Growing Up With Dreams

Building Up and Breaking Down

Growing Up With Dreams

Chapter Seven – Breaking Down and Building Up

Grade Nine was exciting. Ryder's 15th birthday was soon and she was so excited. Not to mention that baseball season started up again and she was just getting ready for an early season game at Daisuke's place. Dai and Naruto were just in the other room getting ready. She could hardly hold in her excitement! Things were going so great. She had been able to make it through 2 years of Junior High as a boy and no one suspected a thing! And there was only one mishap with Kiba finding out her identity.

She had also dodged a bullet with her parents. They had wanted to watch her Ballet recital, which was actual a hip-hop competition for talent scouts to pick out those with the most promise of getting good scholarships. Ryder hadn't been chosen because she was still so young but she wasn't disheartened. She was a great dancer and her school was confident that she would only get better. During the competition though, when her parents were supposed to show up and Ryder thought she was toast, a business meeting came up and they had to cancel.

Ryder was ok with that. Her lies could go on for a little longer. And baseball had been going great. Tsunade was keeping her promise of letting her continue baseball as long as her grades stayed up. Ryder worked hard and she was managing 70-85% in all her classes. She was incredibly proud of herself.

And now an early season game. Good signs everywhere! Nothing could bring down this rough, tough, sturdy and independent girl! With an excited squeal, she bounced up and down in front of the mirror.

Then she froze in shock. Did she really just see what she thought she saw? It was slight and hardly noticeable but… it was still definitely there… she jumped up and down again just to make sure.

Yeah, it was definitely there! Her chest bounced with her jump. Her breasts were growing! Ryder was suddenly filled with despair and let out an agonized cry. No! She had gone this long without any female distractions! Why now?! Why here?! Now that they started, they weren't going to stop! This was terrible! Her world was over!

She knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Granted a lot of the girls she went to school with already had budding breasts larger than hers but she had always just figured that because she was athletic that it slowed their growth. And she was perfectly ok with that. But you can't avoid puberty for forever.

Ryder turned away from the mirror, her green eyes burning with tears. What was she going to do? How was she going to hide this?

A knock sounded on the door. "Ryder, are you ok? We heard you yell," Naruto's voice came through the wood.

"N-no, I'm not ok… don't come in… I think I'm gonna have to sit this game out, guys," Ryder murmured, her voice shaking. This was just awful.

"Sit out? You can't sit out! You were so excited for this game! Just tell us what's wrong," Daisuke chimed in.

Ryder shook her head and ran her fingers through her short silver hair. "I-I can't… It's not, uhm, it's not something I can tell you guys…"

"Just tell us! Nothing ever stops you from playing baseball!" Naruto persisted.

"You don't understand!" Ryder wailed, tears streaming down her soft cheeks.

"Tell us!"

"It's a girl problem!" Ryder yelled, getting upset and frustrated.

"What kind?" Naruto asked.

"Naruto, I don't want-"

"We're best friends, Ryder, just tell us!" Daisuke insisted.

In anger and irritation, Ryder ripped open the door and glared petulantly through her tears. "I've got boobs, ok? You happy now!? " She yelled, slamming the door in their stunned faces.

"Boobs? Where? Ouch!" Naruto hissed as Daisuke elbowed him in the ribs.

"Ryder it's no big deal. They are still small and not really noticeable! No one will notice you out in the field." Daisuke tried to soothe her fears.

It didn't work. "No! I noticed them! I know they're there! And I'm not leaving here until I can figure out how to hide them!"

True to her stubborn word, Ryder wouldn't leave the bathroom despite the boys trying desperately to convince her. It was getting late and the game was going to start soon and they were running out of hope.

Until Daisuke's older sister, Saya, came home. She heard the yelling and asked Daisuke what was going on. Once explained, the Innkeeper smiled sympathetically and went to the bathroom, knocking quietly.

"Ryder, sweetie? It's me, Saya. I know how to help you. You gotta let me in though," the 20 year old cooed through the door.

