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Growing Up With Dreams

By GoodMorningFlower

Drama / Romance

Road To Discovery

Growing Up With Dreams

Chapter Five – Road To Discovery

Temari was excited. She was happy. After moving out of Orochimaru's two years ago, things had really been picking up. Her dear friend, Hidaka-San, had been nothing if not an absolute angel to her and her brothers. They still lived in the tiny, two bedroom apartment above the bar and grill that she worked at. Working there for the two years had really gotten her places.

Hidaka-San had promoted her to manager of his little bar and she made enough money to eventually catch up on her debt to him and put money away into savings. She alone was putting her brothers through school and now she was putting herself through College. Business Management. She wanted the skills to move forward and earn more and do something with herself. Maybe even eventually take over Hidaka-San's business.

The blonde couldn't wait. It was a four year course but it would be worth it. Kankuro was in Grade 10 and would be going to college in just 3 short years… Temari wanted to be able to pay for him to go. She wanted him to go where he wanted and be able to accomplish his dreams. And Gaara, her youngest brother, definitely deserved to go to College too. The only way to do that was to go to school and acquire the skills needed to move up and get a better paying job. So that's what she would do.

What a generous, hard working, selfless sister she was! Well, she thought so anyways. Hidaka-San seemed to think so too. But no one would ever be as caring and generous as that man. With a happy sigh, Temari walked into her first class of the day, excited to be there.

Gaara felt out of place at Mihoshi High. Mind you, he felt out of place everywhere. However, he wasn't receiving hate glares or glances and whispered words or suspicious stares. Maybe his reputation hadn't preceded him. That would be nice. Well, so far so good, anyways. He nervously adjusted his Gakuran uniform and headed down the hallways towards his next class. On his lunch break though, the crowd was so thick and moving steadily and all over the place that Gaara ended up getting pushed into a room that Gaara didn't recognise at first.

After taking a moment to compose himself, the pre-teen looked around and realized that he had stumbled upon the library. The red-head breathed a sigh of relief. He liked libraries. He liked books. Gaara used to read a lot as a younger child because it helped him escape and leave this world, forget himself and immerse himself in a world far greater than his own.

Silently, he made his way into the library and took a look around its massive shelves shoved full of amazing books just waiting to be read. With a gentle smile on his face, he picked a book he recognised and made his way over to one of the few couches they had in there.

Lunch was forgotten. Lunch wasn't important. Gaara felt a peace, at home in the silent library. A place where it was calm. He sat down on a couch that was already inhabited by a scrawny looking boy who looked to be about the same age. The boy had dark brown hair tied back into a spiky ponytail and his eyes were closed, arms behind his head, lounging casually. Comfortably. There was another boy beside him. Rather chubby and loud looking but he was intensely immersed in a book as he munched quietly on a bag of chips.

Gaara liked the way they looked and wondered momentarily if he would ever make friends here. Start a new life with people who didn't care who he was.

Sighing, he turned to his book and cracked it open, starting to read the well worn, almost memorized words scrawled across the page.

"Dickens. Good choice," a lazy voice drawled. Gaara looked up, sea-foam green eyes questioning as they looked over at the boy with the ponytail. His dark brown eyes were open half way looking completely uninterested.

"Uh, thanks. Do you like Dickens?" Gaara asked gingerly.

"Yeah, one of my favourites but I like Herman Melville myself."

With a cautious smile, Gaara nodded, remembering the famous novel Moby Dick. The boy had good taste for a 12-year-old. "What else do you like to read?"

"Ah, not much. I can't be bothered half the time… I can't even bring myself to open a text book… But I do enjoy Anne Rice and Nathanial Hawthorn. How about you?"

Gaara's heart leapt excitedly. Was it really that easy? Could making friends come this easy for him? The lunch hour passed by quickly as he and the boy, Shikamaru, he later learned, talked in detail about their favourite books and authors. When the bell rang, signalling the end of the lunch hour, the red-head felt sad but Shikamaru had given him his number. Look at that. A friend.

Damn that Temari. He really should have done away with that child before she had a chance to interfere with him and his plans. You'd think being the CEO of a major corporation would give you some leeway with silly matters such as child custody. But going up against the law the legal way turned out to be quite the hassle. And sadly, now that Gaara and Kankuro were 12 and up, they were legally able to make their own decisions about whom they wanted to live with.

Over the past two years, Orochimaru had been trying desperately to contact Kankuro or Gaara. Temari had been diligent in keeping him away. Blocking his numbers, shredding his letters, changing the boys' schools… No matter. Orochimaru had finally managed to track down his boys to Mihoshi High. Even though the Guardian had moved to Shi Yume after the kids moved out, he didn't mind driving the hour it took to get back to Kaigen No Yume.

Like his sister, Kankuro had been very good at eluding his old Guardian. But unlike the others, little Gaara was still impressionable.

