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Growing Up With Dreams

By GoodMorningFlower

Drama / Romance

Truth and Lies

Growing Up With Dreams

Chapter Six – Truth and Lies

The beginning of the Grade 8 year was hard for Naruto. Since finding out just a few months ago that his parents were more than likely murdered, the 13-year-old boy had been devastated. How do you get used to that fact? That your parents were heartlessly murdered? That your loving, wonderful parents had been rudely taken away by someone else's cruel idea of a joke? How does a young boy take that news?

Needless to say, our poor Uzumaki had taken it rather hard. He was already hurt by the fact that he was growing up parentless but now he felt even more abandoned and distrustful of the world. Distrustful of people. Whoever did this was sick. Just plain sick. However, during his period of new grieving and mourning, he found some silver lining through it all.

His parents may have been gone but Naruto was lucky enough to go to a good guardian. A good man who did everything he could to make Naruto happy and make Naruto grow up to be a proper boy. Naruto could appreciate the sacrifices Iruka made for Naruto. And the blonde was extremely happy that it was indeed Iruka he had ended up with and not some foster family.

Then, beyond his own suffering, Naruto realized that he was not the only one who had lost his parents in the train accident. He knew Sasuke and his brother, Itachi, had lost their parents too. They all had the misfortune of being on that train. It made Naruto wonder… was there a specific target? Was there a particular person there who was the objective of the hit and the rest were just in the way; collateral damage? Thinking about this made Naruto feel sick to his stomach.

That such a person could be that heartless.

Naruto often wondered if Sasuke knew. He wondered if his ex-best friend knew that his parents were murdered and not just in some silly train accident. This thought is what spurred our blonde into action. On a brisk April Saturday morning, Naruto headed out on his ever faithful bike, as he was too terrified to take the train, and set out for the long journey to Shi Yume. By car it wasn't very far. Maybe half an hour to forty five minutes. But Naruto journeyed the bike paths and walking trails down south for at least an hour and a half to get to the city of Shi Yume. And then another 10 minutes or so to get to Sasuke's house. The only bad thing about this journey was that Naruto had to pass his old home to get there. So he passed in front of his childhood home but he didn't look at it. He didn't want to see it. He couldn't stand to see someone else living there.

He only wanted his memories of that place.

But finally the boy made it to the upper class part of the city and stopped his bike by the front door to the huge, dark house. Taking a deep breath, Naruto knocked on the door and anxiously waited for someone to answer the door.

Finally, a butler did. A greying old man impeccably dressed stood there looking down his too large nose at the little boy. "Yes?" the man barked rudely.

Naruto fidgeted and looked at the ground. "Uhm, I'd like to see Sasuke-Kun…"

"Regarding what?" the butler sneered.

"Uhm… I just want to talk to him about something important," Naruto looked up at the man through his blonde lashes.

"Wait here." The door slammed in Naruto's face and the boy stood stalk still. Now he was even more nervous than before. Would Sasuke even want to talk to him? Would Sasuke even believe Naruto or listen to him? The worried boy fidgeted again, his foot scuffing the concrete step, his fingers twisting in knots, his blue eyes darting everywhere but the front door.

Until it opened again anyways. The boorish butler appeared again and opened the door, stepping aside to allow Naruto entrance into the household. Cautiously stepping in, Naruto looked around, admiring the large house from the inside for the first time and thinking that the butler deserved a name. He had heard Jeeves somewhere once. That was a good name he decided. Jeeves led Naruto through the house silently and quickly until they reached a sunken living room that housed a 60" TV, theatre seating, surround sound speakers, every gaming system possible, and shelves lined with books.

The young blonde was completely impressed. He didn't know such a wonderful, dream-come-true-room could exist! Staring open mouthed, he took in the sights greedily. He didn't fail to notice the little black haired boy sitting cross legged aggressively pounding away on a controller to a game playing up on the TV. He also didn't fail to notice the 3 other people in the room. Naruto recognized Suigetsu, the pointy toothed freak, pounding away on a second controller and cursing violently. Karin as well, her red hair pulled back into a pony tail and sitting behind Sasuke and cheering him on. And another larger teenager probably a year or two above them all with bright orange hair.