There was a silent pause and Ryder cracked open the door, her green eyes puffy and red from crying. "You can help?" the tomboy asked desperately.

Saya nodded her green head and smiled warmly. "Wanna let me in so I can show you?"

Ryder nodded and stepped back, letting the older sister in. The door closed again and Naruto and Daisuke were left waiting outside, hopeful that Saya could help the frantic Ryder. They could hear giggles and hushed voices, the rustle of clothing and the open and close of cupboards and drawers.

A few minutes later, Ryder emerged, a considerable amount happier than before. Daisuke and Naruto looked her up and down, not seeing anything different from before. "So? How did you solve your problem?" Naruto asked, staring at her chest.

Ryder blushed slightly and looked back at Saya while Daisuke cuffed Naruto upside the head. "A thick tensor bandage will hold them flat for quite some time. She shouldn't have to worry about her breasts showing unless they grow too large. But at the rate she's going, she won't need to worry until after she graduates High School," Saya explained and ruffled Ryder's already messy hair.

Ryder grinned, "Thanks, Saya. You're a life saver!"

"Great, I'm glad it all worked out! But now we are gonna be late! Let's go!" Daisuke tugged Ryder's arm and the trio thundered down the stairs.

Crisis averted. For now.

It was no shock to the Mihoshi Tigers that they won the game. They had been practicing hard and they had a great Captain. More often than not, Daisuke led the team to a great victory. They had won 7 to 4 by the 6th Inning.

Though the victory was short lived. For Daisuke anyways. During the entire game, Sakaeguchi had been happily rambling on about Delilah and how she had called him and they talked often. How beautiful she was. They went on a date together. The boy was love struck.

Leaving Daisuke feeling guiltier than ever. Ryder was right. This needed to end. Daisuke had to tell the truth. He couldn't keep lying. Especially now that he wouldn't have to work at the Inn any more because his youngest sister, Subaki, was now old enough to start working at Nemui Inn and the female tradition could carry on.

Yuuto deserved to know the truth and why he wouldn't be able to see Delilah any more. Delilah was dead now. She had no more use. So as the team showered, changed and left, Daisuke waited till his opportune moment and pulled Yuuto aside.

"I need to talk to you for a minute," Daisuke explained, his stomach sinking already. How was Yuuto going to react? Would he take it ok? Would he think Dai was joking? Would he hate Dai and never talk to him again? Daisuke desperately hoped it wasn't the latter. He really enjoyed Yuuto's company and friendship. He wanted to continue being friends. He didn't know what he would do if he never wanted to see him again… and he could only hope that Yuuto wouldn't spread the word about it.

Daisuke looked around, making extra doubly sure that no one else was in the change rooms. Then he faced Yuuto and took a deep breath.

"What's up, Kazumi-kun?" Yuuto asked cheerfully, his brown eyes sparkling.

"Sakaeguchi-kun, I have something important to tell you. I only ask that you try not to hate me after… it's a really big secret and I know I should have told you earlier about it but I was scared and embarrassed and I didn't know how to explain it and I thought you'd be better off but now I see that it's going too far and I figured you deserved to know!" Daisuke rambled, panicking, in one breath.

"Calm down! You're gonna hurt yourself," Yuuto joked, a cute grin on his young face. "I'm not going to hate you, Kazumi-kun. You're my friend, my school-mate and my Captain."

"You can't promise that," Daisuke sighed, his heart hammering painfully in his chest.

"Well, I can promise I will listen and consider whatever it is. So tell me, what's got you so tense?"

The green-haired boy fingered the Band-Aid over his nose that covered his scar. "Well… uhm… you know Delilah from Nemui Inn & Hot Springs?" he started off slow.

"Of course. Why?"

"I-I… don't know how else to say this… but, uhm, Yuuto-kun, I am Delilah…" then he cringed and waited with baited breath.

Yuuto only laughed, "Good one, Kazumi-kun!"

