Growing Up With Dreams

To Change Minds

Growing Up With Dreams

Chapter Nine – To Change Minds

Same school, different building, different grade and, to the 15 and 16 year olds, a whole different way of life. Every year, things got harder and harder. Though now there were only 3 years of school left before they graduated. The excitement was in the air. New grade meant new friends and new subjects and teachers.

For the boys, it meant new uniforms. Instead of the stiff, uncomfortable Gakuran uniforms with their year stitched into their collars, they got to have Blazer Style uniforms with different coloured ties to show their years. For Grade 10, their colour was purple. Grade 11 was silver and Grade 12 was gold.

But for Naruto and his rambunctious group of friends, it just meant that they were trying to see who was in whose class and who had their breaks together.

For Sasuke, however, it meant nothing. It was just another year. More things to avoid, more things to hide, and more girls to ignore. The 15 year old was feeling like king of the school though! People worshipped him despite him being a junior in High School. People knew and respected him. They moved out of his way in the hallways, they didn't make eye contact, they gave him whatever he wanted when he asked and he had quite a large group of followers who always had his back.

There was nothing that could hold this Uchiha back. Except for his older brother. Itachi had graduated 4 years ago at 15 and was already in University, much to Sasuke's dismay, but for some reason, he still had enough time to follow up on Sasuke and to be overbearing of the teen. It was always 'Sasuke, don't do that', 'Sasuke, you used to love cuddling with me and wanting my advice, what happened?', 'Sasuke, you need to stop this', 'Sasuke, I'm worried about you', 'Sasuke, come home'. Frankly, it was exhausting.

Why couldn't Itachi just accept that Sasuke wasn't that innocent, foolish child he used to be? He was his own man now, being Orochimaru's right hand man and starting to run his own gang. Orochimaru sure had a lot of connections and was more than happy to take Sasuke under his wing. Sasuke really appreciated everything Orochimaru was doing. He was trusting Sasuke with so many things that Itachi never would have. Itachi never would have approved of anything Sasuke was doing and would have held Sasuke back.

Once opening ceremonies were done, Sasuke picked up some chick that was eye-fucking him during the entire 2 hour lecture. He brought her to the school bathrooms as the rest of the students left and wandered around and had a quickie. The second he was finished, he left her in the stall to compose herself and joined the rest of the crowd.

He just wanted to get through the rest of today as fast as possible. Orochimaru had said he wanted Sasuke to meet someone special. The young Uchiha was quite excited. If Orochimaru thought this person was special then Sasuke was eager. Orochimaru rarely gave out compliments when they weren't deserved.

So the rest of the day, of course, went very slowly. Of course it did. It was just because it wanted to spite Sasuke and prevent him from doing what he wanted. To bad he couldn't control the time or the world like he could his followers. Eventually though, with his patience tested, Sasuke was finally able to leave the school and ditched his crowd to go to Orochimaru's.

"Ah, Sasuke-Kun! So glad you came! How was school?" the CEO asked, his smile a little too big, his voice a little too enthusiastic.

"Hn, just opening ceremonies. Nothing important," Sasuke shrugged, sitting down in the office chair offered to him and running his fingers through his black hair.

"And how is your dear brother?" his cold eyes never left Sasuke.

Sasuke shrugged. "I don't know. Haven't seen him in a while but he's been texting me constantly, bothering me. Saying I've changed and 'whatever happened to the little boy who used to sit in my lap?'" Sasuke mocked, making a disapproving face.

Orochimaru smirked and laced his fingers together on his desk in front of him. "He just cares about you and misses you."

"I don't care. He holds me back; he's dead weight. Anyways, who's this person you wanted me to meet?" Sasuke sat forward in his chair, coal black eyes shining with interest.

"Always to the point, aren't you?" the older man chuckled. Then he stood and crossed the room with long strides, adjusting his suit jacket and tie along the way. There was a door that connected to a board room sitting on the right wall and Orochimaru opened that door and beckoned in an older man. Sasuke stood up and walked forward eagerly.