"Young Master, your guest is here to see you," Jeeves announced before shuffling away to some other part of the house. Naruto stood there, not knowing what to do or say. Some part of him wanted to sit down with all these people and join in the fun. He wanted to play games and watch movies in this wonderful room with friends. But then the other part of him objected and reprimanded the thought. Sasuke had chosen these people over him. Sasuke had made it painfully clear that he didn't want to be Naruto's friend any more. The constant bullying, the teasing, the mean practical jokes played… all served as reminders of why Naruto wasn't part of that group right now.

"What do you want, Naruto?" Sasuke finally asked, not even bothering to pause his on-going game.

"I uhm, just wanted to talk to you about something important… in private," Naruto mumbled out, not daring to make eye contact with any of the teenagers in the room.

"You've got a lot of nerve coming here… what's so important that you need to ruin my Saturday for?" the young Uchiha asked, an icy chill in his voice.

Naruto's cheeks heated up in embarrassment and shame. "It's private, Sasuke… It's something only for you to hear…"

"Ugh, just go talk to him, Sasuke, so we can get back to our game!" Suigetsu growled, pausing the game with his controller and turning to glare at Naruto.

With a heavy, dramatic sigh, Sasuke stood, set down his controller, and walked past Naruto, beckoning him to another room a little further down the hall. Once inside with the door closed, Sasuke turned to coolly regard his ex-friend and neighbour. "What is it?"

Now that the situation had come and Sasuke was actually going to listen to Naruto, the boy realized he didn't know what to say. How do you start a conversation like this? 'Hey, how's it going?'

"Uhm… I don't know how else to put this, Sasuke, but… you know how our parents were killed in a train accident 8 years ago?" Naruto's blue eyes made steady contact with Sasuke's icy black ones.

Sasuke went rigid but still he nodded, acknowledging the incident.

"Well… I just found out a few months ago that uhm… it wasn't an accident at all… some one rigged that tunnel to collapse on top of the train on purpose… our parents were murdered, Sasuke…"

The blonde watched his companion closely, carefully, trying to determine what his reaction would be. At first, Sasuke looked confused. Then the boy looked sad. Then angry.

"How would you know this? Why would you tell me?"

"The police had found remnants of censors and powerful explosive residue like from C4… they just could never connect it to anyone so no one was ever charged…It became a cold case…"

Sasuke suddenly threw out his arms and shoved Naruto, hard, into the wall. "Why would you make this up? Are you trying to get back at me? This isn't funny, Naruto!" Sasuke yelled, his black eyes a whirlwind of chaotic emotion.

Naruto picked himself up and tried to console Sasuke. "I know it's hard to accept right now, Sasuke… I had a hard time too. But I thought it was something you should know," he explained as gently as he could.

"No, you're just sick, Naruto! Just sick! Get out of my house!" the raven haired child shouted and pushed Naruto out of the room and into the hallway. "Go! Get out of here!"

"But Sasuke, I was just-"

"No! I want you gone! I never want to see you again!" Sasuke, in his anger, threw a punch, connecting on Naruto's right cheek. The blonde tumbled to the ground, clutching his cheek in pain. But he didn't make a sound. He looked up at Sasuke with sad, understanding blue eyes, forgiving eyes. That made Sasuke even angrier. "You think I want your pity? Get out and I never want to see you again!"

Naruto slowly stood and inched backwards, his hands out in front to ward off any other attacks. "Sasuke, it's ok, I'm going… just calm down, ok?" He felt the cool wood of the front door pressed against his back and he opened it slowly.

"Get out you monster!" Sasuke roared, shoving Naruto so violently that he stumbled backwards through the door and down the 5 steps to the pavement.