Daisuke deflated slightly but persisted. "No, really. That's my family's Inn. My mother owns it and my sister, Saya, is training to take it over. But for the longest time, they were short handed for room cleaners so I had to help. But of course it's a traditional, female run Inn so I had to dress as a girl to work there," he explained, his heart now thrumming loudly in his ears and his stomach was in his throat.

Yuuto stopped smiling and a flicker of doubt settled onto his face. "That's… that's just silly. Stop pulling my leg."

"Think about it, Yuuto-kun! I have green hair, she has green hair. I have brown eyes, she has brown eyes. She's my height. She's my size. She is me, Yuuto-kun!" Daisuke said, growing more and more fearful by the minute.

"How do you know what she looks like? And just because you guys look the same doesn't mean you are her. Now stop this, this joke isn't funny," Yuuto frowned.

"I know what she looks like because I am her, Yuuto-kun. Here, look," Daisuke reached into his back pack and pulled out his glasses and put them on. "She wears glasses. I wear glasses. They are the same. And I altered my voice like this: Good Afternoon, Yuuto-kun, how are you today?" Daisuke played up his girl voice, trying desperately to prove who he was.

That got through to Yuuto. The brown haired boy stepped back in shock, his eyes wide and disbelieving. "D-Delilah-Chan? Y-you really are her?"

Daisuke sighed and took the glasses off, nodding. "Yes."

Yuuto shook his head and turned away for a moment. "S-so… I kissed you at the Sanno Festival 2 years ago?"

"Yes," Daisuke admitted, a deep blush covering his cheeks. He fingered his Band-Aid over his nose again nervously.

"And it was you who went on dates with me… is that why you asked me to stop bothering you before?"

"Yes, that's why."

"Then why did you call me to go out again? Why did you lead me on?" Yuuto turned on Daisuke angrily, staring the boy down.

"Y-you… you were so depressed and sad… I felt bad. And your baseball was suffering so I thought it would help to-"

"You thought it would help?! So the Great Captain Kazumi was concerned for the baseball team. How thoughtful of you. Yet you played me by pretending to be a girl and leading me on to believe that… dear gods… I kissed you, Kazumi! And you continued the façade? What the hell is wrong with you?" Yuuto's voice slowly rose, louder and louder as he considered everything that Daisuke being Delilah meant.

"Yuuto-kun, I'm so sorry. I feel so guilty about it all but I'm telling you now! Ok, yes, I lied to you about it and that was wrong but I didn't know what else to do! You wouldn't stop bothering me!"

"Don't you dare turn this around on me, Kazumi! And don't call me Yuuto-kun!"

Daisuke's heart broke slightly, it was hard to breathe and his stomach dropped down to his feet. His hands were shaking so bad. This was going a lot worse than he thought…

"Look, Sakaeguchi-kun, I'm sorry I lied. I really am. But I want you to know that everything we did together, the games, the talks, the dates, everything else is true. I'm still the same person. Everything Delilah did was all me. I love arcade games, I'm smart, I enjoy cinnamon buns, I'm a terrible dancer, I love fireworks and I know that hanging out with you was the most fun I've had in a long time!"

Sakaeguchi shook his head and closed his angry brown eyes. "Are you gay, or something?"

That stunned Dai for moment. He didn't know. Was he? He liked hanging with the guys and he didn't mind girls. He found them loud and annoying but still attractive. But it wasn't really anything he had thought through before. Well, other than Dai admitting to Ryder and Naruto that he was going on dates with Sakaeguchi and they teased him about liking it. He had thought about it a little then. But not thoroughly. How do you figure that out?

"I-I don't know. But does it really matter? I'm telling you all this so that I don't lose your friendship, Sakaeguchi-kun!" Daisuke's voice wavered slightly. His chest felt heavy and he could hardly breathe.

Sakaeguchi rubbed his forehead, frowning with his eyes closed and sighed. "No, Kazumi. I can't deal with this." Sakaeguchi picked up his backpack and brushed past Daisuke without looking at him.

