"Here," Hiro handed her a pamphlet containing a generic card and information on downloading the store's chain app and put in some information from her ID. "There, all set. It'll just be $8.94 for the cigarettes."

Konan scanned her card through the small machine and took the pack of Marlboros from Hiro, then gave Deidara one last long glance before exiting the store.

Hiro tried not to pay too much attention to him as she restocked the cigarette case, but it was hard not to think about how much of an idiot she'd made of herself earlier. She couldn't blame him for thinking she was weird.

Hell, that was why she really didn't try to make friends, anyway, much less attractive, blonde-haired, blue-eyed friends with wide smiles and warm laughter… Hiro shook her head and set the box back under the counter, satisfied with her task.

"Hey," Deidara said, startling her. She jumped and faced him, smiling weakly. He held up a few packages of cinnamon candies, an amused smile spreading across his face.

"Oh, sorry." She said, straightening herself out, "Is this all for you?"

"No, uh, I was wondering why you hadn't texted me yet?"

Hiro felt her heart skip a beat. "Oh, uh, my phone… I haven't had time to get a new one..."

"Oh," he sounded dejected. "Well, uh, do you work tomorrow?"

She gave him a weak smile, "Yeah, I'm not off until Thursday."

He frowned, "That's too bad. I'll just take these and a can of butane."

Hiro gave him a weird look but didn't say anything as she grabbed the butane from the display case. She rang up his items and took his payment.

"Anyways, about this morning..."

Hiro flushed and dropped her face into her hands. "I… Yeah, sorry."

Deidara laughed, "It's alright, it was kinda cute." His phone rang, 'Master of Puppets' blaring from his pocket. "Ah, it's Danna, I gotta take this, or I'll never hear the end of it. I'll talk to you later, Hiro-chan. Don't forget to text me!"

Hiro nodded as the blonde the left store, fishing his phone from his pocket and answering with, "What!?" As the door swung shut behind him.

She didn't know what to think. Maybe Deidara was only being persistent as a friend, but he had called her 'cute' a few times now. It was hard to tell, so Hiro banished all thought of the blonde from her mind and set to work.