Chapter 3

"Where do you think you're going?"

Yuri stopped in her tracks, her body going rigid as she laughed awkwardly. She could hear her heart pounding in her ears as she slowly turned, seeing her mother standing there. Hands on her hips, green eyes narrowed. She swallowed, "H-Hi, mom..." she said, giving a little nervous wave.

Sayuri frowned at her daughter. "You're nervous. Why?" Yuri wasn't nervous around the restaurant. At least not in the employee only sections. They were a small safe haven for her and she could come down quite often to help with minor work. Polishing glasses or rolling silverware as she talked on and off with the staff.

The girl blinked. She knew full well she couldn't tell her mother she was planning on going to the Chunin Exam Finals. They weren't even aware she was seeing Lee nearly every day. The thought of what would happen if her mother found out was almost debilitating. That's why Yuri had specifically chosen this moment to try and sneak out. Her mother had been working on the food order for the week and had been in the cooler counting product. It was the perfect time to sneak away. Just let Akito know as she usually did, and avoid her mother. As luck would have it, her mother had exited the cooler just as she was passing by.

She straightened, holding her notebook up in front of her face just above her nose, "I just wanted to draw a little today. I won't be gone long."

Her mother crossed her arms, not convinced. "You know what day it is. It's the finals for the Chunin Exams! I know you want to go out and draw but for today I think you should stay here."

Yuri's gaze hit the floor, studying her mothers feet. But, she had promised Lee she would. She needed to go. She wanted to be there for her friend. When Yuri opened her mouth to try and protest there was another voice that rang out down the hall.

"Madam!" Both of them turned to see Akito poking his head around the corner, dark eyes squinted in a smile. "One of the cooks accidentally added too much pepper into the soup. I have a customer waiting for it."

The older woman blinked in a very similar manner to her daughter and sighed. "Junko." That girl needed to learn to keep her nose out of things. Sayuri knew she meant well, but at this rate all Junko was going to be doing was dishes. She swiftly turned and marched down the fall past Akito and into the bustling kitchen. She was on a mission to correct a mistake. She wouldn't have her quality falling on her watch!

Akito watched her go and once she was gone he looked back at Yuri and smiled, "Go on. Stay on the path and it'll be fine. I'll take the blame if something happens." He knew how much her free time meant to her and he didn't want to keep her from it. Much like her parents, he didn't want to put her into danger eithe, but he wanted Yuri to get out and hopefully make some friends. Or, at least clear her head. Besides, they were well within the village, the odds of anything happening were slim.

Yuri's eyes shined with appreciation and she nodded, "Thank you, Akito!" Quickly, before anyone else could stop her she ran out the door and down the road toward the hospital. She had to make it in time! If she didn't get there soon they might leave without her!

She huffed, feeling the muscles in her legs burn and her chest grow tight only after a few blocks. Her hand rested on a street post and she turned back to look down the road to the restaurant. Could she really only run that far? A shaking hand gripped at her chest tightly as she tried to catch her breath. Several coughs shook her shoulders in an attempt to open her airways. She just needed to get far enough away so that her mother couldn't come after her easily. As long as she made it back home before dark, everything would be fine.

She continued on, reaching the hospital and greeting the nurses as she usually did. Yuri continued down the hall, her heart fluttering in excitement. She finally finished her project and she couldn't wait to show Lee. He was going to love it… right?

Her hand tightened on the notebook in her hands and she bit at her bottom lip. What if he didn't like it? What if he thought it was too weird? She shook her head. No! Lee wouldn't think she's strange. He hadn't this far so why would he start now?

Just as she came upon his room, she reached for the handle and cracked the door open. She stopped when she heard a nurse's voice speaking loudly.

Lee watched as the nurse lifted the cast they had just removed, allowing the other nurse to begin wrapping bandages around his leg and arm. Even he had to wince at the sight. The skin looked angry and red, irritated. It was obvious they had been crushed, jagged scars would forever remind him of his encounter. He didn't think any amount of treatment would free him of that.

"There we are!" The older nurse chirped, tossing the casts on a nearby table. "We can say goodbye to those!"

His saucer shaped eyes looked over at the discarded cast. The colorful doodles sticking out to him and he couldn't help but think of Yuri. "Actually, would it be possible to keep those?"

Both nurses looked at one another as they got him ready. The older of the two who had discarded the casts gave the boy a quizzical look, "I suppose that would be alright. But, why do you want to keep them?"

