Growing Up With Dreams

Figuring It Out

Growing Up With Dreams

Chapter Twelve – Figuring It Out

"Ok, but I don't think it was any coincidence that he was hired the next day! He's the only one in the area with that kind of expertise!" Iruka insisted as he opened his front door and let Itachi in first.

"I agree, but we also have to realize that to the CIB this is all just circumstantial evidence and it won't be accepted as anything more than heresy," Itachi countered, slipping his shoes off and walking into Iruka's humble home.

"But I think if we-"

"Iruka! You're home! I wanted to show-" Naruto had come running down the hall, a wild look of excitement on his 16 year old face till he saw Iruka had brought home a guest. "Oh! I'm sorry! I'm Uzumaki Naruto!" the blonde bowed politely.

Itachi chuckled lightly and smiled, "I know… I don't suppose you remember me at all?"

Confused, Naruto looked up and examined Itachi's face. The man did look familiar but Naruto couldn't quite place it. It played with his mind like some distant childhood memory he felt he should remember. Seeing the frustrated look on the blondes tanned face, Itachi held out his hand, "Uchiha Itachi… Sasuke's older brother."

"Oh!" the light bulb pinged over Naruto's head, his blue eyes wide as he shook Itachi's hand vigorously. "I remember you! You always played with us outside!"

"That's right," the Uchiha grinned. "Do you remember how I always used to play the knight in shining armour? And Sasuke was always the creative mythical creature that would attack you?" the man teased.

Naruto did remember. The teenager blushed and looked away, "Yeah… I remember… you used to always rescue me and capture your brother… then when Sasuke begged to be the good guy you always said no… and when I was the bad guy, you always made the game out so that the bad guy and the good guy fell in love…" he remembered all too well. Embarrassing as it was.

Itachi chuckled agreeably and ruffled Naruto's messy blonde hair. "That's right. I had quite the crush on you!"

The teenager flushed darker and pushed Itachi playfully, "What are you talking about, weirdo? I'm a boy!"

"So?" Itachi shrugged, "You were really cute, still are, and always quick to please people… It sucks that you and Sasuke fell apart though. I missed having you around."

"What was it you wanted to tell me, Naruto?" Iruka asked, a smile on his face as he watched the interaction between the two. It was kind of nice to know a little more about Naruto before his parents' passed away.

"Oh… uhm… I forgot," Naruto murmured, still feeling incredibly embarrassed and caught off guard. Whatever cool thing Naruto had thought he had to share with Iruka was now cast aside; clearly not as important as meeting an old friend.

Iruka laughed and shooed the boy away, "Go finish your homework and wash up for dinner."

Naruto turned on his heel and ran back down the hallway, muttering a hasty 'later' to Itachi. How strange for the teenager. This had just been a bit of a bizarre year for him all around. A good bizarre though. He wasn't against anything that had happened to him or anything he had learned. It just felt like the older he was, the more complicated things got. And since figuring out Gaara had a bit of a crush on him, Naruto had been coming to terms with the fact that he kinda liked Gaara back. He still wasn't all that confident about it and there were still a lot of questions to answer but the basics were there.

And now all of a sudden Itachi shows up again after a decade… Naruto had quite forgotten about his best friends' older brother. He was always so much fun, always so protective and caring, like the older brother Naruto wished he had had. And now that Naruto was accepting the fact that he might like boys as much as he liked girls, he was understanding and seeing their old childhood relationship in such a different light.

In fact, Naruto couldn't help but notice just how attractive the older male was. He had a grace, a confident power and a flirty attitude that captured Naruto's interest. Not to mention he was just a good looking guy… and if Naruto remembered correctly, Itachi wasn't that much older than he was… Maybe he was 4 years older? Maybe 5? That would make the man 21 years old. Naruto distantly wondered what it would be like to be with a man like Itachi as he distractedly worked on his homework.

Winter break came quickly. The island of Yumenoshima was blanketed in snow. It was quite beautiful actually. The Pacific Ocean that surrounded them was calm and mostly frozen, especially around their harbours down south in Shi Yume where the ferry was and west in Kaigen No Yume where the docks were.

And nestled inside, cozy and warm on this cold December day were two teenagers arguing over what baseball team was the best in the League. "The New York Yankees are the best team! They have the most championships!" Naruto maintained, lying on his stomach in front of the TV in the living room, sipping some hot chocolate.