Naruto hurt. Not just his back or his face. But his heart. His heart hurt deeply. He knew he wasn't friends with Sasuke any more, that wasn't his issue. But Naruto understood all too well how Sasuke was feeling and he couldn't blame him for his actions. Couldn't blame him for the insult. He knew. He could comprehend and recognize the misplaced anger and sorrow. He also knew that Sasuke would never be the same again. He knew that this information was going to do more to Sasuke than any one would ever be able to realize.

Without another word, Naruto got up, grabbed his bike and took off, ignoring the names and curses being thrown at him. His eye started swelling and throbbing with pain and he could feel the light scrapes and scratches from his tumble down the stairs as he made the long trip back home. There was nothing more he could do. He was sure Sasuke would ignore Naruto's existence and pretend he wasn't even a part of his life. But Naruto would never pretend. Never forget. Never ignore. He would always feel connected to Sasuke, no matter how many years went by.

After that little demon left Sasuke's property, the young Uchiha yelled at his friends to get out before running upstairs to the comforting lap of his big brother. Itachi of course was a bit shocked and had questions but the 17-year-old waited patiently. He held his little brother and soothed him as best he could while he cried and clung desperately to Itachi's shirt and chest.

After a while though, Sasuke calmed down enough to talk to Itachi and told him what happened between him and Naruto. Though, after the story was finished, Itachi stayed uncomfortably silent. Too silent for Sasuke's liking.

"Onii-San?" the boy inquired curiously, wiping some stray tears from his eyes.

Itachi stroked Sasuke's hair slowly, thoughtfully, for a moment before replying. "I don't know if that's true, Sasuke… But don't you worry your pretty little head about it, ok? I'll look into it myself," the older brother promised with a gentle smile.

Of course, this made Sasuke feel infinitely better. His big brother always knew what to say to make him feel better! Itachi really was the best brother any one could ask for. When all Sasuke's friends stopped talking to him or left him, Itachi was always there with open, warm, waiting arms and kind words. What would Sasuke do without with wonderful brother?

"Man, that's a good shiner you got… Sasuke must've really hit you hard!" Kiba whistled appreciatively. The brown haired boy squinted his eyes and looked closer, examining the damage from the Uchiha boy. It was a nasty purple-greenish colour. It wasn't pretty, that was for damn sure! But with the attack having been just a few days ago, it was healing remarkably well. On anyone else it still would have been the darkest shade of blue-black and purple. Naruto's body just didn't like wounds, apparently, and got rid of them as fast as it could.

"Yeah, he did," the blonde boy shrugged. The bruise still hurt too but it was nothing. Naruto knew that in a few more days it would be gone completely. But he had invited Kiba over after school that day to just hang out seeing as Ryder was in her dance class today and Daisuke was at the Inn helping out again. He just needed a friend to keep him occupied.

The two boys walked into Naruto's home and headed straight into Naruto's room. Because Iruka was a teacher, he was still at the school doing whatever teachers did there. Naruto threw his backpack down in a corner and flopped onto his bed, complaining about his maths teacher.

For a short while the two boys bickered over which teacher was worse. The bickering turned into a heated argument and, as boys will be boys, they started a friendly wrestling match to show who was boss. They stumbled and rolled, pushing and pulling and grabbing amongst a gale of laughter.

At one point, Kiba had sat on top of Naruto and started pinning the boy down. Their aggressive behaviour meant they were bumping into things around Naruto's room. One such thing being a small bookshelf with some statues and pictures on top. One picture wasn't in a frame and when the bookshelf was bumped, it fluttered lazily down on top of Naruto's face. Naruto was ready to just push it off his face and continue on wrestling but Kiba stopped dead in his tracks.

"Who's that?" the bewildered boy asked, releasing Naruto's arms to pick up the picture. It had a very cute girl with short silver hair, the brightest green eyes, an adorable smile and a modest blush across her cheeks. The girl looked about their age. She was wearing a beautiful light green dress with stockings and flat shoes, looking at the camera with fondness. She looked like a picture from a fairy tale. So princess like and proper and beautiful. "How do you know a cutie like this, Naruto?"