This man was a little taller than Sasuke by a few inches. He had blonde hair. Some was up in a ponytail, some was still just straight down his back and bangs hanging over the left side of his face and he had pale blue-grey eyes. He looked to be only 17 but looking at the lines in his pale face, Sasuke thought the man was maybe in his late twenties.

"Sasuke-kun, this is Deidara-kun. This man has a brilliant mind and has been a good friend of mine for 10 years! His specialty is art. Particularly explosives. He is the head Explosives Technician, the best in Japan. And I think you and he would be such great friends! I was kind of hoping you would accept him as a sort of mentor," Orochimaru explained with a sly grin on his white face.

"This is Uchiha Sasuke, Deidara-kun. I have taken him as an apprentice of sorts. He does a lot for me. A very trustworthy young fellow."

"Uchiha, huh? Like, the Uchiha? The most notorious and efficient Detectives and Police officers in Japan?" a strange gleam lit behind those blue eyes and Sasuke immediately liked this man.

"Hai. Uchiha Fugaku and Mikoto were my parents." It still hurt to think of them for Sasuke. It hurt to think that someone murdered them. Ever since Naruto told him about how it was a cold case murder and not an 'accident', that fact had driven the poor boy mad. He wanted to know who killed them. He wanted to know the evil monster responsible for ruining his life. Sasuke thought maybe knowing Orochimaru and having great connections, maybe he could find out who it was.

"Were? Past tense?" that wicked little gleam was still there in those pale eyes. Sasuke hesitated for a moment. It almost looked like Deidara-San knew something but wasn't letting on about it. But Sasuke nodded anyways.

"Hai. They were murdered ten years ago in the train tunnel to Chīsana Yume when the tunnel collapsed on the train they were in," Sasuke said.

"Murdered? How would you know that? I thought it was an accident," Orochimaru inquired.

Sasuke shrugged, trying to come off as cool and nonchalant even though he was hurting inside. "Investigators found remnants of C4 residue and wires for a sensor. They couldn't find enough to connect anyone to it so it went cold."

"Very interesting," Orochimaru and Deidara shared a knowing look.

Sasuke frowned, not liking the feeling of being left out and not knowing something that others did. "Why? Do you guys know anything about it?"

Deidara shook his head, "Not anymore than you do, Shorty." Sasuke glowered at the nickname but before he could say anything against it, Deidara changed the subject and led Sasuke away. "So, do you like art, un?"

Itachi didn't like this. He didn't like this one bit. The 19 year old was incredibly suspicious of his little brother. Sasuke just hadn't been the same since he lost Naruto as a friend but it only got worse when he discovered that their parents were murdered, not killed accidentally. Things just went downhill and Itachi hated it.

Whatever happened to his loving, adorable younger brother? Where did the cute boy go who used to take refuge in his brothers' arms and seek solace and advice and comfort in his lap? Where did the sweet little boy who adored him go? Sasuke grew up much too fast for Itachi. He wasn't ready for Sasuke to hate him and want nothing to do with him.

He still very much cared for his little brother and wanted to look out for him and be his idol. Though Sasuke wouldn't admit it or say who, Itachi knew that Sasuke had found someone else to look up to. Whoever it was, Itachi didn't like it. Not one bit. Whoever it was, he (or she) was a bad influence. Itachi needed to figure out who it was and put a stop to all of this nonsense. He wanted Sasuke back home with him. To be the way they used to be.

The University student would have to do some digging. Until then though, he still had the mystery of their parents' death to figure out. In his spare time, the teenager started keeping a scrapbook of sorts to keep track of all the findings he came across. He went into the archives and dug up old newspapers and records. He even asked the investigators who were investigating the crime at the time what their leads were. Itachi was even smart enough to ask under the pretext of doing research for a paper he was writing for school. It was believable because, after all, he was a Law student.