"They have the most wins, I agree, but I still like the Toronto Blue Jays. They are promising!" Gaara argued, sitting upright with his legs crossed, blanket around his shoulders and sipping his own cup of hot chocolate.

They were watching the Major League Baseball standings on TV at that moment and trying to insist their team was better. They were home alone that day, at Naruto's house, as Iruka was out again with Itachi and Kankuro was being difficult to deal with at Gaara's place.

"Promising! They haven't been 'promising' since they won two series back to back way back in 1993!" Naruto scoffed. "Even the Cleveland Indians are more 'promising'!"

"Hey! That's low; you and I both know the Cleveland Indians are half ass-ing their plays! At least my second favourite team is the Boston Red Sox!" Gaara pouted. "I still like Toronto. They impress me because they are the only Canadian team that's lasted and can hold it's own against the American League!"

"Fair enough!" Naruto laughed and rolled onto his back, stretching his arms up and arching his back, "Wanna watch a movie or something?" At the red-heads nod, Naruto got up and moved over to the movie cabinet.

Though the red-head had been there many times before, there were still things he had yet to see or pay attention to. So as Naruto aimlessly shuffled around the cabinet looking for a good movie to pop in, he found his sea foam green eyes wandering the pictures and various other knick knacks around the living room. There were many pictures of Naruto growing up; as a toddler at his birthday, his hands delightfully coated in cake and icing. As a pre-teen first joining the baseball team. A cute one of him as a teen all dressed up in work attire looking like a fancy butler with a humble blush across his tanned cheeks. There were quite a few of Iruka and Naruto together too and a few of Naruto's full baseball teams or other people Gaara didn't recognise but all made him smile.

It looked like Naruto had a good life growing up despite its rough early start. He wished his life had been that fun. One picture in particular though caught his attention. He stood and moved to the small framed photo and picked it up to look at it more closely. It was of the Sanno Festival, a few years ago. Naruto was about 13 dressed in a formal kimono with a sheepish grin on his whiskered cheeks and eyes closed. His arm was linked with a very shy and embarrassed looking Hyuuga Hinata dressed in a cute yukata, blushing bright red, her pale eyes only for Naruto and the tiniest of smiles on her pale face.

"You two look good together," Gaara teased with a small smirk but with a pang in his heart. They do look good together still. The way they talked so comfortably together, they way they shared and laughed and sat so close. The way Hinata hung off Naruto like he was her life line. The way Naruto always seemed so caring and gentle towards her. They made an adorable couple. It made him jealous.

Naruto glanced up to see what Gaara was referring to and an embarrassed flush immediately spread across his cheeks. "Ah… yeah… I've heard that before," he tried to shrug it off dispassionately but Gaara knew better.

"Aren't you guys dating? You always seem so close," the boy asked, looking at the cute 13-year-olds in the picture again.

"No. We're not. Just friends," Naruto turned his attention back to movie hunting, hoping his friend would drop the subject.

He wasn't that lucky. "I don't see why not. You guys are practically dating already."

Naruto shrugged, "I didn't know she liked me like that till just recently… and I'm not interested in her like that…" He was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. He was consciously aware that the conversation might head to where he wasn't sure he wanted it to just yet. He still had some figuring out to do on his part. So he really wasn't comfortable divulging any information yet until he had sorted it out himself.

"Why not? She seems your type," Gaara questioned further. He didn't know why he felt like pressing the issue so much. He wouldn't dare hope to hear the answers he longed for but for some reason he just wanted to hear Naruto tell him. Flat out. Was he straight and interested in some other girl? Was he already dating someone? Was there even the slightest, most remote possibility that Naruto liked males as much as he liked females?

Feeling cornered the blonde shook his head adamantly and shoved in an action movie before standing with Gaara and avoiding eye contact awkwardly. He looked at the photo in Gaara's hands instead and desperately tried to think of something, anything, to say… His mind panicked, his body froze, and he opened his mouth to mutter something…

In a despairing moment, he glanced up and finally caught Gaara's eyes. "I don't like her like I like you…" he blurted suddenly. Then, realising what he said, he clapped a hand over his mouth, his eyes wide, his flush spreading across his entire face.

Gaara blushed immediately, mouth slightly agape, green eyes wide with disbelief as he stared at his friend. "What?" Did he dare believe what he just thought he heard? His heart had paused for a painful split second before pounding aggressively against his chest.