The dark haired adult pulled up in front of the school in his nice, expensive, top of the line car and waited for school to get out. He didn't have to wait long before the bell rang, signalling the end of school. He watched with cool eyes as the teens spilled out of the school doors, yelling, screaming, running, pushing. Such loud, obnoxious children! Nuisance!

But yet, they could be so useful! They were naïve and open-minded enough to accept any lie they were fed. They just wanted something to believe, something to give themselves too. That's why he wanted Gaara… Gaara was still at that ripe age where he could still be talked into believing what Orochimaru had to say.

After a few moments, Orochimaru spotted the red-head leaving quietly, book in hand and a content smile on his pale face. He must've had a good day at school. The man stepped out of his car and called out to Gaara. The boy looked up and his green eyes focused on him immediately and widened with shock. Orochimaru beckoned Gaara over and reluctantly, the 12-year-old boy made his way over.

"Gaara! How have you been? Come, have a talk with me, we will go for some tea!" Orochimaru smiled widely and stepped aside, holding the door open.

"Temari said she didn't tell you where I went to school," he mumbled, glancing around cautiously.

Orochimaru frowned and his smile faltered. The only thing he hated about this boy was his quiet intelligence. The boy knew more than any kid should at his age. Yet Orochimaru needed him. He needed the boys' skill, mind and appearance to make his plan work. "Come now, don't you want to visit with your dear Orochimaru? I raised you and your siblings, Gaara. Don't you think it would be nice to see me once in a while?"

At the look of guilt on the boys face, Orochimaru knew he had won. He loved children! They were so easily persuaded. "Well… I guess for a little while won't hurt…" Gaara mumbled quietly, stepping into the car.

With a victorious grin, he climbed in behind him and closed the door.

"Iruka! I'm home!" Naruto called into his home. The house was quiet today and though that wasn't entirely unusual, the fact that he hadn't gotten a reply back is what peaked the boys' curiosity.

The blonde set down his back pack and took off his shoes before heading through his home. The house was clean and tidy, as it always was. All the rooms' doors were closed except for Iruka's office. So little Naruto padded quietly over and peeked inside. Iruka was leaning over his desk, a mask of quiet contemplation on his face, his brown hair mussed and his clothes oddly wrinkled like he had slept in them.

He was fussing over a pile of scattered papers on his desk. Pictures, newspaper clippings, a bunch of typed pages. Immensely intrigued, Naruto silently entered the room and moved in behind Iruka. The man was so deeply involved in his thoughts that he didn't notice Naruto at all. So the boy snuck in as close as he possibly could without getting into Iruka's line of sight and started looking over the papers that were scattered.

There were several pictures of a caved in tunnel. A caved in tunnel over a crushed train. Shattered glass, crumpled metal, rocks everywhere. Police were scattered, trying to search for people, digging up the rubble. Dogs were sniffing the area. It was total chaos. Naruto thought that if people were in that train when the rocks crushed it then there was no way anyone survived; the train was near flat.

Looking away, the blue eyes scanned over the newspaper articles. "Valentine Nightmare", "Tunnel collapse kills 15", "Accident or Murder?" Captivated, he read on and saw the date it happened. February 14th, 2005. Doing a little math in his head, he realized he would have been 5 years old when this happened. Suddenly, his heart clenched painfully. His parents died when he was five…

Inexplicably, he suddenly felt desperate. Why was Iruka looking at this? Why this accident? Naruto hurriedly scanned the articles, his heart racing painfully, and read the names of the victims; Shikkari Karura, Shikkari Jirou, Misashi Ami, Kirimoto Ryou, Uchiha Fugaku, Uchiha Mikoto, Uzumaki Kushina, Namikaze Minato…

Naruto's heart stopped for painful moment as he processed the information. His mom, Kushina, and his dad, Minato, had been killed in a train accident? Or was it a murder? Why was Iruka looking into it? Was it not an accident? Was it really a… a murder?

"Iruka?" his voice was tiny… small, fragile and shaky.

The man gasped and whirled around to face Naruto. "N-Naruto, I didn't hear you come in…" he tried to shuffle the papers away but it was too late. The damage had been done. "How was school?"

"My parents were killed?"

"Yes, Naruto. Your parents were killed in a train accident. You've known that since it happened…" the man said cautiously.

"But it wasn't an accident at all, was it? They were murdered… Who murdered them, 'Ruka?"

At first, he had no intention of telling Naruto. The boy really didn't need to know the details of his parents' death. Naruto didn't need to have the image of his parents being shattered by something as vile and disgusting as murder. But Naruto had read the articles… Naruto knew what Iruka was looking at. He was a smart 12-year-old. He could easily get access to a computer and look into it himself.

With a heavy sigh, Iruka closed his pained brown eyes and relented, "I don't know. I've been looking into the case for 6 years. The police at first thought it was a tragic accident. Then they found wire, traces of explosive residue and a motion sensor… But they have no clue who set up the explosion."