Naruto realized what picture Kiba was looking at and immediately burst into a fit of laughter. "No, I can't tell you… she'd kill me…" he attempted to take the photo back but Kiba jumped to his feet and held the photo away from Naruto.

"No, tell me!"

"I can't! It's a secret!" Naruto was still giggling as he attempted to steal the photo back.

"C'mon, you know you can tell me!" Kiba begged, dodging and moving the photo away from Naruto's grasping hands.

"It's not my secret to tell, Kiba! Give it back!" the laughter was gone.

"I gotta know! She's so pretty! Just tell me; it's no big deal!"

With a frustrating growl, Naruto threw up his arms, "Well, look at her, Kiba! You know her! Who does she remind you of?" Then he stood back, arms crossed, eyes squinty as he waited impatiently for Kiba to figure it out.

Confused, the boy took another look at the photo. He just couldn't believe the fact that he knew this girl and he didn't even know it. If she had been in any of his classes he would have know about it! He looked closer at the picture and racked his brain. He didn't know anyone with silver hair and green eyes… Sakura had pink hair but her facial structure was different, this wasn't Sakura. Not adorable Hinata. Not scary Ten-ten. Not any girl Kiba knew.

So he thought of the people in general he knew with silver hair. Well, Kakashi but this 13 year old girl clearly wasn't Kakashi. Kiba desperately wracked his brain, trying to figure out who this girl was! Well, there's Izumi Ryder, the guy on Naruto's baseball team that they hung out with. He and Kazumi Daisuke were Naruto's best friends.

Then the light bulb 'pinged' above Kiba's head. "Holy shit, is this Ryder?"

Naruto nodded solemnly.

"WHAT?! But she's… I mean, isn't he a… you know, a guy? Is he a cross-dresser? I don't understand?" Kiba wailed in despair, pulling his hair in his fruitless attempt to grasp this new development.

With a heavy sigh, Naruto sat on his bed. "It's a long story but no, Ryder isn't a cross-dresser. She just really loves baseball…"

Even more confused than before, Kiba sat on the bed next to Naruto and listened intently as Naruto told the story. How her parents were extremely strict and traditional and wanted her to be the perfect lady. But how she was a tomboy who just wanted to play baseball. He also explained how there were no girl baseball teams so they convinced Tsunade to register Ryder as a boy and keep it a secret from her parents. And that when Ryder went to dance, her father thought his perfect little girl was at Ballet, when she was actually at hip-hop or alternative dance and when she went to 'extra credit classes' she was actually playing at a baseball game. Naruto didn't leave out the fact that Ryder had to hide all her equipment at Daisuke's house and always carried other clothes for when she went back home so her parents would never suspect. She left her house in a girls school uniform, stopped at Daisuke's to change into the boys Gakuran uniform, and went to school with him. And the same for going back home.

Kiba connected the dots. It all made sense. Why Ryder always changed in the bathroom stalls, why she was "sick" or "allergic" to chlorine and couldn't swim with the rest of the gym class. "What an incredible lie," Kiba finally whispered. He looked at the photo in his hands again of the sweet looking little girl and tried to compare it to the rugged tomboy that he knew. It was like a split personality.

"Her Dad took that picture and she had it tacked up on her bedroom wall. I took it, thinking I could use it for blackmail one day," Naruto joked with a chuckle.

But that suddenly gave Kiba a wonderful idea, "Hey, do you think she'd go on a date with me?"

Naruto just about choked on air, "W-what?! Are you crazy? She'd punch your lights out first!"

"Not if I have this!" Kiba lifted the photo for Naruto to see.

The blonde shook his head vigorously, "No, Kiba! If she sees that or you tell her, I'm dead! She'll kill me for telling you! It's a secret only Daisuke, his family, Tsunade, Iruka and I know! It can't get out!"

Kiba shrugged, standing, "I'll just say I found the picture and I put 2 and 2 together on my own. She'll have to go on a date with me!"