"I-I… Uhm… I don't… I mean… she's cute… but I've been… I didn't know that…" Naruto turned away and ran his fingers through his messy blonde hair. He didn't know what to say. There was nothing that could cover up what he had said. Gaara had heard him. And even though he was sure Gaara had a crush on him, he didn't want to assume and he didn't want to throw a wrench into the beautiful mechanism that was their friendship.

"A-are… you sure?" Gaara asked tentatively, hopefully.

"No!" Naruto whirled around to face his friend again, still red with shame. "No, I'm not sure but…" admittedly feeling like maybe he should own up to what he'd been thinking, Naruto confessed. "You're all I've been thinking about… but I don't know what to do, you know? I've never… I'm not really… I don't know…" he stammered, stumbled over his words as he desperately tried to explain himself to his close friend. He knew he wasn't making any sense but he wasn't able to put the thoughts in his head into coherent and logical words or sentences. Expressing himself was not his strong suit.

With his heart in his throat, Gaara swallowed tensely and finally looked away from those puppy dog blue eyes. "Well, what exactly have you been thinking about?" he asked, his voice quiet and shy.

"That… I realized you liked me… when you told me you would join the Tigers but only for me. Since then, I've been thinking about a lot. Like, what it meant when you said you were doing this for me. What it meant to have you like me. What it meant for me. I thought that I liked you too but I wasn't sure if it was just friends or…" Naruto paused, feeling strangely relieved despite the stressful situation he was in. It felt good to let it all out finally. "I thought that maybe if I liked you the way you might perhaps like me… what that would imply… maybe it was wrong. Gross. But then I look at the big picture and I think that maybe I don't care! That maybe it doesn't matter as long as you… you know… genuinely care for someone and want to see them happy… you know?" he knew he was babbling but thankfully Gaara was only nodding, stone faced as he listened to Naruto intently.

"Have you come up with a conclusion?" the teenager inquired, shifting his stance nervously. Was this really happening? Was Naruto actually, truly considering being with Gaara? The red-head was just satisfied knowing his crush had been thinking of him. But the possibility of more was just too good… he waited with baited breath as Naruto scrunched up his face in thought cutely.

"I…" Naruto didn't know. This was the part he had been trying to figure out. Did he really like Gaara in that way? Enough to maybe be in a relationship with him? What if he said yes and then later found out that he didn't? Would that hurt Gaara? Would being in this relationship strain their friendship? What if they broke up and they stopped being friends? What would happen if-

"You're over thinking things, Naruto," Gaara smiled softly, affectionately, as he watched a million different emotions and fears race across Naruto's face. "Would you ever want to at least try?"

Naruto's mind screeched to a gut wrenching stop, he took a deep breath and exhaled, closing his sapphire eyes. Feeling calmer, steeling his resolve, he opened his eyes again, and spoke a word he hadn't even considered was an option. "Yes."

"Will you go out with me?" Gaara asked, merely a whisper.


He just wasn't satisfied anymore. There was no more excitement for him, no more thrills, no more fulfilling feelings… nothing. He was a hollow shell of the great King he had believed himself to be. Numb. Cold. Emotionless. A lonely drift in the sheltered harbour of his old life. What had happened?

Where did he go wrong? Sasuke didn't know.

Despite having two people he adored and looked up to and followed without question, he felt like there was still something wrong, something he was missing, overlooking perhaps. Sometimes Sasuke felt like Orochimaru and Deidara were hiding something from him. There was some secret joke or secret story they were sharing but they purposefully kept Sasuke out of the loop for their own amusement.

And on top of the secrets, Sasuke had discovered that there was lying and deceiving going on too. More than just the usual 'lie to the cops' routine. No, there was something more sinister here. He had walked in more than once on frightening scenes on display in Orochimaru's company. Terrifying, mind-numbing, inconceivable things going on there that Sasuke never would have suspected or even thought about in his wildest nightmares.

Orochimaru lied about it all. A new respect, and a new fear, had born from that. Orochimaru was a horrible, terrifying and cruel Puppet Master. Constantly pulling strings on some unseen chessboard they were all on. So what did that make Sasuke? A knight? A rook? Or a pawn? Maybe he wasn't even a player at all and he was just there for Orochimaru's entertainment.

This wasn't right to the Uchiha. The more he thought about it, the more confused he became. The 16 year old passively considered his last couple years and sighed, feeling depressed. He had lost more friends than he had gained. He fucked more girls than he had cared to remember. He had skipped so much school he wondered if they even considered him a student still. He had consumed so many drugs he wasn't sure he could even rely on his memories; or the few he had left.