Naruto looked away for a moment. His little heart was hurting unbearably. Someone had purposefully taken his parents from him… Naruto was an orphan due to someone's choice to hurt good people. His sapphire eyes filled with painful tears and he couldn't stifle the sob that escaped his chest. He hurt. Naruto's heart broke, crushed by the new weight of this knowledge.

Iruka knelt in front of his little boy and put his hands on his shoulders gently, waiting for Naruto to look up. When he did, Iruka smiled as best he could, "It'll be ok, Naruto. This doesn't change anything. You're still here with me. You have great friends. You're doing better in school. Things are going great. Don't you worry about a thing, ok? Just let me take care of things."

Shaking his head, Naruto pushed Iruka away and ran out of the office. He continued running out of the house, only stopping to pull his shoes back on, before he was gone, down the road. He didn't know how to deal with this new information. His chest felt like it was being compressed, crushed. It was hard for him to breathe, to focus. Naruto ran blindly through the streets, not knowing where he was going.

He just wanted to move. To run away from the truth. He wished it wasn't true. With all his little, hurting heart, he wished that his parents were still here with him and he was growing up like a normal kid. He wished that all of this was a terrible dream, a nightmare…

The newspaper title flashed through his mind "Valentine Nightmare". He couldn't take it; he collapsed where he stood, put his hands over his face, over the scars on his cheeks and cried. He cried for the loss of his parents, he cried for Iruka's pain and work over the last 7 years. Naruto cried for the other people who tragically met their untimely death. The boy cried for himself, for his loss, for his pain, for his hurt and his sudden empty loneliness.

Naruto cried until it felt like he had drowned himself in tears, till he cleansed his soul of his hurt. For a moment it even felt like he had washed away the scars on his cheeks…

He cried until there was nothing left.

Daisuke sighed as he cleaned out a room that had been messed up. It was yet another weekend at the Inn his mother owned, helping out. The only downside to helping his family was having to dress like a girl…

Nemui Inn had always been and always will be run by the females in his family. Which, unfortunately meant that because he was the second oldest, he had to help out his Mother's Inn from time to time. This also meant that he had to dress like a girl to keep up with the female persona of the Inn.

At first, it didn't overly bother the 12 year old boy. No body else but his family, and Ryder, knew it was him. His older sister, Saya, was in training to take over the Inn and once his younger sister, Tsubaki, was old enough to help out, at 10 years old, he wouldn't have to be here any more. But that wasn't for another two years.

He pushed his glasses up on his nose and brushed his long, forest green hair out of his face as he stood and moved around the room, tidying up. His yukata fit comfortably but the wig was torture; it was itchy all the time…

Another bad thing about dressing like a girl was not only having to at and play the part, but even when he started hitting puberty and his voice started cracking, he still had to pull of a girly voice. On top of that, he had acquired himself a stalker; Sakaeguchi Yuuto.

It all started back when Sakaeguchi's family had moved to the island of Yumenoshima. But before they had a house or any where to go, they stayed at Nemui Inn for a time to get their business in order. When Sakaeguchi met 'Delilah' the boy had fallen hard. In love. Completely, totally, irrevocably and undeniably in love with Daisuke's female disguise.

Even since the Sakaeguchi family had moved on and into Kaigen No Yume, Sakaeguchi had come to visit the in regularly to pester and fawn over 'Delilah'. It irritated Daisuke to no end. Now with it being the middle of his Grade 7 year, Daisuke feared being discovered. It would ruin his reputation and set numerous people against him.

It was embarrassing enough to have Naruto find out about his secret and Naruto was almost as close a friend as Ryder was. Imagine if someone else found out… someone like Sakaeguchi… or his family. Or his school… his life as he knew it would end.

With a sigh, Daisuke left the room, bringing the garbage and soiled sheets with him. He deposited the sheets into the laundry shoot they had in every hallway and set the garbage by the stairs before turning to head to the next room. But someone called for him.

"Delilah-Chan!"

Daisuke paled. He knew that voice and it wasn't his sisters. In terror, he turned to see Sakaeguchi racing up the stairs with a huge grin on his face. Shoot. Just when he was beginning to think he wouldn't have to see him this weekend…

"Ah, Sakaeguchi-San… here again are you?" Daisuke tried his hardest to put on a smile. He turned and headed to the next room to keep cleaning and, as he expected, Sakaeguchi followed him in.

"Of course!"

"When are you not here?" Daisuke joked, setting about cleaning the room to distract himself.

Sakaeguchi chuckled and shrugged, leaning against the door frame and watching Daisuke clean out the room. It made Daisuke uncomfortable so he tried to distract himself and Sakaeguchi by talking to him. "So… Sakaeguchi-San… how is your family? Have you all settled into your home and schools yet?"

"Yes, quite well actually. We've all adapted to living here on the island. My younger brother, Kenta, has already made a few friends in his school and my older sister, Nana, has already found people to hang with and she's the president of a club in her high school. It's hard to believe that she only has one more year before she graduates. My father has been working a lot lately too, trying to support us all in our new home but we are all happier," Sakaeguchi smiled and shrugged.