And after a while, all his hard work and dedication came up with something interesting. Though not many people would admit it or say it out loud, many pointed a suspicious finger at Orochimaru, the CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, Nāga Corporation. According to records, Nāga had 'Seven Heads' of innovation; Cures for Cancer, Medical Advancements, Scientific Improvements, Floral Medicines, Floral Hallucinogens, Chemical Development and Lab Testing. Though, due to the major advances in medicine and science, the Government and everyone else seemed to turn a blind eye to the testing, chemical development and hallucinogens.

A little more digging revealed that Orochimaru had his grubby little hands on more than just Nāga. He also owned the controlling stakes in a major Weapons Manufacturing company. Not only was that suspicious enough, but then Itachi took note that this manufacturing company also dealt in chemical weapons like bombs and other explosives. There were red flags all over this bastard and Itachi was determined to get to the bottom of this. The Law Students' mind was whirling, never stopping, contemplating, determined. He would figure out who killed his parents and he would figure out who had changed his brother and took over his place in Sasuke's life.

Nothing would stop this Uchiha from working everything out and coming out on top.

The beginning of the year was always a bit of a complicated time for Gaara. And now that it was High School, the pressure was only going to grow from here. You have to know the right people, you have to be in the right clubs and be friends with the right teachers. You have to know all the ins and the outs and be able to keep up with the politics of school life while trying to map out your future career. There was a lot to manage being a teenager. Gaara didn't like it. He didn't like the pressure and the stress of all the bull shit that everyone else bought into.

He had his own friends and whether he or they were cool or not was not really his concern. He was going to focus solely on his school work and just try to make it by without being seen. Though joining a club was mandatory so he was at a loss of what to do.

Opening ceremonies were always a big deal for Japanese students. You learned almost everything you needed to know about the school and what would happen in that year in the few hours they had you sitting in the gymnasium.

Shikamaru looked rather smart in his blazer uniform with the purple tie. At the opening ceremonies, everyone had to look their best so even Gaara's lazy best friend had his shirt tucked in and jacket buttoned up properly. Chouji looked pretty spiffy too and for once he didn't have a bag of chips or candy in his hand. The three sat together and listened quietly and politely during ceremonies like you're supposed to. But the red-head couldn't help his wandering blue-green eyes.

Browsing the room to see who all was there, he could see Uchiha Sasuke, flirting shamelessly with some red-headed girl with glasses. Gaara was still angry with Sasuke and Orochimaru. He moved on. Then his eyes fell on a familiar mop of sunshine yellow hair and he couldn't stop the small smile that painted itself on is lips. Uzumaki Naruto had been quite the whirlwind of adventure. That boy was a handful of playful energy and it was hard to keep up with him and normally, Gaara would have been drained and exhausted. However, the energy and happiness with which Naruto carried himself was incredibly contagious. The conservative red-head found himself opening up and being just as playful when Naruto was around.

After opening ceremonies, they all went to their designated homerooms. Today was mainly for signing up for the various mandatory clubs and tasks for home rooms like Class Rep, Library Duty, School council and what have you. Through the new and unfamiliar hallways he went, careful to keep his eyes out so he wouldn't bump into anyone. He recognized many students from his junior high school and many from his old classes but there were many more that he didn't recognize that all wore silver and gold ties.

Sadly, he and Shikamaru didn't share the same homeroom. Gaara started to worry, as he found himself a seat, if he was going to be alone in homeroom this year and if he would make any friends or enemies. He settled in and waited nervously for the teacher to show up when something by the classroom door caught his eyes.

An unmistakable mop of sunshine hair bouncing through. Uzumaki Naruto was in his homeroom again! A secret desire to have Naruto sit beside him went through his mind. He really enjoyed having the ball of energy beside him. It always kind of made his day go by faster.

Naruto was laughing with the green haired boy Gaara had come to know as Kazumi Daisuke. They both had their blazers done up, purple ties were perfectly tied, their bookcases all polished and clean, waiting to be used. The two boys looked picture perfect to Gaara. How did they always look so carefree and happy? How did they always look so flawless and in place? Gaara envied that.