Was this right? This life? This path Sasuke had chosen? For the first time he questioned just what in the hell he was doing. Didn't he used to have goals? Dreams? Hopes? He didn't know. Did he? Vaguely he could recall a time when, curled in his big brothers lap, he had announced he wanted to be a Police Officer like Mommy and Daddy. To which he had received a loving and approving pat on the head. 'You'd make a great Police Officer, Otouto' Itachi had said.

"Fuck," he muttered into the darkness, draping a lazy arm over his onyx eyes. Why did thinking of that suddenly make him feel homesick? What was this feeling inside him telling him he did something terrible? Telling him he lost something important?

Sasuke had kinda of always hoped to get started on a basketball scholarship. He had hoped that he was good enough to impress scouts and be recruited into a University team. There had also been a part of him, once, that had wanted to be a carpenter. He was good with his hands and loved the challenge of building and complex math problems. A long time ago.

What happened to all that? What happened to all his talents and assets and the confident attitude he used to have? Where did it all go wrong? Where did he go wrong?

Ugh. Being this depressed didn't suit him. He didn't like all this deep down soul searching. It was stupid anyways. Feeling some semblance of self-loathing and an unwillingness to face himself in the dark aloneness of his room, he picked up his cell phone and texted Sakura. He needed to relieve some stress. After her hasty reply, he dragged his sorry ass out of the house, hands in pockets, and made his way to his meet up spot with Sakura.

It wasn't anything special. It was just a secluded clearing in a section of forest in a park that no one visited. It was by some old broken down electricity and pump station with a broken door handle so anyone could go in if they bothered to try.

It was fairly close to his house so Sasuke took his time knowing Sakura would take some time to get there. Reluctantly his mind drifted back to his thoughts before. When did his life really start going wrong? Was there a specific point he could possibly recall that had spurred this change in his life? This magnet that pulled him continuously down this wrong path?

Aside from the obvious? Sasuke wasn't sure. He leaned against the outside of the pump station, arms crossed over his chest, eyes on the ground. His black hair was a bit of a mess; he hadn't really looked after it in a couple of days due to the high he had been keeping himself on. In fact, Sasuke was pretty damn sure that if he were to look in the mirror right now, he wouldn't be able to recognise himself. Last he had seen, he had dark bags under his half-lidded, bloodshot eyes, pale, gaunt skin tight against his bones from lack of eating regularly, eyes sunken in… he probably looked like a ghost. A phantom. An apparition or manifestation of some previous life that ceased to exist and was mere moments away from being extinguished completely.

What the hell was he doing with himself? How was the Uchiha still managing to convince himself that everything he was doing was justified and right?

"Sasuke?" a quiet, lilting voice called to him. He grunted in response and waited for the pink haired girl to show herself. She walked out of the forest with an eager and playful smile on her pink lips. "Hey," she purred sexily, strutting her way towards him.

He didn't want to waste his time with idle formalities. He opened the station door and roughly shoved her in. "Oh, Sasuke! I love it when you play rough," the teenager giggled and licked her lips suggestively as she opened her shirt for him and leaned on a ledge against a wall and spread her bare legs seductively. "How do you want me?" her voice was low and husky.

Feeling his erection already straining against his jeans, he roughly turned her around and pushed her over so she was bent double, displaying her already naked and moist arousal. Not waiting any longer, he opened his jeans, shoved down his underwear, and buried himself inside her with an animalistic groan. Sakura gasped and moaned, holding onto the ledge for support as he pounded into her relentlessly.

The pleasure was only a temporary fix, he knew that, but still it was better than lying at home bored out of his skull and questioning himself. He hated questioning himself. It was a bit of weakness, a bit of his former, naïve, ignorant self that longed for a life long past. A tiny, logical and loathsome part of him nudged at him and told him it didn't have to be like this. Life wasn't all about drugs, money and sex. Look at Naruto. He was so happy, healthy, vibrant and accomplishing his goals and he didn't do anything Sasuke did at all. If anything, he was Sasuke's complete opposite. So sunny, youthful, bright, friendly and loved. Then there was Sasuke… dark, sullen, scary, distant, drop-out and going nowhere.