Daisuke could understand. He sensed the boys' loneliness. He knew what it was like to be the middle child and to feel stuck. Yet grateful for everything he had. With one 17 year old sister, an 8 year old sister and two 5 year old twin boys, Daisuke felt like he was oddly stuck in the awkward middle at 12. Mind you though, he still had both his parents; his mother, Yukiko, who ran the Inn and his father, Ko, who was an author who worked from home.

Sakaeguchi, however, no longer had his Mother. Daisuke had learned, when the Sakaeguchi family had first come to stay at the Inn, that Sakaeguchi's mother had passed on a many years earlier.

"That's good. I'm glad to hear you are doing well," Daisuke smiled as he gathered up the dirty sheets. He moved to take them into the hallway but Sakaeguchi didn't move from the door frame. Daisuke ended up standing there awkwardly, a blush slowly making its way to his make-up covered cheeks.

Daisuke wondered vaguely if Sakaeguchi would recognize him. He was only wearing make-up to cover the scar across his nose and glasses perched on his nose to help cover it. But aside from his long hair and pretending to be a girl, Daisuke didn't really look any different from himself. The wig he was wearing was the exact same colour as his own natural hair. His eyes still the same muddy brown. He wore the same glasses in and out of school. He still had his dusting of freckles across his cheeks and nose.

There were many a time when Daisuke had wanted desperately to tell Sakaeguchi that he was a boy and that he was his school-mate and baseball team captain. But he knew better. He never told the boy who he really was. Though how Sakaeguchi could go to school with him and play baseball with him and not know that Daisuke and 'Delilah' were one in the same was beyond Daisuke.

"Uhm, excuse me, Sakaeguchi-San," Daisuke murmured politely, bowing his head.

Sakaeguchi moved aside just enough for Daisuke to pass by to put the sheets in the chute and back into the room to collect the garbage. There was a strange look in the chocolate brown eyes as Daisuke walked past him.

"Why won't you say you will go out with me, Delilah-Chan?" Sakaeguchi asked suddenly.

Daisuke gasped and whirled around to face the boy. "Sakaeguchi-San! That's very inappropriate! You know I can't! I have to stay here at the Inn…" Daisuke's blush grew and he looked away. How embarrassing… thank the Gods that Ryder and Naruto weren't here otherwise he would never hear the end of it…

He had to endure their teasing enough as it was!

"But Delilah-Chan, just one date. Dinner, a movie, a festival, something… just once? How can you say no?" Sakaeguchi pleaded. Persistent bugger, Daisuke would give him that.

H shook his head, his long green locks shifting, "No, Sakaeguchi-San, I cannot grant you your request! It would be better if you would just move on… Stop visiting me." It almost hurt to break it to him this way but it was the only way to be left alone. The risk of being found out was high as it was without going out on a date!

Daisuke knew that if he were to go out on a date, he wanted to be himself. Not dressed as a girl and playing pretend.

"Delilah-Chan, you don't mean that. Just one date, please? If you say yes and come with me, I'll leave you along and stop bothering you… I promise. Just one date!" Sakaeguchi pressed, touching Daisuke under his chin to lift his face.

Daisuke felt almost feverish he was blushing so hard. His face was probably bright red right now! What a staggering position to be in! What was he to do?

"Ok! Ok, fine… one date. Just one. Then you leave me alone, you promise?" Daisuke's voice cracked and shook with mortification.

Sakaeguchi's face lit up with a bright smile and he stepped back, grabbed Daisuke's hand and bowed, kissing his knuckles. "Then join me for the Sanno Festival during Spring Break and before Grade 8 starts?" He asked tenderly.

Daisuke blushed darker, if that was possible at that point, and nodded. Sakaeguchi grinned and dropped Daisuke's hand and walked out of the room, hands in pockets and whistling a merry tune. Daisuke dropped to his knees, tears in his muddy brown eyes as he fought to understand the situation he had just gotten himself into.

Ryder had been having a really good day. It was close to the end of Grade 7 and she had successfully gone through the year, convincing everyone that she was a boy. She hadn't run into a problem yet where her identity would be compromised. Though, granted, it was a little difficult when it came to changing for gym class and for baseball. Waiting for the changing rooms was a bit frustrating. But other than that, Ryder was thoroughly enjoying her time as a boy of Mihoshi High.

Well… then again, there was that time when Ryder had gotten cornered by a couple girls. There were some love notes stuffed in her locker throughout the year and a few small confessions here and there. But the one girl Ryder really had to look out for was that blonde Yamanaka Ino. That girl was among the worst.