"Yuri worked hard on those drawings." He said simply, remembering how she would sometimes doodle on them while he slept. On one occasion even falling asleep herself. She tried to cheer him up and it felt wrong to let her work be tossed in the trash. He looked up and noticed a familiar shadow at the door, a smile crossing his face. "Yuri!" He called out.

On the other side of the door, Yuri jumped slightly. Her heart was beating erratically. He wanted to keep her drawings, even though the ones she put on his casts were so crude… It was a gesture that made her want to smile like an idiot but she had been spotted before she let the expression show.

Opening the door wider to allow herself in, she smiled. Lee was just finishing up getting his robe on and one of the two nurses was fixing a metal brace to his leg. "Hi, Lee," She chirped happily, a faint blush dusting her cheeks as she made her way over.

"Ah!" The older nurse said, waving the girl over, "Miss Yuri, and how are you feeling today?" She had been around the hospital for several years, so was well enough acquainted with Yuri's ailments. Seeing the redness in her face, she held a hand up to Yuri's forehead to inspect her.

"I-I'm fine!" Yuri waved the hand away and tried to smile reassuringly.

With a loud click, the younger nurse snapped the metal brace in place. "Lee tells us you'll be going with him and Guy up to the finals." She cast a glance over at the young girl, "Does your mother know?"

Yuri's face took on a deeper shade of red and she held up her hands, waving them and shaking her head furiously, "No, no, no, no, she can't find out!" If her mother found out that she had lied… it would be the end of her freedom! She felt bad enough about betraying their trust already. Going to the hospital was one thing but this was on a whole other level.

The older nurse grabbed Lee's chart and made a few notes, "Ah, I see. So, keeping this outing under wraps as well. If you were going with anyone else I might actually worry, but with Guy you'll be just fine."

Before Yuri or Lee could respond, their attention was grasped by loud and thunderous footsteps making their way down the hallway toward the room. Sure enough, the aforementioned Jonin burst through the door, a large grin ever present upon his face. "I see my two youthful companions are all ready to head out!"

"Not just yet, Guy." The older of the two said, "We have to give Lee his medication. After that, then you should be good to go. And remember, the casts just came off. So no training or strenuous activity. We only just started to see some improvement, let's not ruin everything we've worked for!"

Guy laughed, his hand clasping her shoulder, "Oh, no need to worry about a thing! We're only going to be offering our support to our fellow Shinobi."

She eyed him wearily and pointed a finger up to the Jonin's nose, "You best be sure that's all you do."

Yuri stood off to the side, hands gripping her notebook tightly as her and Guy watched Lee attempt to stand with their help. He kept a straight face, the only indication of discomfort was a small crease between his brows. As she watched, she could feel herself chew on her lip as the nerves started to get to her. What if Lee wasn't well enough to go? What if going on this outing was only going to make him worse? She felt much better about everything once they gave him a crutch to support his weakened side. And just like that, the three of them were off to the finals.

Along the way they had to stop once or twice for Lee to catch his breath. Each time, Guy would say encouraging words and Yuri could only fidget in place unsure of what to do with herself. She was always used to her being the one having to be looked after. She was the one who needed the helping hand. When the roles were reversed she didn't know what to do with herself. Yuri knew what she could do but by the time she was even remotely close to making a decision Lee was ready to go again.

Yuri noticed that the streets were a lot calmer than usual, almost no people out and about. Guy said it was because of the tournament and Yuri had to agree with him. If she remembered properly, last year was about the same.

When they came up to the stadium entrance there were two Shinobi guarding the door. "Welcome! Glad you both could make it!" The first one said with a smile.

"Yeah, what a surprise! Go right on in!" The second one said,

Yuri blinked when Lee seemed to be renewed with energy. He raised his uninjured hand in a salute, "Roger!"

Guy followed that energy and struck a pose, "Hm, well you two, ready to go?"

Lee nodded, "Yes, sir!"

Yuri nodded as well, only far less enthusiastically. She was sure if it were quieter they would all be able to hear her heart trying to break out of her chest. She'd never in her life done something like this before. While she didn't think her parents would do anything crazy… she feared what they would do if they ever found out she betrayed their trust to this extent.

The first shinobi informed them, "You missed most of the first round. The only match left is between Sasuke Uchiha and that Gaara kid."

Lee gasped upon hearing this news, "But, what happened with Naruto and Neji!?"

"Well, that was the most amazing thing. The Hyuga kid actually got beat!"