Daisuke stood still, staring at where the boy was just standing, not moving, scarcely breathing, shaking and disbelieving. Did he just lose a friend and teammate? Yes. Was telling him everything wrong? Maybe. But he couldn't take that back now. It had to be said. It had to be dealt with and it was. It just didn't go the way Daisuke had hoped for.

The change room door opened and closed as Sakaeguchi left without another word and Dai fell to his knees, still staring straight ahead with tears in his muddy brown eyes. What was he going to do now? He didn't know. It was hard to think when your heart was breaking apart in your chest.

Ryder saw Sakaeguchi leave looking angry. Her heart sank. This must be worse than she thought. She quietly re-entered the change rooms and spotted Dai on his knees, not moving. "Dai? How did it go?" she asked softly, moving close to him.

Daisuke shook his head and ran his fingers through his forest green hair. "Not great," he murmured.

"Is he mad at you? He'll come around Dai." She put her hand on his shoulder and knelt beside him.

He shook his head again, "No. You didn't see his eyes. You didn't hear what he said. He said he couldn't deal with this. He's really hurt, Ryder. I think I just lost him."

Ryder rubbed his back soothingly and sighed. "Dai don't regret telling him. He needed to know. However he takes it later, he needs to deal with it. But don't regret telling him. It was the right thing to do. You couldn't be Delilah forever, especially since little Subaki is now there and you don't have to be at the Inn any more. He had to find out one way or another."

"I know. I know that but that knowledge doesn't make it any better. Let's just go home," he sighed, wiping his tears away and getting back to his feet. Ryder followed him out, feeling bad for her best friend.

At least he had to courage to admit his secret… Ryder? She was still living her double life and had no plans on telling any one, especially not her parents. She admired Daisuke for being so brave.

It didn't take long for the Tigers to notice the tension in the team. Sakaeguchi was missing the next game. And the game after that. And the game after that. For a few days, no body even saw him at school. But when he did start going back, he refused to talk to anybody. And he expressly ignored Daisuke despite being in a few of the same classes. This didn't help Daisuke any. Daisuke brooded, despite Ryder's and Naruto's best efforts to cheer him up.

Daisuke was broken down and it would take a lot to build him back up.

But because of Sakaeguchi's absence from the team, Daisuke made the decision to bring on more members. They were struggling. So Hanai Azusa and Oki Kazutoshi joined. Hanai, bald, very confident and athletic, took Sakaeguchi's place as Second Baseman. Oki, the typical Japanese with dark brown hair and deep brown eyes with a wide nose and square jaw, took First Baseman.

The two other boys were great additions to the team, there was no doubt, but Daisuke avoided looking at Hanai at Second Base unless he had to. He didn't like not seeing Sakaeguchi there…

"Where are we going, Aniki?" Sasuke asked, pulling on his shoes and coat.

"Just going out to the mall. I thought we could hang out for a while," Itachi grinned down at his young 15 year old brother. It had been a little while since they had done anything with each other. So the 19 year old drove them to the mall. They hadn't been there very long when Sasuke spotted striking red hair and sea foam green eyes that he recognized.

He knew Shikkari Gaara from the police station when they were younger and from school. Apparently he was a little demon. He ran around bullying and terrorizing students and teachers alike. He had been suspended and expelled from several schools. Earned himself the nickname 'One Tailed Demon' whatever that meant. Sasuke also knew that Gaara was the ward of the most powerful man on Yumenoshima, Orochimaru, CEO of Nāga Corporation.

When Itachi had his back turned, looking at some cool spy stuff, Sasuke slipped away unnoticed and approached Gaara. He didn't recognize the older boy Gaara was with but it didn't matter. Sasuke had an idea and he wanted to pursue it. He always got what he wanted.

"Hey, Shikkari-kun," Sasuke called out to Gaara. The redheaded boy, startled, looked around to see Sasuke coming towards him. He knew Sasuke. Sasuke was a bully at school and walked around like he owned everything. Gaara didn't really like him. Shocked would be an understatement.