Naruto sighed… things were never that black and white with Ryder…

"YOU WHAT?!" Ryder screamed, steam seeming to come from her ears. Her face was bright red, her fists clenched, teeth grit. She just couldn't believe it! Kiba had stolen her picture from Naruto's room, figured out her secret and now wanted to blackmail a date from her!? What was the world coming to!?

Kiba shrugged, rubbing his abused ears, "I just want to go out on a date with you… as a girl, not a boy."

Ryder shook her head wildly, sending her silver hair flying. "Do you realize how hard it's been trying to keep my identity secret from everyone? Now you want me to be the girl I hate being?"

"Just one date!"

"Kiba! I already went on a date! I went to the stupid Sanno festival with Ino and I was so stressed by the end because she was trying to kiss me that I ran to Daisuke's and passed out! She is still bothering me about going out with her! I don't ever want to go through this again!"

Kiba stared at her open mouthed. He had known the boy Ryder had gone on a date but he didn't know with whom. And it was also blown into a different perspective now that he knew her secret. The thought of Ryder going on a date with a girl just made him want to fall into a fit of giggles. But he held his composure.

"Ok, well I won't try to kiss you and I won't take you to a festival or anything like that. Just one date. I want to see the girl Ryder!" he pleaded.

Ryder groaned in despair and flopped back onto Daisuke's bed. They were at his place for a study day with Daisuke and Naruto but the 2 boys were down in the living room. Kiba had cornered her up here for his secret little plan. What was she to do? She could plead and beg not to go on the date but then he might give out her photo or ask for something worse than a date! If she refused then it would have the same consequences.

She was going to kill Naruto for having this photo of her out where people could see it. She had let him have it purely out of her trust (and secret crush) for him. And now look! Kiba had found it! This was all Naruto's fault!

"Fine! One date! But you don't get to tell anyone about it! And don't ever ask me again! Got it?" She demanded, standing again and glaring at Kiba as best she could. She was a tiny bit taller than Kiba since girls grew earlier than boys did but Kiba was unfazed by her intimidating stature.

"Deal! But you have to be completely girly, a Daddy's Little Girl, like in your photo!"

"Fine!" She growled, punched him in the arm, and stormed out of the room back downstairs to yell at Naruto.

Kiba rubbed his arm and grumbled under his breath but secretly he didn't really mind… 'Blinded by love' would be the expression here.

Later that year, when they were all another year older, the 4 friends were playing a good, friendly game of basketball during a Saturday. It had been quite some time since Kiba had blackmailed Ryder into a date. Kiba had admitted to being head-over-heels in love with the girl Ryder and tried to kiss her at the end, against his promise, but Ryder quickly took care of that. Kiba was bed ridden for 2 days. And needless to say, Naruto had gotten a good beating for letting Kiba find out but (not strangely) Ryder had let Naruto keep that picture of her.

While Ryder and Naruto were on a good winning streak, Naruto's cell phone rang. It confused Naruto for a moment as his cell phone rarely rang. Iruka had given it to the 14-year old for emergencies so most of the time it just sat in Naruto's backpack collecting dust.

He stepped out of their 2-on-2 game, leaving Ryder to fend for herself against Daisuke and Kiba, and fished the phone from his bag. Looking at the caller ID, he didn't recognize the number and had second thoughts about answering but there was a voice in the back of his mind that said it was important and that he should answer. So he did.

"Hello?"

"Yes, is this uh…" the sound of paper being shifted and moved, "Uzumaki Naruto?"

"Hai, who is this?" his curiosity was building by the second.

"This is Takero Ami from the Kaigen No Yume General Hospital. Umino Iruka is your guardian, correct?"

Naruto's heart suddenly filled with dread and he nearly stopped breathing. What happened? "Y-yes, he is. Is he ok? What's going on?"

"There was a bad car accident. A careless driver hit the drivers' side of Umino-San's car. He is still alive but he needs to go into surgery to save his life. You are listed in his file as one of the first contacts so I phoned you to inform you of his condition. Unfortunately, though, his condition will worsen if he doesn't have this surgery and there is a possibility that he may pass away…"

"Then do the surgery!" Naruto nearly screamed into the phone, jumping to his feet.