The stunned silence that followed this news only lasted a few moments. Yuri could see the shock on both of their faces and she herself was a little surprised. She had heard that Neji was very powerful for his age. For him to be taken out in the first round sure was something. Yuri imagined it was even more surprising for Lee and Guy. They both knew Neji and must know first hand how powerful he was. Judging by the looks on their faces, they were genuinely surprised to hear Naruto beat him.

Lee couldn't believe it. Naruto did it. He actually defeated Neji? Neji Hyuga. The shock he felt was quickly overshadowed by a feeling of pride, and he grinned. "That is something." He raised his head, looking into the sky with a determined gaze. Even though he could not defeat Neji, Naruto had. There was no need to be sour over another person's victory. Naruto certainly had his own reasons for wanting to defeat Neji and Lee was genuinely happy that he had.

Yuri held the notebook to her chest and couldn't help but smile at the look on Lee's face. He had gone on about wanting to defeat Neji himself one day. The way he spoke about it she knew it meant a lot to him. A lot of other people she could think of would have been angy someone else beat them to their goal, but not Lee. He seemed happy about Naruto's accomplishment.

That made her wonder, just how strong was Naruto? What was Naruto like? She had been too uneasy to ever ask. The way other villagers talked about him, he must have been a terror. There were a lot of thoughts and images that came to mind when she thought of Naruto Uzumaki, but how much of it was true? After all, if Lee liked Naruto… could he really be that bad?

After some more back and forth between Guy and the other Shinobi, they were on their way. Slowly making their way up stairs and through hallways until they were finally in the stands. Guy directed them and allowed them to take the lead once they had found the right spot.

Lee made his way toward the familiar figures, looking past them to the arena. "So, Sasuke made it after all." The Shinobi they ran into had said he was very close to being disqualified. He was happy to see that was not the case!

Three heads turned toward them. Yuri saw the two sitting in the stands. A girl and boy about her age. The girl had blond hair pulled up into a bun and bright blue eyes. The boy who sat next to her was heavier and had brown hair. When he looked back at them, he was still shoveling food into his mouth. She instantly knew he had to be from the Akimichi Clan. Several members had stopped into the restaurant before. Several of them were regulars in fact.

The third head to turn belonged to a woman who stood in the aisle. Her hair was as black as a raven, falling past her waist and tied over her shoulder. Her skin was pale like freshly fallen snow. The contrast was stunning and the icy blue eyes warmed upon seeing them. The blue of her top made a good contrast as well. Two swords tied to her side did not go unnoticed, and neither did the headband on her forehead. Yuri knew she hadn't seen this woman before.

"Lee!" The blond girl shouted happily. She paused, eyes studying Yuri making the girl fidget in place. "Hey, Lee, who's your friend?"

Yuri tried to open her mouth to say something but came up short. Instead, the raven haired woman leaned down slightly and smiled, "You must be Yuri. I've heard a lot about you from Guy. I'm Keiko. I do hope you've been treating Lee well."

Yuri stood straighter. So she knew Guy, just how much had Guy told her? Was it good? Was she being too clingy? She only wanted to treat Lee like any friend should! "I try to..." She could feel her fingers fidget within her oversized sleeves and she avoided eye contact.

Beside her, Lee smiled, "Do not be so hard on yourself, Yuri. I am glad to have you here." In truth, he had been afraid she would not be able to join them. For some reason, she seemed much more anxious compared to usual and he wasn't sure why. He only wanted her to feel comfortable.

A bashful smile made its way onto her face and she adjusted her glasses. Keiko took a step back and allowed the two of them to move forward. It would seem Keiko had something to discuss with Guy but Yuri didn't pay attention to that. Instead, the blond from before got out of her seat and stood, she was only slightly taller than her.

"So, your name is Yuri, right? You must be the girl I heard about from Sakura. I'm Ino." Ino smiled in greeting, her eyes quickly looking over Yuri from head to toe. Sakura had told Ino that someone else had been visiting Lee, but she had yet to see them. In the flower shop, Ino got to know many different kinds of people and at first glance she could instantly tell what kind of person Yuri was. Shy, timid, definitely didn't get out much… In fact, Yuri kind of reminded her of Sakura when they were little.

Yuri forced a smile in return, "Nice to meet you, Ino."

The girl's nervous twitch didn't go unnoticed by the young Yamanaka. She made the connection pretty quickly that Yuri wasn't a Shinobi, or even pre-Genin. All Ninja moved with a certain grace that was only gained from training or battle. Even the way they held themselves. To the average person it wouldn't be noticable, but to someone who was taught from a young age to look for deeper meanings it was like a flashing light in a dark room. "I take it you don't get out much do you?"