"Uh, hi, Uchiha-kun. What's up?" Gaara glanced over at his brother Kankuro. Kankuro was busy looking at some wooden puppets in a store nearby.

"Oh nothing. Just out with my brother. What are you up to?" Sasuke really hated idle chitchat but he figured if he just asked too directly, Gaara wouldn't answer.

"Me too." Gaara fidgeted awkwardly. He didn't know what to say to Sasuke. A silent tension and awareness passed between them for a moment.

Then Sasuke shifted and looked back at his brother then back to Gaara. "So I uh… I heard that your Guardian was Orochimaru-San… is that true?"

Gaara instantly went on the alert. He knew from experience that anyone asking about Orochimaru was always out for bad things. Things that Gaara was trying really hard not to be a part of. "Yeah. Why?" the 15 year old asked suspiciously.

Sasuke shrugged and pushed his hands in his pockets, "Just curious. I mean, he's the most powerful man in Japan, right? I couldn't imagine why you live with your poor sister and not the rich and powerful Orochimaru." It was a bit of a backhanded way of asking but Sasuke didn't care. He wanted information.

Gaara bristled defensively. He didn't like Sasuke's tone and didn't understand what Sasuke was trying to get at. But the less info to strangers, the better. "We just didn't want to live with him any more. It wasn't the lifestyle we wanted for ourselves so my sister sacrificed a lot and worked hard to get us away and start our own lives. The rich and powerful isn't something we enjoy. It's got a lot of strings attached. Why do you want to know?" Gaara tried incredibly hard not to sound callous or mean.

A smirk crossed Sasuke's pale lips, "I don't know. I just admire him. He came from nothing and turned into a great entrepreneur and creator of the biggest and most developed science lab curing diseases worth billions of dollars. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'd like to meet him."

Disbelief. Why would anyone want to meet Orochimaru? Though, if Gaara really thought about it, people who didn't know Orochimaru would probably love to meet him. He was, after all, a successful, charming businessman doing great good! To normal people, Orochimaru would probably be an idol.

That was something Gaara just couldn't understand. He knew Orochimaru for the true, abusive slime ball that he was and could see past the generous and smart CEO. So he couldn't really put it past Sasuke to want to meet Orochimaru. Sasuke only knew the façade that that man put on. So who was he to argue?

"I can talk to him for you, if you'd like. Get you a private meeting," Gaara begrudgingly admitted. Though doing this for Sasuke meant he would have to do something for Orochimaru in return. So Sasuke better appreciate that opportunity.

"You would do that for me?" Sasuke asked, quite shocked, though he didn't show it.

"Sure. I'll let you know next week at school. I gotta go now," Gaara said, watching his brother Kankuro come out of the shop. Sasuke watched Gaara walk away towards his brother and went back to his own brother. Itachi was just standing, leaning against the wall, watching Sasuke.

"Who was that?" Itachi asked, his voice stern and tight lipped.

Sasuke shrugged, "A kid from School."

"What were you guys talking about?"

"Just school stuff. I had a few questions." Sasuke sighed. His big brother always did this. Whenever Sasuke made new friends or tried to talk to anyone, Itachi would get all serious and inquisitive. He always seemed to take a personal interest in the people Sasuke associated with. And if Itachi didn't like who Sasuke was talking to, for some reason, that person would just disappear or never talk to Sasuke again.

It was really quite strange. Sometimes Sasuke got the feeling that Itachi was incredibly jealous of Sasuke but that would make no sense. Why would he be jealous? They were brothers. Unless it was just Itachi being overprotective. Whatever it was, Sasuke always hated the 20 questions from Nancy Drew.

"Do you hang out with him a lot? Do you know him well?"

Sasuke smiled affectionately and shook his head, "No, Aniki, he's not even a friend. He's an acquaintance from school. Now let's grab some lunch."

"No, he's my boyfriend!"

"No, he's mine! Who would want a pink haired freak like you?"

"Oh, like you're one to talk! Miss Daddy Issues, look at you! Who would want a broken skank like you!?"

