A DIRECT CONTINUATION OF CH_3.4 (063)
"Your friend was startled when he saw me," said Itachi.
Izumi, walking beside Itachi on their way home, looked up at him. She didn't notice Takuma being startled, but Itachi had been more perceptive than her, even though they possessed the same set of eyes. "Of course, he was startled. You sneaked up on him; I'd be surprised as well," she bit on her candied apple.
"No, it was more than that. Fear. He was scared of me."
"You're overthinking it," Izumi rolled her eyes. "Why would he be scared of you? I don't think you two have met, have you?"
Itachi shook his head. "Tell me more about your friend," he asked.
"Hmm?" Izumi tried to think about her quiet classmate. "I don't know what to say. He was quiet. Alone. I don't think I ever saw him talk to anyone in the class except for some small chats here and there. Not a good fighter, but he's smart…. Actually, there was something strange."
Itachi looked interested.
"Before our last year at the academy, he was decent at everything. Nothing special, but at least he didn't suck. However, when we started last year, he became plain terrible no matter what we did. Taijutsu, throwing, leaf concentration exercise, academy three, tactical exercise— it was like he turned into a first-year toddler who couldn't do anything. I don't know if he was pretending to be terrible because he returned to being pretty decent by the end of the year."
"Any reason he would pretend?"
Izumi recalled how she and her friends used to chat about Takuma's sudden lack of skill. Back then, they had mused if it was a ploy for attention. They weren't sure how it was supposed to work because Takuma's reputation only plummeted, and the only attention he got was from Hiji and his posse. On top of that, Kibe was pissed at Takuma for his acting. Even if attention was the motive, Takuma should've dropped the act, but he didn't. If it was an act, he kept it till the very end.
"I couldn't tell ya," Izumi said— she had no idea.
"Is he trying to build a narrative?" said Itachi.
In the years they had known each other, Izumi had somewhat figured out how to Itachi's expression. What she was a mix of fascination and curiosity.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"Except for their family background, the earliest thing on a Leaf shinobi's file is their academy records. If the file is surface level, they'll have graduation test results— if it's detailed, they'll add the transcripts for the entire last year and the teacher's report into the mix," Itachi said in a speculative tone. "I wonder if your friend knows about that and is trying to build an image. An academy student with grades on the floor rapidly improves in a matter of a year. He reaches a level that other students took years to achieve. And it doesn't finish there. He won the Genin Corps' basic training tournament, which puts him atop his batch, except for those like you who are being trained by jonin. That'll be permanently put on his record, furthering the narrative.
"Now, it's not making graduation— it's one of the best in your batch in one year. That's a pretty good story right there," Itachi seemed satisfied with his conjecture.
"Best in the batch that went to the Genin Corp," Izumi hummed. "Wouldn't being part of a jonin team be a better… narrative?"
"It'd be better," Itachi nodded. "Perhaps his plans didn't go according to plan— they rarely do."
Izumi snapped her fingers as she said, "Now that you say that, Takuma wasn't there on the day when we met our jonin. He was the only one not there."
"That sounds like an unexpected failure," said Itachi.
Izumi had to say the picture that Itachi had put forth was compelling, but she felt he was reaching for things here. If it was true, then Takuma was an excellent liar because she didn't think that he was pretending— at least not for an entire year.
"But none of that explains why you think he was scared of you," she said.
"Perhaps it was because of the clan?" Itachi's eyes flashed for a moment.
"Umm, I don't think so," Izumi could see what Itachi was thinking. The Uchiha clan didn't have the greatest reputation in the clan. From the Leaf Military Police Force to the Nine-Tail attack all those years ago had lowered the respect that the clan once held in the eyes of the village populace. They had grown stronger every year, but with strength came enmity. And, the Uchiha clan had never lacked enmity.
She continued, "I didn't get the sense he was prejudiced against us from when we talked. However, he does hold our skill in high regard— at least he did mine— and while Takuma tried to hide it, he clearly wanted to know how I trained. He was… inoffensive in his approach."
"Many hold our clan's powers in high regard," said Itachi.
"That they do," Izumi sighed.
The clan elders had often said— they still did— that people outside the clan would try to get closer to get something from them, to use their position as the Uchiha. Izumi had ignored their words while she was in the academy; the people she was close to were her friends— but she had only been out of the academy for less than a year, and she already understood what the elders were talking about.
People with their duplicitous smiles and honeyed words came from the woodwork. She realized how much of a glasshouse/greenhouse the academy had been, and the wild gardens she walked through now didn't have the creature comforts the safe walls once provided her.
"How's little Sasuke?" Izumi pushed those thoughts aside and turned the subject.
"He doesn't like to be called little now that he's in the academy," a soft smile tugged on Itachi's lips.
Izumi giggled. "I can hear him pouting as he complains about being called little. Makes me want to tease him about it."
"You're going to do it the next time you see him, aren't you?" Itachi sighed.
Izumi grinned wildly.
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