He dimly registered Sakura calling his name, screaming profanities and various other nonsense while he humped her brains out. He could feel her wet heat around him, tight, squeezing, milking him desperately for more. He gave it gladly. He picked up his pace, his fingers gripping her hips tightly and pulling her back to forcefully impale her on his length. He was panting, sweating, and gritting his teeth, concentrating as he took his pleasure selfishly.

He felt her climax first with squeals of delight and ecstasy. He followed soon after her, pulling out quickly so he didn't come inside her; he didn't want her pregnant after all. Knowing the drill, the little whore dropped to her knees, out of breath and flushed and took his prick into her mouth and pumped his shaft a few times until he released. A groan ripped from his throat and he leaned his head back as she swallowed every last drop greedily.

All the tension and stress dropped from his shoulders as he enjoyed this brief release. That was just what he needed… for now… would it be enough to sate him for a while? Or would he come looking again and again? Would it ever be enough? Sakura finished cleaning him off with a sickening smack of her lips, teasing his balls as she stood and wiggled her loose, bare breasts for him. "Wanna have another go?" she cooed, fondling him gently, pulling, stroking and squeezing his sack in all the ways she knew he liked.

His hands cupped her breasts and pinched her hardened nipples, earning him an appreciative moan and her hands in his black hair. She pulled his face towards her waiting breasts and he eagerly helped himself to her goods.

Life was never too bad if he had this at his fingertips whenever he pleased… life wasn't about being a goody-two-shoes or kissing ass… it was about power… control… lust… all these things were at Sasuke's disposal. So who was to say that he was suffering and despairing in a downward spiral and Naruto was living the highlife? Sasuke thought it was the other way around as he sat on the ground, his prick already hardening, and pulled the horny girl on top of him. Sasuke thought he had it pretty damn good.

With the start of baseball season, came also the start of spring. March was a busy month for most people but it seemed even more so for the silver haired, green eyed girl. Not only had she been forced to partake in the Hina Matsuri (Doll or Girl Festival) and was prayed for by her family while she was dressed in the girliest clothes imaginable, she also had to reciprocate favours to those who had given her chocolates and cakes on Valentine's Day last month. Leading a double life was only getting harder for Izumi Ryder.

She had thought it would only get easier the longer she did it but it seemed like despite all her experience and knowledge, it just got harder ad harder and more inconvenient. First it was her boobs sprouting which, thankfully, had stopped growing for now. Then she had to change her voice to sound like the other boys going through puberty. She still had a girly voice when she hit puberty so she had to 'man it up'. Then on top of all that she ended getting her period of all things! Right before an important baseball game! The cramps had been unbearable and the clean up had been disgusting.

What creature in the world could bleed that much blood for 6 days and not die? It wasn't right.

Becoming a pubescent teenaged girl was taking its toll. Thankfully the blazer style uniform was baggy enough to hide her girlish figure. Being a girl dressed as a boy was tough enough. Add all that other crap in there and it was a recipe for disaster. And being an athletic girl on top of that was really just the cherry on top of the 16 tier, multi-flavoured, half-cooked, falling apart mess of a cake that was Ryder's life.

Great, now she was hungry. With an exasperated sigh, Ryder drew her attention back to the game. It was almost over and their victory was assured. It was the bottom of the 8th inning, 2 out and batter up with 1 strike. The score was 8-4 for the Mihoshi Tigers so Ryder wasn't worried at all. That was why her mind had drifted in the first place.

She was feeling annoyed today. Well, she had been annoyed all week if not all month. Every time Ryder had gone to hang out with Moriko, spend a little alone time and get closer to her, Kiba always ended up there to ruin everything. Always! It was like he was stalking them and interrupting them on purpose. He inserted himself into their conversations, sat between them, even tried pulling Moriko away or only talking to Moriko and ignoring Ryder… he was trying to occupy Moriko's attention and time thinking she would be interested in him and not Ryder. While Ryder may have known different; she knew Moriko was a lesbian; it still irked her, even made her jealous, that Kiba was trying to take her away. The only time they really had alone was at their Hip-Hop dance class.

"Heads up!" Ryder snapped out of her thoughts from the calling of her team. The ball was heading to the outfield so Ryder took off at a sprint. Her green eyes were focused on the ball as it soared towards her but still just out of her reach. With a powerful jump, she sent herself flying, arm outstretched, glove ready, and caught the ball just in the tip of her mitt. Pride coursed through her just a split second before the pain of landing on the rough ground did. She landed on her side with a wince but held onto the ball, holding it up for all to see. "OUT!"