However, Ryder had done quite well, fending off the same-sex population. Naruto had bothered her about being a girl-hog and getting more attention than any other guy. Ryder always countered with the fact that if those girls knew Ryder was a girl as well, she wouldn't be getting any offers at all…

Sometimes Ryder really thought that Naruto and Daisuke forgot that she was a girl and not a boy. At first it kind of bothered her. It bothered her because for quite sometime while growing up with Naruto and Daisuke, she had a crush of Naruto… she still kind of did. But she knew he never saw her that way. To him, she was "one of the guys". With Ryder's attitude and personality being what it was, it didn't help her situation at all. But after a time, she got used to the idea that Naruto and Daisuke viewed her as a boy.

It didn't bother her as much any more. She wasn't much interested in dating either. Her primary love was baseball and dance. Mind you, if she started dating, it would just be weird… she was a girl, pretending to be a boy… who could she date without it turning out just plain…weird…

So Ryder gave up on romance and focused on what she was good at; baseball.

However, today was not going to let Ryder have her way. Ryder was just coming out of the boys change room after gym class; one of the last ones to leave because she had to wait for a stall. She was running her fingers through her short, messy silver hair and carrying her school bag and Gakuran jacket when she was stopped from heading to her next class.

"Izumi-kun!"

Ryder frowned and looked around to see who called her name. "Ah, Yamanaka-San. How are you today?" Ryder asked politely. Ino fell in step beside Ryder as she headed towards her next class.

"I'm great. How are you today, Izumi-kun?" Ino smiled brightly up at Ryder. Ryder may have been 12 and a girl but she was tall for her age, always a few inches taller than most girls and some guys.

"I'm good. Just finished gym. Heading to my Japanese class. What's your next class?" Ryder was really good at small talk and talking to both girls and guys. She always kind of considered herself half and half of each which enabled her to mingle inconspicuously with either group though she was fairly quiet outside of sports.

"I have Home Economics next," Ino smiled. Ryder shuddered. She hated that class. But because her parents had no idea she was parading around as a boy, she had to take Home-Ec and other girly classes. Ryder hated how strict her family was in the traditions and upbringing of their kids. They wanted Ryder to be a little lady so desperately but Ryder had turned out to be the exact opposite. So she kept it a well guarded secret…

"Isn't that in the other direction?" Ryder asked curiously as she pulled on her Gakuran style jacket with her year embroidered into the collar.

"Yes, but I just thought I'd keep you company for a little while, Izumi-kun…" Ino blushed prettily and batted her eyelashes cutely.

Ryder blushed and looked away. Damn these girls and them hitting on her! Ryder never really felt the need to tell any of them she was a girl; this had become a sort of game between Naruto, Daisuke and her. Ryder had thought it quite amusing and hilarious and often teased Naruto about not getting any offers. Naruto and Ryder also teased Daisuke about Sakaeguchi-kun because Daisuke was in much the same situation as Ryder except that his was less permanent than Ryders'.

Even so, Ryder still got uncomfortable when girls clearly offered themselves and flirted with her.

"Oh, h-how nice…" Ryder stammered, not quite sure what to say to that.

"Listen, Izumi-kun, May I ask you a question?"

Ryder felt dread but she nodded and waited. The hallway seemed to stretch on forever… She really thought her class was closer than this?

"Are you doing anything special during Spring Break?"

"Uhm… other than working on my baseball and dance… no. Why do you ask?" Ryder was nervous enough to start chewing her lip and fidgeting with her fingers. She didn't like where this was going.

"I was just wondering if you would go to the Sanno Festival with me?" Ino asked, looking up with pleading blue eyes.

"Ah, uhm, Yamanaka-San, I'm not sure if that's… I mean, I'm sure there are other guys who are asking for you to go with them…" Ryder blushed darkly, knowing full well that the Sanno Festival was to pray for good harvests.

"Well, yes, but I didn't want to go with them… I wanted to go with you, Izumi-kun," Ino smiled and blushed prettily.

Ryder blinked, her bright green eyes fearful and flustered; what did she say to that? Didn't Daisuke have this issue just last week with Sakaeguchi-kun? He ended up giving in to Sakaeguchi-kun and freaking out about it since… Poor Daisuke had a hard time being in the same room as Sakaeguchi-kun now.

What was Ryder to do?

"Uhm… I uh… I don't think that's a good idea, Yamanaka-San. I mean, I'm not exactly…"

"Please, call me Ino," she interrupted.

"I-Ino… I'm not exactly, date material, you know? Uhm… try Uzumaki Naruto… I'm sure he'd love to go with you." Ryder was started to get frustrated. Just where was her class? She was positively sure that her Japanese class was closer than this… why was it taking an awkward eternity to get there?

"Ew, Uzumaki-San is so not my type. But Izumi-Kun is… Please, go out with me to the Sanno Festival?" the girl pleaded, stepping in front of poor little Ryder and making her stop in her tracks.

Ryder blushed furiously and ran her fingers through her silver hair, feeling like she was going to start sweating under the pressure. "Uh, well, uhm, I mean, maybe?"