He fully expected the two to sit together and he would end up sitting next to someone he didn't know. That's just how the world worked after all. But to the red-heads surprise, Naruto spotted him and made his way over; his bright blue eyes alight with excitement, and sat down next to him. Daisuke happily sat in the row of desks in front of them.

"Hey, Gaara-kun! I'm glad you're in this homeroom too! Are you excited for the new year?" Naruto asked, a big excited grin on his whisker scarred face. Not for the first time, Gaara wondered where those scars came from. He glanced away in embarrassment but smiled at both Daisuke and Naruto.

"Yes. One year closer to graduating and being free!" he admitted. That was one thing he found slightly unnerving about Naruto. He always just wanted to be honest and blurt the truth or whatever thoughts crossed his mind. Something he never, ever did normally.

"I hear ya! I can't wait to graduate! Do you have any plans for after high school?" Naruto tilted his head slightly to the side; a trait that Gaara found quite endearing.

"Uhm… I haven't given it too much thought actually… but I was thinking maybe something along the lines of counselling or teaching. What about you?" Gaara fidgeted. He usually did when the attention was on him.

"I was hoping for Law School. Not sure what for quite yet but I just have this feeling that that's where I want to start. What about you, Dai?"

The quiet boy just shrugged with a gentle smile on his face. "Not sure really. Haven't planned that far ahead. To be honest though I just want to stay in baseball. I don't really have an interest in much else."

"That would be so cool! To know a Pro Baseball star! You gotta keep at it, Dai! I'm sure you'll do it!" Naruto grinned, his eyes closing, something he did often.

"Do what?" Ryder walked up behind the 3 boys, her silver hair a pretty mess as usual, her bright green eyes dull and bored.

"Just talking about what we want to do after high school. What do you want to do, Ryder?" Naruto asked.

Ryder shrugged her shoulders and sat beside Daisuke. "I don't know. I'm not interested in anything really. And I'm not good at a lot of things. I can't cook or sew, I have trouble keeping my grades up 'cause I'm not very smart…" she sighed.

Daisuke and Naruto shared a look then rounded on Ryder. "What's gotten into you? You're usually so… 'I'll take on the world!'…" Naruto asked suspiciously.

Gaara listened quietly, watching the exchange. He knew Izumi Ryder was on Daisuke's and Naruto's baseball team and that the three had been best friends since they were children. But he didn't feel like he knew any of them enough to weigh in on the conversation.

"What got into you to put you in such a downer mood?" Naruto asked, leaning forward on his desk.

Ryder ran her tanned fingers through her silver hair and looked at Dai and Naruto with sad eyes. "My oldest brother, Ryuzaki, came home, bragging all about how well he is doing in University and how he gets honours and the Professors love him and how everything is so easy to him. He likes being a traditionalist Japanese… he wants Mom and Dad to approve of this woman he's seeing. She's pretty, comes from a high class family, is going to school to be a Doctor of some sort, she can cook and wants to look after a husband and raise a family… then Dad turned around and started lecturing me that I should take after him and…." She stopped then and turned away, getting tense and rigid as she often did when it felt like she would cry.

Despite her being her Daddy's Little Girl, and despite her following her dreams, she couldn't share those dreams with her family because she would never be good enough. She took several deep breaths to calm herself and just rested her chin in her palm with her elbow resting on her desk. She was so done with the traditions and bullshit expectations in her household. She wanted to just be herself without being judged…

"That's terrible, Ryder… I'm sorry to hear about that. But you know, you're great at dance and baseball and you kick all our asses at almost any video game… you're great with computers… The list goes on!" Daisuke insisted.

"Yeah. And regardless of what your family thinks, you have us, Ryder. Me and Dai and Gaara-kun too. Not to mention your other brother, Kio… he's in Grade 12 this year, isn't he? He's always had your back. We have too. Look at how much you've already accomplished, Ryder, and just imagine how much you can still do!" Naruto maintained.