That fall might have hurt anyone else but it did nothing to Ryder except maybe bruise her ribs and knocked her breath out for a few moments. Ever the strong tomboy, she climbed to her feet and threw the ball back to Gaara at the Pitcher's Mound. One more out and the game would be done! Wiping some dirt from her uniform, Ryder looked into the stands and smiled at the cheering from the small crowd that was there. This was only a practise game, nothing special or big, so not many people showed up. But if she looked at the stands just by their dugout, Ryder could always find a cheering and jumping brown haired Moriko.

Pink tinted her dirty cheeks and she averted her gaze. Since Moriko had told her that she liked Ryder, the teen had been having a bit of a hard time sorting out her feelings. Yet, at the same time, she didn't. As much as she thought she was confused about the matter, she felt like she really wasn't. She knew she liked Moriko and liked her as more than a friend. It wasn't holding her back or telling her she needed to think about it more. The only thing holding her back was her own insecurities; what about her parents? What about her brothers? What about the guys here, her friends? What would they say?

The batter struck out and the game ended with their solid win at 8-4. Ryder jogged it in, smiling and waving at Moriko as she passed her, and into the dugout and into the change rooms with some equipment.

Daisuke wouldn't care. He was her best friend and had nothing against same sex couples seeing as he was still in love with Yuuto despite him giving Daisuke the cold shoulder lately. And Naruto wouldn't care either seeing as he and Gaara just advanced into relationship status 3 months ago. The two boys looked so shy and giddy and yet comfortable and caring towards one another. It made Ryder so happy to see. They both deserved to be happy and they deserved each other.

But her family and other friends were a different story. Shikamaru she didn't think cared. Since Gaara had introduced them into the group, Shika didn't seem to have an opinion this way or that way. Though, he never said anything other than 'good for you' when Naruto and Gaara had announced their relationship. Chouji seemed a bit uncomfortable about the whole thing; he had blushed, went quiet and just munched away on his snacks. Kiba on the other hand was a completely different story. Given his tendencies to follow them around and interrupt whenever he thought they were getting to close just proved, without question that he did not approve.

"Ryder, where are you off to?" Naruto asked, pulling his uniform shirt off over his head.

"I'm gonna hang out with Moriko before Kiba finds us… it's gonna be a random meet up so hopefully he won't be there!" Ryder explained as she tugged her jeans on as she ran, shoes in one hand, jacket in the other. "Dai! My duffel bag is by the stall! See you guys later!" she called as she hopped on one foot out of the change rooms. The guys just chuckled, shook their heads and kept about their business, discussing the highlights of the game.

Running outside, still struggling to pull on her last shoe with her jacket half on, she scanned the dispersing crowd for the beautiful chocolate brown hair. Though the baseball player didn't have to search long; Moriko was standing right by the entrance to the change rooms and only giggled as she watched Ryder struggle. "My, my, eager are we?" she teased.

Ryder whirled around, almost falling over in the process, and grinned sheepishly. "Hey! Let's go somewhere!" With her shoes finally on and her jacket in place, she grabbed Moriko's hand and dragged her away from the diamond towards a strip mall close by.

"Oh, right now?" Moriko struggled to keep up with her friend.

"Yeah. I just wanna hang out with you. Alone," Ryder growled as she led the way inside. She didn't stop until they reached the food court and found an empty table. Finally they stopped and sat down. "Finally!" she slumped into the chair, silver hair mussed and unkempt but still stylish.

Moriko panted, not being really athletic herself, she had a hard time keeping up with Ryder. "What was that all about?"

Again, a coy, shamefaced grin painted across her tanned face. "I just wanted to be able to hang out with you alone…" she admitted. "Without Kiba finding out about it." The brunette blushed modestly and tried to fix her hair, fidgeting cutely as they looked at each other in a comfortable silence. "So uh…" Ryder cleared her throat finally and looked down, "Is there anything you wanna do? Since we're here?" She always felt a little giddy when Moriko was around and this time was no different.

Moriko considered this as she straightened her tight jeans and white blouse. Then she smiled and stood, "I have a great idea!" Ryder stood with her and waited for the girl to explain. "This way," she said instead and took Ryders' tanned and calloused hand, leading her away. But not running. She hated running. They walked, hand in hand as Ryder did not fail to notice. She was several inches taller than the brunette… Ryder stood a proud 5'3" at 16 and Moriko was an adorable 5' nothing.