"Plllllleeeeaaaaassssseeeeee, Izumi-Kun?" Ino begged, putting her dainty hands together and putting on a terrific puppy dog pout on her pale face.

How could Ryder say no?

With a defeated sigh, Ryder nodded, "Alright, Ino… I'll go with you to the Sanno Festival…"

Ino squealed with delight and her face lit up with victorious joy. "Yes! Thank you so much, Izumi-kun! I'll see you later!" the blonde girl took off down the hallway, giggling with giddiness as she headed to her Home-Ec class.

The late bell rang and Ryder cursed as she ran to her Japanese class. Daisuke and Naruto were never going to let her live this down…

"Oh, come on, Daisuke! You have to help me!" Ryder begged.

It was the weekend before the Sanno Festival and Ryder was getting desperate. "She's hounding me every chance she gets! I just know she's going to try something on me! You've gotta help me!"

Daisuke shook his head with a teasing smile. "You know I've got my own date to go on… get Naruto to help you!"

Naruto laughed and shook his head. "I'd pay just to go and watch! But I'm not going to go and help you, Ryder!"

With angry tears in her eyes, Ryder growled and stomped off to the kitchen. Naruto and Daisuke looked at each other with mischievous grins and chuckling amongst themselves.

"Well, she had to know that her good streak wasn't going to last forever," Daisuke shrugged.

Naruto nodded. "Yeah. Well, same goes for you, you know. You could only avoid Sakaeguchi-kun for so long…" Naruto teased with a wicked smile on his tanned face.

Daisuke blushed darkly and gingerly touched the scar on the bridge of his nose and looked away uneasily. "All year he pestered me… he cornered me! In my defence, he kissed my hand… it caught me off guard!" he grumbled.

Naruto snorted, "You could have pulled your hand away… you could have just told him off… you could have called for help… there's lots you coulda done, Dai… but you let him… you gave in to him… So what's your excuse now?" Naruto pointed out.

Daisuke stood in shocked silence. Naruto was right. He could have pulled away. He could have told Sakaeguchi to flat out leave him alone, no Festival date needed. However, Daisuke had positively stopped thinking properly when Sakaeguchi had touched his chin… kissed his hand…

It was so embarrassing and stupid and Daisuke had no explanation as to why he gave in to Sakaeguchi the way he did… And Daisuke didn't like not knowing, not having control over his own actions. How did Sakaeguchi do that? Daisuke didn't know…

Daisuke was saved from trying to answer Naruto when Ryder stormed back into the room, "I'll make you cinnamon buns for a month if you help me at the Sanno Festival!" Ryder announced loudly.

Daisuke blinked and sighed. "I hate that you know my weakness…"

"Yes!" Ryder shouted, throwing her arms victoriously into the air.

Naruto laughed and shook his head. These two were honestly such an odd pair some days…

"Well, what about you, Naruto? Aren't you going to the Sanno Festival?" Ryder asked, sitting down on Daisuke's bed.

"Yeah, I am. Hyuuga Hinata asked me to go with her," he grinned, a tiny, faint blush crossing his cheeks.

Daisuke, grateful the attention was turned away from him, prodded further. "The shy girl who always faints around you? How in the world did she get the courage up to ask you?"

Naruto blushed darker and glanced away for a moment. "Well… uh, her friends dragged her to me and when she couldn't ask properly, they asked for her… when I said sure, she promptly squeaked and fainted…" he admitted quietly.

Ryder and Daisuke looked at Naruto, open mouthed, looked at each other then dropped to the ground laughing hysterically, their own troubles forgotten momentarily.

The Sanno Festival came and 3 young 13 year olds nervously made their way through the crowds to find their dates. Naruto met up with Hinata right away. She was dressed beautifully in her little traditional kimono. Earthy colours and designs to pray for the Harvests. Naruto had gotten Iruka's help with dressing for this occasion and had dressed similarly. With a wink, the blonde boy deserted Daisuke and Ryder.

The two nervously looked at each other. It was rather ironic, really. They each were dressed as the opposite sex, pretending to be people they weren't. Ryder, a tomboy, athletic and kind girl, pretending to be Ryder the boy to go on a date with Yamanaka Ino, the girl. Daisuke, a smart, gentle boy, forced to cross-dress as Delilah to help his family and now to go on a date with Sakaeguchi Yuuto, the boy.

Would their world of torment never end?

Daisuke promised to help Ryder for as long as he could as long as he didn't run into Sakaeguchi. Ryder agreed and said she would do the same for him if she ran into him. The two best friends agreed.

They made their way to the spot where Ryder would be meeting with Ino and waited. Though it didn't take long for the girl to show up. She spotted Ryder right away and latched onto her arm. "Izumi-kun! I'm so glad you made it!"

With a nervous backwards glance at Daisuke to make sure he was following, Ryder let herself be led away by Ino. The first thing they did was go visit a few prayer booths. This wasn't too bad; it required no contact and no talking. However, soon after, Ino led them to the temples and tried to get Ryder to play the couples' games they had set up.