Ryder opened her mouth to reply when the teacher walked in and shushed the class, telling everyone to find a seat. The conversation was put off for now but Gaara had the suspicion that it would more than likely continue. It seemed like Ryder had self-esteem issues at home despite him being a quite athletic and popular boy.

Then came the tedious task of assigning stations for the start of the year. Duties would switch every week as there were about 40 students to a classroom. Each duty was assigned two partners except for the end of the day; o soji. The cleaning of the school. Every student had to partake in that.

Every student put their name in a hat and the homeroom teacher drew them and assigned them. Gaara secretly hoped for Library Duty. He would use any excuse to go there and see new books or reconnect with old ones.

"Shikkari Gaara, you are the first Class Representative!" their homeroom teacher, Mitarashi Anko smiled, writing his name up on the chalk board. Damn. Well, he would get the chance sometime this year anyways. The red-head zoned out while the other names were being called out to fill other positions until Naruto's named got called out.

"And Uzumaki Naruto for the second Class Rep! Good luck boys! Now that we've gone over attendance and assignment of duties, we can move on to class rules. Rule number one!" the young woman's voice was firm and bold, as if daring a student to speak up while she was talking. She gave off an I-don't-take-shit-from-anyone kind of attitude and that amused Gaara. Her short brown hair was pulled back, her face was round and her eyes were sharp and intelligent. Gaara thought that she wasn't the kind of person to be messed with.

After homeroom, the students were loud and moving around and talking whilst the teacher left and switched classrooms. Naturally, the conversation turned back to Ryder and his problems at home. Naruto instantly leaned forward and tapped his shoulder. "So since when do your parents look down on you? You're their baby! Their little g-" Naruto stopped instantly, glanced at a confused Gaara, then back to Ryder who was glaring daggers. "Uh, you're their little Prince! You've never done wrong before. Why now, all of a sudden?"

Ryder sighed and shrugged. "I have no idea. I think my parents are finally catching on that I'm not the person they want me to be and now they are focusing on the son that is meeting and surpassing all their expectations. I'm not their favourite anymore and I won't be until I follow in Ryuzaki's footsteps…"

"But you're still their child. They should love you and support you no matter what, right?" Gaara piped up. The other three looked at Gaara with some surprise; it wasn't often that he spoke or put in an effort to be in a conversation. He flushed immediately and regretted talking.

"Well, in an ideal family, yes… In Ryder's family, not so much. His parents are strictly Traditionalist and they have his fathers' reputation to uphold. The more Ryder deviates from the path they set out for him, the angrier and more unstable they become. Though, to be honest, I'm surprised it took them this long to figure out that Ryder isn't what they want him to be," Daisuke explained, looking at his best friend with pity.

"It doesn't matter. I'm never gonna be what they want me to be and they are never going to accept me for who I am. It's all going to blow up sooner or later so I might as well get used to this feeling now," Ryder sighed and faced the front of the class as their new teacher entered the class.

Gaara felt angry. How could parents be so completely caught up in their own lives so selfishly that they can't accept their children? He felt sorry for Ryder. Being the youngest of three sons isn't easy on its own without the added weight of having Traditionalist 'A-List' parents pressuring you and setting out your path for you. Ryder would need a therapist one day soon or he would snap!

After that, their conversation about Ryder stopped. They switched to new topics and tried to lift Ryders' mood by joking and teasing and laughing. Gaara decided he liked being a part of this group of friends. Long gone were the days were he was a terror and a bully and a drug runner for Orochimaru. That was his old life. These were the people he needed to be with. These were the people he needed to keep around. They were smart, supportive, funny, optimistic, loyal… everything Gaara needed and wanted.