"I-I'm afraid it isn't that simple, Uzumaki-San… you see, the procedure is a very expensive one and his insurance doesn't cover it… "

"I don't care! Put him in surgery and I'll find some way to get the money, ok? I'm on my way right now to see him," Naruto grabbed his bag, shoved his phone in his pocket and jumped on his bike with tears in his eyes.

Ryder, Daisuke and Kiba all called after Naruto but he was long gone, only Iruka on his mind. He had lost his parents already… he didn't know what he'd do if he lost Iruka too…

He was sleeping. Just sleeping. He wasn't dead. The doctors promised him that the surgery had saved his life and he was just resting. Naruto had to convince himself of this. He had to stop freaking himself out. Iruka was alive and was going to get better. Even despite Iruka's lack of insurance and coverage, the hospital had performed the surgery at Naruto's request. When Naruto had asked how much it was, they showed the young boy the medical bill. The poor blonde nearly fainted when he saw the large sum.

There was no way Iruka could ever come up with that amount. The only other option was for Naruto to get a job and pay back that sum in increments. So while Iruka was sleeping peacefully, Naruto pleaded and begged and convinced the hospital to let him pay them in bi-weekly sums until the amount was paid off.

Only problem was, he had no job. So that same day, as the hospital visiting hours ended, Naruto went job hunting. Having no previous job or experience in anything other than a trouble maker, it was difficult. Every place he went to turned him down, not interested in having a young trouble maker as part of their staff.

That was, until our poor, worried, sad, tired and stressed Uzumaki stumbled upon a fancy little coffee shop called Servir Café. It was a gorgeous, American type building with a red brick front and black awnings over the large windows. The waiters inside were dressed up like butlers in black tuxedo type clothing. Black dress pants, white long sleeve shirts, black vests and ties, all tidy, neat and polite. It wasn't really Naruto's type of place but there was just something about the place he really liked.

The square, mahogany tables were spread out nicely with padded, black velvet chairs and the booths were similarly decorated. The order counter was beautifully displayed and women dressed in formal maids outfits; cute, black ruffled skirts reaching their knees, white stockings, black shoes, white blouses and black bowties with a white ruffled headband to hold back their hair. Despite the formality of the place and fine artwork, it seemed a friendly atmosphere and Naruto felt excited at the idea of working here.

He approached the counter and asked one of the girls if the manager was in that day. With a bright smile, she led him to the back room and into an office. Once inside, Naruto tried to introduce himself as formally and properly as he possibly could and tried very hard to seem confident. He asked if there was a job opening.

At first the manager, a tall, thick and intimidating man in a tailored suit with greying hair, seemed very hesitant and wary of Naruto.

"Do you have any experience at all serving customers or making coffee?"

Chewing his bottom lip nervously, the 14-year-old shook his head. "I don't have experience at all…" he sighed, hanging his head. He felt defeated. There was no way anyone would hire him… he was never going to be able to pay back the hospital at this rate.

"Why do you want to work here at Servir Café?" the manager, Usui Takumi, asked curiously. He saw the look of secret despair in the sky blue eyes.

Naruto hesitated for a moment, unsure if he should tell Usui-San about his predicament. "Well… my guardian, Iruka, was just in a car crash and needed to have surgery to save his life but his had no coverage for it… I asked the hospital to let me pay them back in increments but in order to do that I gotta get a job," Naruto explained in a small voice.

Usui-San felt sadness for the boy. How brave for him to get a job and pay back the hospital himself to save his guardian. He couldn't turn him away. With a warm smile, the old man extended a hand to Naruto and the boy took it, confused. "Welcome, to Servir Café. Let's get you a uniform and start your training."

"I'm sorry, Naruto, I can't be there… my parents are taking me to go see the opera with them tonight…"

Naruto sighed dejectedly. Iruka was coming home from the hospital tonight and he wanted Ryder and Daisuke there to stay and help and keep him company. Daisuke was stuck helping at the Inn, Ryder had the Opera to go to… who was left?