"Um, not to do things like this, no…" Yuri laughed a little. Her eyes darted around the stadium. She didn't think she had ever seen so many people in one place before… Down in the arena she could see two people. One was taller and wore the usual outfit for a Shinobi, while the other was smaller and was clad in dark apparel. That must be Sasuke.

Ino grinned, clapping her hands and tilting her head to the side, "I'll happily fill you in! Since you guys got here late. So in the first round-"

And so, Ino rambled on about the first few matches. For someone like Yuri who had never seen any flashy ninjutsu be performed it was hard to imagine some of the feats Ino described. How sad was it that she had lived in a ninja village her whole life but the ways of ninja were completely alien to her. She only really knew tidbits from things she overheard or read about. Like the ranks, how missions worked to better the village, and some knowledge of basic jutsu even if she couldn't perform them. The intricacies of battle were completely alien to her.

Lee stood at Yuri's side, listening to Ino rambling on in detail about how Naruto had defeated Neji. She was confident Sasuke was going to clear the floor with Gaara as well. Yuri paid attention enough to Ino to follow along but cast a glance toward Lee. Green eyes easily picking up on the shaking in his shoulders and the pained expression upon his face.

A bandaged hand gripped the crutch tightly, the stinging sensation of reopening wounds barely registering in his mind. Naruto… and now Sasuke. Everyone was so sure that Sasuke would be able to do what he could not. He had trained for so long. Days and nights. Training until he could not move. Until he got sick! Where had it all gotten him? ...he was broken.

He was useless.

A tug on his sleeve made him jump and he looked over. Ino's words didn't register to him when he met a hesitant pair of green eyes.

Yuri smiled, doing her best to be reassuring. She could tell Ino's constant chatter was bothering Lee and she wasn't sure how else to help. She wanted to help him, and if this was all she could do then so be it.

Lee blinked. What was he thinking? He couldn't despair so easily! After all, Yuri believed in him, and so did Guy Sensei! If they believed in him then the least he could do is believe in himself. As a show of thanks Lee grasped her hand in his and smiled. His pearly white teeth catching the sun at just the right angle.

Yuri jumped noticeably at the sudden move. Her eyes grew almost as wide as Lee's and her face flushed. She hadn't expected him to grab her hand like that! She quickly turned away from him and looked straight ahead of her, all too aware of Lee's hand holding hers. It was rough and calloused as well as slightly larger than her own.

"Hey, are you listening to me?" Ino asked suddenly, noticing how unfocused Yuri was being.

"Oh! Ah, yeah, I am!" Yuri quickly replied, adjusting her glasses as an excuse to hide her face. Her hand quickly pulled out of Lee's grasp.

Ino looked between the two wearily and shrugged after a moment before turning around and shoving Choji down the seats until he was on the inside. This allowed Ino to be in the middle while Yuri sat on the outside next to Lee.

While seating was being figured out, Lee rubbed his fingers together, remarking how different her hand had felt. It was soft. Almost like silk compared to his own. It had never occurred to him that hands could feel so different, but it made sense after some thought. Yuri wielded a pencil. She had never known the rigorous training that came with being a ninja.

When the fight began between Sasuke and Gaara, Yuri was transfixed by the quick movements. Her untrained eyes became strained as they attempted to keep up with the fight. It wasn't until Sasuke seemed to blink out of existence and the Sand Genin went flying that the crowd went as quiet as she had. It became hopeless for her to follow along but could see the sand flying, desperately trying to protect the redhead.

Ino and Choji were just as shocked as everyone else. The blond forced herself to blink as she recognized the movements. "He's fighting just like Lee..."

Yuri's head snapped to the side upon hearing this. Lee could move like that? It was a little hard for her to imagine. She had only known an injured Lee. Thinking of him moving so fast and furiously seemed alien. She supposed that it was only fitting for a person as driven as Lee to be powerful. Yuri turned her gaze back to the fight, only able to catch glimpses of raven hair as Sasuke moved.

There was a small upward pull on her lips, "Lee fights like that?" Her grip tightened on the notebook in her lap and her grin broke into a smile, "I'll have to see it for myself when you're better, Lee."

Both Ino and Choji blinked, their focus taken off of the fight and now settled on Yuri. The young Yamanaka's eyes ripped away from Yuri and glanced up toward Lee. The faintest bit of guilt etched into his expression and she made the connection.

Yuri didn't know.