"So, you're an only child, huh?" Ryder questioned, trying to make idle conversation. Act natural… act natural… holding hands in fine… act natural… her hands are so soft…

"Yup. Unless I have half-siblings I don't know about," she shrugged with a friendly smile.

"Your parents aren't together?" Ryder never asked before; she thought it was impolite. But then, Moriko seemed to more about Ryder than Ryder knew about Moriko. That seemed downright rude to Ryder.

"Nah… they divorced a long time ago. I was 9 I think… My mom had a bad drinking problem and my dad is a work-a-holic and didn't trust her with looking after me so…" she shrugged again and turned them down a busy corridor. "I live with my dad but I never see him."

Ryder felt a pang of pity and guilt. Maybe she shouldn't have asked. "Ah… sorry…"

"It's ok," the girl shook her head immediately. "I've gotten over it. It doesn't bother me. They are both happier away from each other and they both still love me and that's all that matters…"

Feeling uncomfortable, Ryder switched subjects. "So, ah, what's your favourite dessert or treat?"

Moriko grinned, her round pale face turned up to look at Ryder. "Pocky! The dark chocolate kind! I could eat that all day long!"

The silver haired girl chuckled, "I'm surprised. I was expecting ice cream or a chocolate bar or something."

"I'm lactose intolerant and I'm allergic to nuts so I have to be careful about what I eat," she explained.

"What!? No way! That sucks! I couldn't imagine going through life allergic to ice cream or nuts… they're practically in everything! So that means no milk, yogurt, ice cream, milkshakes, cheese…" Ryder pouted, "All the good stuff."

With a giggle, she nodded, "That's right. I can drink coffee though as I don't drink it with cream. Just 2 sugars."

They rounded a corner and crossed an indoor bridge over the indoor 'lake'. That was so strange to Ryder. None of her brothers, or her parents for that matter, was allergic to anything. She had never had to deal with anyone with allergies before. And she didn't think Daisuke or Naruto were allergic to anything either. "How severe is it? Will it kill you if you eat nuts?"

"It's one reason why I'm a lesbian," she joked, winking at Ryder who blushed darkly. With a laugh, she continued, "I'm kidding! You're so cute when you're flustered. Yes, it could potentially kill me if I ingest them. I can touch them and handle them for the most part, I just get a little itchy and my eyes burn. Eating them is out of bounds though."

"Wow… that's kinda scary to think about. To think that your life could be danger from something so small and so common…"

"It is and it isn't. I always carry an Epi-Pen with me so I will at least have a chance of surviving if it ever happens. Oh look! Here we are!" Moriko jumped excitedly as they came to the loud and bustling arcade. The curvy girl tugged Ryder's tanned hand and led her into the game room, hazel eyes wide and eagerly looking at every game.

Ryder chuckled. She loved arcades and video games. They went to a change machine and exchanged a few bills to tokens and eagerly set off to find things to play. After a few shooting games, which Ryder excelled in, a few racing games, in which Moriko kicked ass in, and a few skeet ball games, which they tied in, they were a few hours in and left with only a few coins.

Moriko laughed hysterically as she watched Ryder shoot hoops. Ryder was doing well; it wasn't Ryder she was laughing at. She was laughing hysterically at the 14 year old boy that had challenged Ryder saying she was a wimp. And Ryder was never one to turn down a challenge. Ryder had made 10 of 15 shots which was really good; especially since most were 3 pointers. The 14 year old kid, who was making funny faces and being a sore loser, had only made 7 of 15 shots and most were 2 pointers… Ryder hauled ass and for the last 5 shots, only missed 1. The kid only got 2 and one was a 3 point shot.

"That'll teach you for challenging strangers," Moriko stuck her tongue out at the boy and linked her arm around the silver haired teen. After he had slunk off, Ryder stood there with a smirk on her triumphant face and hands in her pockets and looked down at the proud and excited girl on her arm. Relaxed, Moriko leaned her head against Ryder's shoulder and smiled with contentment. "This was so fun, Ryder… Thanks for bringing me here; I love spending time with you."

Ryder flushed lightly and averted her gaze. "You brought me here, remember? But you're welcome. We still have a few coins… enough for one more game each… What would you like?"

"How about a trivia game?" Moriko tugged her over to a famous game show game and Ryder only groaned.