"Maybe ask Kiba or Hinata…I'm sure they'd love to be there with you… but tell Iruka I say hi and to get well soon, ok?" with that, Ryder took off towards home. Or rather, Daisuke's to change first, then home.

Though, on her way home she ran into Ino. With a frustrated sigh, Ryder slumped down a bit. "Hi, Yamanaka-San."

A flirty giggle, "I thought I told you to call me Ino!" the blonde fell in step with Ryder. "How was your day at school today?"

"It was alright. How was yours?" Ryder was feeling rather exhausted and tight lipped today. She had been feeling rather cranky lately and it didn't help that Kiba still bothered her about going on another date and her parents wanted to come see her at ballet. Things were getting stressful.

"Oh, you know! The usual. Lame teachers, stupid school work. So what are you doing tonight? Because I was thinking-"

"I already have plans tonight."

"Oh that's too bad. I had tickets to the high school baseball game and I thought we could-"

With an angry sigh, Ryder stopped, turned to face Ino and finally snapped. "Look, Yamanaka-San, I don't like you. I went to the festival with you but that was the end of it! I am not interested in you at all. In fact, you're quite annoying. Your voice, your mannerisms, your flirting, your giggling… Please leave me alone! I don't know how much more obvious I need to be with you!"

Ino stared at Ryder, aghast. He had never been that mean to her before! How cruel! "You're such a jerk!" Ino cried, tears in her blue eyes as she ran home.

Finally! Ryder was finally rid of Ino! A small, tiny part of her felt guilty for saying those things. But a much bigger part of her told her that she had bigger things to worry about. Ino just didn't measure up to the amount of issues Ryder had to deal with at the moment.

Gaara was quite unhappy. Since he started dealing with Orochimaru again, behind Temari and Kankuros' backs, life had gotten infinitely more complicated and he regretted it. Was it too much to ask to just have a normal life? To have friends and do good in school, not deal with gangs and drugs and bullying?

The little red-head thought it was extremely unfair. He had gone through so much and he knew better and yet he still listened to the snake and let himself be controlled. How silly. Naïve. There had to be a way out of this.

That's why he loved the days where his brother Kankuro would come pick him up and take him out for a movie or games. Kankuro often brought his friend, Yahiko, along. He was in his brothers' class. Kankuro, being four years older than Gaara, was in Grade 11. He was this tall, obnoxious and short-tempered kid with spiky orange hair and bright blue eyes with, what Gaara thought, was a perverted smile. But Yahiko was alright. He was funny and loved to spend time with Gaara.

On this particular day, Yahiko and Kankuro were in a heated argument when they came up to the Junior High to pick up Gaara. They had plans to go to the arcade and eat ice cream and just hang out till it was time to go home. But their conversation interested Gaara; rather, what he could hear of it anyways.

"…know how long it took us to get away! How could you just…"

"I didn't know! Honest, I never knew what he did with the information…"

"…lucky I'm even bringing you along… Gaara likes you…"

"Kankuro! Yahiko!" Gaara called out, running up to the pair. They dropped their conversation as the boy got close. Kankuro looked quite angry and annoyed while Yahiko looked guilty and sad but trying to hide it and look happy for Gaara.

"Hey buddy! You ready?"

Gaara nodded eagerly but couldn't help the feeling that what they were discussing had something to do with him.

Daisuke sighed and glared at Sakaeguchi. The boy was just not cooperative at all lately! Since the Sanno Festival and they had kissed, Sakaeguchi hasn't been the same. Granted, the boy had kept to his promise and hadn't gone back to Nemui Inn to bother 'Delilah', but now the depression was affecting him and now it was affecting the baseball team.

Sakaeguchi played 2nd Base and a very important role. But because his love-sick mind was elsewhere, he was constantly letting the opposing team slip by him. His mind was in the clouds no matter how desperately Daisuke and the others tried to keep him in line and focused. This was now going on the 3rd game that they were losing because of this! It was frustrating Daisuke to no end!