Ryder, being the great athlete she was, succeeded in many of the games and won the small teddy bears and prizes for Ino. The blonde girl was positively beaming with joy like she couldn't be any happier. For a moment, this made Ryder feel good. That she could make someone happy just by doing what she was good at. By being herself.

The longer they spent together, the easier it was for Ryder to relax. They talked about school and friends and the cool things they did during their breaks from school. But just to be on the safe side, Ryder kept glancing back to see if Daisuke was still there following and watching. And he was; the ever faithful watch dog.

It went on like this for little over an hour before suddenly Daisuke wasn't there anymore. In a small panic, Ryder quickly scanned the area and quickly found him being dragged away by a brown haired boy. There was a blush across his freckled cheeks and Ryder knew that Sakaeguchi had claimed 'Delilah'.

Ryder was on her own.

"Are you ok, Izumi-kun?" Ino asked, pulling Ryders' attention back to what they were doing.

Ryder smiled nervously and nodded. The night was almost at its close and they were running out of things to do at the festival. Ryder offered to get them some food to snack on and Ino willingly agreed. They grabbed some dumplings and green-tea ice cream and sat to enjoy it. But Ryder noticed that as they ate, Ino got closer and closer to her.

Eventually, the blonde girl was almost sitting in her lap. Ryder blushed and tried to move away only to be followed until the hit the side handle on the bench and could go no further. Soon, a silence passed between them awkwardly and Ryder wondered just what she was supposed to do now.

Then Ino spoke, breaking the stillness. "Uhm… Izumi-kun? Could I… kiss you?" Her voice was breathy and soft yet unwavering like she knew what she wanted. Ryder jumped up from the bench and shook her head frantically, sending her short silver hair flying.

"N-no, Yamanaka-San… I don't th-think that's a good idea at all… I mean, I hardly know you and I'm really not interested in dating or anything. I don't think… is a good idea at all," Ryder stammered, unable to put her thoughts into words properly. Her face was burning up, her heart rate accelerated, her fidgeting at an all time high.

Ino just smiled and grabbed Ryder by the hand, leading her towards the park where the floats would be parading. Ryder seriously wished she would run into Naruto or Daisuke… she could use the help right now…

As they settled in and found spots to watch the parade, Ino never let go of Ryder's hand. This made the poor tomboy very uncomfortable. Ino inched her way closer and closer till she was pressed firmly against Ryder's side. Just when Ryder thought she was going to have to make a break for it, a prayer of hers was answered.

"Hey Ryder! How is the festival going for you?" Naruto called out to her and made his way over with cute little Hinata in tow.

Ryder nearly fainted with relief. Instead, she smiled and used him as an excuse to pull her way away from Ino. "Naruto! It's going good here. How about you? What have you two been up to?"

Hinata stood beside and slightly behind Naruto as he and Ryder spoke. Ryder tried very hard though, during her conversation with Naruto, to drop clues and hints to get him to get her away from Ino. Either the blonde was completely dumb and didn't pick up on it or he knew and refused to help, wanting to watch her suffer. Either way, Ryder was going to get him for it later.

All too soon, Naruto and Hinata said good bye and kept moving along. Feeling abandoned again, Ryder tried to keep her distance from the ever close Ino.

The parade rolled by and many people were happy to sit and watch. Ryder, however, was getting antsy and agitated. The parade faded away and there was only one event left; the fireworks.

Everyone, including Ryder and Ino, made their way over to the field where the fireworks would take place. The night had grown rather chilly. Ryder was used to the cold though and was quite a furnace. Ino, though, was shivering, teeth chattering quietly.

"Are you cold, Ino?" Ryder asked softly. Ino nodded her blonde head tried to rub her arms through her kimono. With a sigh, Ryder reluctantly wrapped her arms around Ino's shoulders, trying to share her body heat. Ino was all too happy to lean back into Ryder.

How awkward. Hopefully no one would come around and recognize her.

They waited in tense silence for the fireworks. Izumi was a whirlwind of confusion. Just what in the world had she gotten herself into? After tonight, after all this, Ryder was never going to hear the end of it from Ino. Ino was going to follow Ryder around like a puppy dog, attached and needy.

Ryder didn't want that. She was a girl disguised as a boy. She couldn't risk being found out and Ryder was a girl! She couldn't date another girl! Even if it was 'not real'. She would be breaking Ino's heart. And dating another girl was just wrong. This just couldn't go on past tonight… Ryder was going to have to cut this relationship off before it even started. On Monday at school, Ryder was going to have to tell Ino to leave her alone.

A loud bang and pop sounded in the sky and Ryder looked up to see the first of the fireworks explode in the air in a brilliance of colour. With a gentle smile, Ryder forgot her worries. She enjoyed the moment. For as long as she could.