The screaming continued. It grew louder and louder and escalated, drawing student's attention to the cat fight that was about to take place.

And who was fighting but our favourite girls, Sakura and Karin. Sakura screamed as Karin grabbed her long pink hair and yanked, making the girl stumble. Sakura clawed and kicked the red-head, breaking her grip long enough to shove her into a wall and punch her face.

"Fight! Fight! Fight!" the bystanders chanted, watching the fun.

Who was this fight about? Take a wild guess. The quickly escalating man-whore of the school. Uchiha Sasuke.

"Girls! Enough. You're making me look bad," Sasuke sighed, not interested in why they were fighting.

The girls immediately released each other and cooed around Sasuke. "We're sorry Sasuke-kun! We just get jealous."

"I don't care. Either get over it or leave me alone; those are your choices," Sasuke growled, glaring at the girls and walking off to his class. The crowd that had assembled to watch the fight dispersed sadly; they wanted to see the fight continue.

The girls sighed and glared at each other. "I'm not leaving him," Sakura spat, fixing her long hair back into position.

"Neither am I. But until he chooses one of us, lets call a truce," Karin glared, fixing her bent glasses.

"Fine," Sakura agreed with a huff and stormed off to her class.

Challenge accepted.

"Are you serious? You want Sasuke to come over?" Gaara asked with scepticism. He couldn't believe this! He introduces Sasuke to Orochimaru last week and suddenly the two are the best of friends. Thick as thieves.

"Well yes. The young Uchiha certainly has a knack for reading people. Manipulating. Lying. He's got great leadership skills too. He knows how to keep men in line. I could use a boy like him here." Orochimaru explained, leaning back in his office chair in his white tailored suit with a confident smirk on his pale lips.

"He's going to regret doing anything for you. Once he sees who you are. Who you really are," Gaara spat, his bright eyes flashing with anger.

"Oh then you don't know him very well then, little Gaara. I see in him a tiny spark of me. With enough coaxing and training, he'll be just as powerful and feared as I am. Easy. He's already got the will and the want. The drive. So it'll be easy to mould him. Unlike you. You're too hard headed and stubborn. You don't listen well."

Gaara growled, enraged by Orochimaru's completely flippant attitude towards him. "Fine! Then have him! Do what you want but don't ever contact me again! I'm done with you!"

"How sad. But an unfortunate sacrifice to be made. I'll see you around, Gaara-kun."

Gaara turned and stormed out of Orochimaru's office, leaving that snake and all his damned plans and lies. Sasuke could have him. Gaara wanted nothing to do with it! Good riddance! They deserved each other! They were both cowardly bullies!

Turning down one of the hallways, Gaara winced slightly at a scream he heard come from one of the rooms to his left. But he wouldn't stop. He learned a long time ago to never stop and look. It was better that way. Just out side the building, Gaara ran into Sasuke.

"Hey, Gaara-kun, are you coming back? Orochimaru-San and I have some plans to-"

"Fuck off, Uchiha! I'm never coming back and don't talk to me again!" Gaara snapped, walking away without looking back. He could imagine a stupid, stunned look on that boys' pretty face and that made Gaara a little happier. Stupid Sasuke. Stupid Orochimaru. Gaara had better things to do!

"Naruto, I'm ok, really," Iruka chuckled as Naruto tried his best to cater to Iruka's every need. Since coming home from the hospital just a few weeks ago, Naruto had been Iruka's shadow. He had done all the laundry, kept up on the dishes, was gradually learning to cook meals, made the beds, kept the house clean, and still went to School full time and on top of all that, he was working a part time job.

"Just making sure, 'Ruka. Are you comfortable? Do you want some water? Are you hungry?"

"Naruto! Really, I'm fine!" Iruka grabbed Naruto by the shoulders and sat the boy down next to him. "Now, tell me about you. What's going on?"

Naruto sighed and leaned his blonde head on Iruka's shoulder, needing the comfort. "A lot, 'Ruka. A lot is going on. It just seems like the older I get, the more complicated things get, you know?"