There had to be some way to solve this! But he already knew the solution. Sakaeguchi was depressed because he wasn't allowed to see Delilah anymore. And while Daisuke tried his damndest not to act awkward around Sakaeguchi, he still felt extremely confused and put off from his experience. When Sakaeguchi had kissed him, he had actually kissed back and he still hadn't quite figured out why.

He liked Sakaeguchi. He was a good friend and, when he was paying attention, he was a great baseball player. But now these new stirrings… new feelings… were foreign and, quite frankly, unwanted. Daisuke didn't like being torn between 2 things. As Delilah, he had quite enjoyed himself with Sakaeguchi but then the Daisuke part of him, the real part, wanted to know if Sakaeguchi would treat him the same way if he knew 'Delilah' was Daisuke. Would he be treated with the same kindness and love?

He almost didn't want to know. But the Mihoshi Tigers were suffering because Daisuke had stopped playing 'Delilah' for Sakaeguchi. Would they stand a better chance if he were to don this persona again?

So that night, Daisuke retreated into his room, locked the door so his pesky siblings wouldn't bother him, and dialled Sakaeguchi's home number. A girl picked up the phone and Daisuke assumed it was his sister, Nana, so he asked for Yuuto in his girl voice. She happily handed the phone over to Yuuto, teasing him that "There's a giiirrrlll on the phone!"

Daisuke blushed darkly scratching nervously at the thin scar that spanned across the bridge of his nose and waited for the boy to come on the phone.

"Hello?"

"Ah, Sakae- er... Yuuto-Kun? It's Delilah from Nemui Inn…"

"D-Delilah-Chan!? What a surprise! What brings you to call me?" and suddenly the depressed Sakaeguchi was gone, replaced by the excitable, happy-go-lucky boy that Daisuke remembered.

But then the guilt started setting in… how long would he be able to put up this façade?

"You called him?!" Ryder asked, a huge smile on her face at Daisuke's discomfort.

A dark blush spread across his freckled cheeks, "What else was I supposed to do?!" he retorted defensively. "The team was suffering because of me so I had to fix it! We won the game today because of it!"

"Well, yeah… talking to him is one thing, Dai… but arranging another date with him? I'm starting to think you really want to go out with Sakaeguchi," Naruto teased. Jokingly of course. But the blonde didn't realize just how accurate that jab was. Daisuke grit his teeth and looked away guiltily.

The pause of silence alerted Ryder and Naruto. The two friends glanced at each other then back at Daisuke. "Dai… do you?" Ryder asked hesitantly.

Daisuke shook his head and ran his fingers through his forest green hair, "I…I dunno…" he replied softly.

"Do you like him like that? I mean… like him like him?" Naruto asked.

"I don't know!" Daisuke threw his arms up in rarely shown frustration. He paced his room, his muddy brown eyes trained on the floor. "I don't know… and what if I do? What does that mean? Is that even ok?" he murmured, feeling like he was going mad. He just didn't understand the implications of the situation.

"Well… I think that if you really like him, Dai, then tell him. But you should also tell him that you are Delilah… before things get too complicated, you know?" Ryder suggested quietly. She understood that part of it at least.

"What if he doesn't understand and he hates me? What if he doesn't like me back? Or what if he does? What does that mean?" Daisuke started panicking slightly before Naruto grabbed his shoulders, stopping his pacing.

"Daisuke… regardless of whether he likes you or not, no matter which way he takes it, you know Ryder and I are here for you. I for one don't care if you like a guy; you're still just Daisuke to me…" Naruto explained in a firm voice. For a moment he sounded older than just 14. Though, since Iruka was in that accident and Naruto got a job to help pay the bills, Naruto had changed quite a bit.

Ryder put her hand softly on Daisuke's shoulder with a reassuring squeeze. "I agree. I don't care who you like, Dai… you're still my best friend."

With tears in his tormented eyes, Daisuke smiled, "Thanks guys."

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