Daisuke felt terrified. At first, following Ryder and Yamanaka-San was no big task. It was easy and simple. For the first half-hour, Ryder was tense and checking every 5 seconds if Daisuke was still there. But as the hour progressed, Ryder became more and more relaxed and checked for him less and less. And for a while, Daisuke forgot he was supposed to be meeting Sakaeguchi.

That is, until a hand suddenly enclosed around his own and he was tugged around to face the boy he had feared to see. Sakaeguchi had sniffed him out.

"S-Sakaeguchi-San!" Daisuke squeaked with shock. Daisuke blushed awkwardly and stepped away from Sakaeguchi, brushing the front of his light brown kimono, erasing non-existent wrinkles in the fabric.

"I'm glad you came, Delilah-Chan," the boy smiled happily.

"I'm g-glad to be here…" Daisuke murmured. Looking behind him, he realized he had lost track of Ryder and sighed. She was going to be angry with him later.

"Let's go play some of the games!" Sakaeguchi smiled and lead Daisuke back towards the booths and stalls. Unlike Ino who was very into the romantic side of things, Sakaeguchi didn't do the "couple games". Instead, he picked the difficult games and convinced Daisuke to partake.

It didn't take long for Daisuke to partially forget he was supposed to be a girl. His competitive side started to show as he gradually got more and more aggressive in his play. And because Sakaeguchi encouraged it, Daisuke soon forgot all together that he was supposed to be a boy, dressed as a girl, on a date with a boy who thought he was a girl. He started having fun, Gods forbid, and he started laughing and joking with the boy like he would have with Naruto and Ryder.

It felt almost natural. It felt like he was just Daisuke playing around with Sakaeguchi like they did in gym or in baseball. Just two boys having fun with each other. Just two friends having a good time at a festival.

Their entire evening continued like this. But the later it got, the more nervous Daisuke got. He knew it would have to come to an end. Sakaeguchi had promised to leave him alone. To never bother him again. Sakaeguchi would never bother Delilah.

Suddenly, with a confused and dread filled heart, Daisuke realized he didn't want that. He realized how much he actually liked Sakaeguchi. For the whole Grade 7 year, Daisuke found hanging out with Sakaeguchi to be extremely uncomfortable and awkward because the fine line between Daisuke and Delilah was being threatened.

But, spending the evening with him, actually having fun as both Daisuke and Delilah, was blurring that line. He wasn't just Daisuke because Daisuke would never have been in this situation. And neither was he Delilah, the quiet, shy, rarely seen girl who worked at Nemui Inn. He was both and neither. He was just a boy having a fantastic time with a good friend.

He wanted more of this. And he didn't think he could ever get this just being Daisuke. Maybe in order to get this kind of close friendship, he had to blur that line and be Delilah. Could he do that? He didn't really want to. He wanted to be just Daisuke. He wanted Sakaeguchi to be this kind of friend with just Daisuke, not Delilah. What should he do? He didn't know.

"You ok, Delilah-Chan?" Sakaeguchi asked softly, head tilted slightly to the side. His chocolate brown eyes were concerned. Daisuke smiled gently and nodded.

"Good. The fireworks are about to start. Want to go see them with me?"

"Of course," Daisuke answered, taking Sakaeguchi's offered arm. The pair made their way down to the fields and Daisuke suddenly wondered where the night had gone. It felt like it had only been minutes since he was following Ryder around. Time flies when you're having fun! He dimly realized that throughout the whole night, not once did Daisuke think of Ryder or Naruto or needing their help at all.

The pair found a nice cozy spot to settle down in. Daisuke shivered, feeling slightly cold from the chilly spring night. Sakaeguchi noticed and moved closer, wrapping his arm around Daisuke's shoulders gently.

"I've had a great time with you tonight, Delilah-Chan," Sakaeguchi smiled. He was truly sincere. That made Daisuke feel guilty. He felt like he was lying, cheating Sakaeguchi of the truth.

"I've had a lot of fun with you too, Sakaeguchi-San."

"Could you maybe call me Yuuto? It would make me feel better," the boy laughed nervously.

After a night like this, how could Daisuke refuse? "Sure."

They sat and waited patiently for the fireworks to come. People were moving around them and settling in for the fireworks too. Daisuke suddenly felt tired and worn out. With a yawn, he leaned his head against Sakae-…ahem… Yuuto's shoulder and relaxed.

Right then, the loud bang sounded, followed by the pop and the flash of bright colour, illuminating the dark night sky. "Wow," Daisuke whispered, pushing his glasses further up on his nose as he admired the beautiful sky.

"Delilah-Chan?" Yuuto's voice was soft and delicate. Daisuke looked up with questions in his muddy brown eyes.

"Yes, Yuuto-Kun?"

Yuuto closed his chocolate brown eyes and leaned forward, pressing his soft pink lips against Daisuke's. Daisuke flushed darkly and felt light headed and dizzy and almost disgusted. This was wrong. So, so wrong. And yet… Daisuke kissed him back.

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