Choji shoved his hand back into his back of chips, "What are you talking about? Lee's-" A hand clamped over his mouth and he blinked idiotically at Ino. What was that for?

While Ino wasn't close with Lee she knew there had to be a reason for him to keep the severity of his injuries a secret. She only really knew him because of Sakura but Lee was like an open book. Ino couldn't think of a reason why Lee was keeping this a secret but wanted to honor it. Instead, she chose her words very carefully, "Yuri, Gaara's the one who beat Lee."

Green eyes locked onto the redhead in the arena. That boy… who was no older than her… did that? Wide eyes slowly turned, looking at Lee's bandaged leg. He was only able to stand thanks to the metal brace and crutch helping to support his weight. It was Gaara who had injured Lee like this? She knew there were ninja out there who were brutal. She knew people were capable of great violence. But, why would someone want to cause so much harm to another person? It was something she just couldn't wrap her mind around.

"Kakashi Sensei!"

All heads turned. Three people stood at the back of the aisle, panting heavily. There was a boy with dark spiky hair that was tied back who quickly leaned against the railing as he tried to catch his breath. The girl among them stuck out, bright pink hair and vibrant eyes that were brimming with unrestrained concern bordering on panic. Lastly, there was another boy clad in orange. They looked as though they had just seen a ghost or something.

Upon turning, she noticed the other adult that had joined. He was nearly as tall as Guy and looked like a lot of other Shinobi she had seen before, only his face was covered and his silvery hair was hard to miss.

"Naruto, Sakura!" Lee chirped cheerfully. It was so good to see them! He couldn't imagine why they were so out of breath but it didn't matter. Seeing Sakura was more than a treat and he was happy they had not missed her match. He desperately wanted to see how much she had improved. Nothing would give him joy like watching her fight!

She gasped, quickly turning her head away from them and back to the arena floor. That was Naruto? The Naruto she had heard about? The same Naruto her parents warned her to stay away from? From the way everyone in her life had spoken about him, she had never thought he would look so… normal. He didn't look like a monster or anything of the sort.

"Kakashi Sensei, we have to stop this! If we don't, Gaara will kill him!"

Her eyes widened yet again. Would she see someone die here? Gaara had put Lee through so much and now it seemed he would have a chance to do the same thing to Sasuke. The conversation around her faded away and she closed her eyes.

She shouldn't have come. She should have stayed home. Her heart raced frantically. Her stomach performed graceless backflips as her fingers frantically fidgeted against her notebook in a desperate attempt to ground herself. She didn't want to see anyone die or get hurt. She didn't want to see first hand what could happen when two people fought. She didn't want the stories she had heard in passing to feel real. The more she thought about it, the tighter her chest began to feel.

Yuri didn't know whether or not to be thankful for her parents keeping her out of this life or not.


She jumped at piercing scream. The sheer terror resonated with her. Green eyes snapped open just in time to see Sasuke jump away from Gaara's Shield of Sand and a grotesque arm following him.

A scream nearly ripped itself out of her throat, both her hands clamping over her mouth to suppress it. What was that? It wasn't human. It wasn't real. It couldn't be real! There was just no way!

Horrified tears stung her vision, just what had she gotten herself into!?

As Yuri was building up to the panic attack of the year, suddenly it all fell away. All the fear and panic she had been feeling was washed away with an eerie sense of calm. She fought to keep her head up straight, jerking up several times before losing the battle. Her vision grew dark and the forceful hand of sleep wrapped around her mind.

Hello again everyone! Hope you're doing well.

A few things to go over to make this chapter make a little more sense. Remember this story takes place in the same world as my other story, Where Loyalties Lie. This chapter mirrors events that happen in Chapter 33 of that story, but here's what you gotta know...

1) In this world, Sakura beat Ino and made it into the Finals. Hence why she was with Shikamaru and Naruto and not sitting in the stands. Ino was sour for a while after being beat, but eventually came around and has a newfound respect for Sakura.

2) Keiko is the OC of Where Loyalties Lie and won't be heavily featured in this story. I actually think this is the only time she'll show up...

After this chapter, the overlap between the two stories should be almost none other than maybe some off handed remarks by characters. I have a good idea of what I want from this story and it's going to be a lot softer compared to WLL. THANK YOU for all the wonderful Reviews! So happy to see this story get some recognition! Next chapter is more Lee focused, as I think by now we've got a fairly good idea of Yuri's character. Not to mention, more fluff which is always nice to see. :)

Don't forget to Favorite, Follow, and Review!

Posted - 10/16/2021