"If I wanted to test my brain, I'd go to school!" she complained, but she put in her tokens too and waited for the game to start. They played furiously against each other and in spite of Ryder's' reluctance, they ended up having fun. Moriko won and cheered victoriously and Ryder was left trying to keep her dignity. "I let you win."

The brown haired girl laughed outright and in a sudden moment of happiness, a moment of magnetism towards her partner, she leaned in close to Ryder, their bodies flush together, and tilted her head for a kiss. For a tantalizing, thrilling moment, they stood there together, millimeters away from each other's faces, from each other's mouths… Moriko had come most of the way, her round sweet cheeks flushed, her hazel eyes half lidded and staring at Ryder's lips, her breath short and quiet. All the tomboy had to do was lean forward… close that tiny gap…

Ryder closed her green eyes, a flush on her own face as she leaned forward a tiny bit, her arms automatically moving to wrap around Moriko's tiny waist.

"Ryder! How was the game?" the voice caught both girls off guard; enough to startle them and pull away from each other. But the fright was short lived as Ryder immediately glared at the approaching boy who was very quickly becoming her least favourite person.

"Great," she muttered, her hands still resting comfortably on Moriko's hips. She refused to elaborate. She was peeved.

"Well who won?" he inquired further as he came up close to them, a friendly smile on his face and malice in his brown eyes.

"We did." Go away, Kiba…

"Awesome! So what are you guys up to? Just hanging at the arcade?"

After a beat of silence, which included glaring from two of the three parties, Moriko finally piped up, leaning closer to Ryder to show her support and comfort. "Yeah. Ryder was treating me to a date." That was a big hint if ever there was one.

"Sweet! I love the arcade. Mind if I tag along?"

"Yes, actually," Ryder snapped. That was it! She had had enough of Kiba and his constant interrupting and blatant disregard for their friendship. "We do mind." Moriko closed her mouth and pressed it into a thin line, deciding to take a back seat and let the two sort it out for themselves.

Apparently the Inuzuka had enough too. He bristled instantly, taking offense. "This isn't right, Ryder, and you know it! There is something really wrong with you! I was just trying to help remind you of just who you are! But clearly you aren't listening!"

"Help me?! You think that's helping me? Dammit, Kiba, you've been nothing but an egotistical, arrogant, ignorant prude! Back off a little before you ruin our friendship completely!" Ryder hissed, venom in her voice and fury in her stance as she pulled away from Moriko to face off toe to toe with her new enemy.

"You think I'm ruining our friendship? That's laughable! You ruined it the moment you started pretending to be something you're not, Izumi. You're not a boy. You're a girl. Or did you forget?" he sneered.

Tears stung behind her green eyes at his callous words. "I could never forget Kiba. That's who I'm forced to be around my parents and outside of school… Being a girly girl isn't me. It never was and it never will be. This is me, Kiba… I'm more me here than I am when I'm living a second life as the prim and proper girl everyone expects me to be! And you know that! You've been my friend for years… How dare you assume that I don't know who I am?"

Kiba scoffed and looked down at the stoic looking Moriko, watching silently. "Bet that changes your mind, doesn't it? Knowing your precious Izumi Ryder is not a boy but a girl? What do you think of her now? Isn't she a freak? A fool?" he encouraged. Trying to draw out some kind of reaction from her, trying to make her see his point of view.

"No, she isn't. It's you who is the freak here. You've been friends for years and you can't even accept her and her sexual orientation? That's pathetic," the girl spat, taking Ryder's clenched fist in her own hand and lacing their fingers together. Kiba's shocked face spurred her to continue. "I don't care that she's a girl. I've known about her for a long time. In fact, I actually like it because I just so happen to be a lesbian. Who's the fool now, hmm?"

Shocked and suddenly disgusted and uncomfortable with the situation, Kiba withdrew without a word to consider this new information. Just like that, their friendship ended. It took weeks of building up and only a few words to end many years' worth of memories and things shared. After he stormed off, taking the tension with him, Ryder slumped against the edge of one of the games and sighed heavily, burying her face in her hands. "Oh Gods… I hope he doesn't tell anyone about me…" the young spitfire despaired.

Cool hands cupped her warm face and made her look up. Moriko's face was so close, so milky and round and perfect… "It'll be ok, Ryder… You're not alone. Your friends won't let him ruin you…" Then she planted a gentle, warm, accepting kiss on her cheek. I'm here for you

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