Iruka smiled affectionately and nodded, wrapping an arm around Naruto's shoulders. "Daisuke has been super depressed since he told Sakaeguchi-kun about his secret. He won't talk to anyone, nothing cheers him up. And he's our captain, so it's really hard. Did you know he even failed a test? He never fails tests, 'Ruka! He's a genius! For him to fail is huge!"

That was true. Daisuke rarely ever got below 80% in any of his subjects. The kid was a prodigy. "What else is bothering you?" Iruka asked patiently.

"Well… I noticed something has gotten into Sasuke. He's changing. I mean, he was always a mean bully but now… I don't know. It's like something came over him. He started smoking just last week… and from what I've heard, he's started sleeping around. He's dating both Sakura-Chan and Karin-Chan. Just the other day they got into a fist fight over him and he broke it up, saying they were making him look bad. I just don't like what I see," Naruto sighed, closing his sky blue eyes.

Iruka frowned and pondered this for a moment. That was indeed bad news. Sasuke was definitely going down a bad path but there wasn't anything anyone could do about it. And it wasn't something Naruto should be worrying about, especially after everything Sasuke had done to the poor boy. "You can't worry about his problems, Naruto. It isn't your concern what he does. I know it sucks but he ignores you. You don't exist to him so just let it go. He will learn his own lessons in his own time."

"I know. It's just really hard to see someone put themselves through that." Naruto pulled away from Iruka and leaned back against the couch. "And poor Ryder. She just started growing boobs and she's so freaked out about it. I didn't even notice though. There's nothing there. I don't think she has anything to worry about."

Iruka chuckled and shook his head. "Regardless of what you might think, Naruto, Ryder-kun is going through a really hard time. I think she's gotten so used to being a 'boy' that now that she is developing into a girl, she doesn't know how to deal with it. Getting breasts is just the start. They will get bigger and harder to hide; therefore her secret is in bigger trouble. Then she will get her period. Her voice will change and it won't sound like a young boys' anymore. It will sound like a young girls'. Things are going to get worse before they get better. At least, until she can come to terms with being a girl."

Naruto grinned. It was still kinda funny though. "How's work going?" Iruka asked curiously. He didn't know much about Naruto's job. Naruto didn't talk about it much.

"It's going good. Usui-San is really nice to me. He gives me all the good shifts. And he pays me well for what I do. This makes it easier to pay the hospital." Naruto tensed up. Talking about the hospital was a really touchy subject for Naruto. He didn't like to think about how close to dying Iruka came.

"Speaking of which, Naruto, now that I'm back to work again, you really don't have to do that any more." Iruka sighed. Don't get him wrong, he deeply appreciated everything Naruto was doing for him and the changes Naruto had made. But Naruto should not have to shoulder a burden that big at 15. The teen needed to worry about his life and school, not a job and paying for Iruka's costly hospital bills.

"No, 'Ruka. I want to do it. Really. I like working."

"That's not what I meant. I mean, Naruto, that this isn't your responsibility. I can take over the payments now that I'm working." Of course he wouldn't tell Naruto that their budget would be really tight for a while because that would only do more harm than good. That information wasn't for teenagers.

"Iruka, I want to pay for it. I know that I haven't exactly been the easiest kid to bring up and I know how much money you have shelled out for me. Just let me do this for you, please? I promise I'll put some money away for my college but let me pay the hospital. Let me do this for you," Naruto pleaded, his big blue eyes wet with unshed tears. The two locked eyes and stared at each other silently, trying to convey their emotions.

Then Iruka sighed and relented, closing his brown eyes. "Alright, Naruto. Just promise me you won't run yourself ragged doing this. If your grades slip or you can't sleep or you don't go out with your friends, then I don't want you there any more, ok?"

Naruto grinned widely and hugged his father tightly. "Thanks, 'Ruka. I love you."

Iruka smiled and hugged his boy to him, "I love you too, Naruto."

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