His sea-foam green eyes fell on his desk partner beside him. The messy blonde hair, sky blue eyes, tanned skin, whisker scars, pink lips, gorgeous smile and athletic build… Gaara wanted Naruto too. Very much. But he'd be ok with just friends. As long as Naruto was beside him, he felt like he could take on the world and more. He felt like there was nothing he couldn't do! What a freeing feeling. He had to stay with Naruto… always. And hopefully offer the same kind of friendship in return. He wanted Naruto to need him just as much as he needed Naruto.

Now, Temari wasn't one for 'Love at First Sight'. She didn't believe in it at all. It was a ridiculous notion for love-hungry teenage girls to hold on to into their adulthood. Temari had no use for false hope on something as frivolous and silly as love. And she didn't need it. She was entering into her final year of College and far, far too busy to look for love. No time! Between her College courses, working full time at the bar & grill for Hidaka-San, and her home life with her younger brothers, spare time was non-existent.

And tonight was no exception. School during the day and working at night, she only had enough time to run upstairs to their apartment, change and clean up and run right back down to start getting ready for their dinner rush. Just in time too as one of the waitresses called in sick so Temari would have to cover for her. Perfect.

Though it wasn't something she couldn't handle. She'd been working and managing this bar & grill now for 5 years, going on 6 soon. Temari was a Master at multi-tasking and handling stress. Love! Pah! What good was it? It could do nothing for her. It didn't take long for the restaurant to fill up and soon Temari was running around a million different ways at once and handling 20-30 different tables. Love couldn't help with her everyday life except distract her!

"Temari, we are out of smoked salmon and curry powder!" the Head Chef called out to her.

Gods, she hated him. With an exhausted grunt, she replied, "I thought you were in charge of ordering the food quantities, Chef?" And it was true. The Head Chef was responsible for ordering the right amount of food and storing it. Temari only handled the receipts.

"Well I didn't order enough! Go pick some up or we are going to have upset customers!" he snapped back with a sneer.

Oh how badly she wanted to yell in his face! But she was more professional and controlled than that! She would show him in private later on! Until then… "Lori-San, could you cover me for a little while. I have to fix Yashi-San's mistake." The blonde heard an indignant call from the kitchen but ignored it.

Lori, a small, friendly and cute waitress nodded and took Temari's tray from her. Then with a huff, Temari grabbed her coat and wallet and took off to the local retailer to pick up supplies. The 23 year old grumbled the whole way there. The arrogance of some people! She seriously wondered if she would ever find someone to love. She was pretty stubborn, hard headed, short tempered, and she hated most people. So a small part of her quietly despaired at the possibility that no one would be able to put up with her and that she wouldn't be able to stand being around men other than her brothers.

Would she be a lonely spinster for the rest of her life?

Not that it mattered, mind you. 'Cause it didn't. But she was allowed to wonder, wasn't she?

After grabbing the supplies, she was on her way back to the bar & grill. But as her back was turned for a moment to the outside as she opened the door, when she turned around she ran smack into a man's chest and dropped her grocery bag.

"Oh shoot, I'm so sorry," she said quickly, bending down to gather the few items that fell out.

The man knelt down and helped her pick her things up but spoke in a language that she didn't recognize at first. She looked at him confused and realized that the man she ran into was an American and he was speaking English. So she thought back to her schooling and tried to pick up on the words he was speaking. She was only able to pick out 'sorry' and 'help'. He spoke much too fast.

"I don't speak English very well," she said, trying very hard to pronounce the foreign words as well as she could. "I'm very sorry. Thank you." And that was about the extent of her knowledge of the English language.

He was actually quite handsome for a foreigner, now that Temari got a better look at him. He smiled widely, his straight teeth white and perfect. His skin was tanned, his hair was light brown and his eyes were light green. And from what she could see, under his American clothes, he looked quite fit. He stood and extended a hand to help her up. She took it and couldn't help noticing how warm and firm his hand was. And how tall he was, reaching almost 6". She blushed slightly, something she never did, and bowed politely.

"Ah, right," he murmured and bowed in return, rather clumsily in Temari's opinion. But then again, he was a foreigner and wasn't accustomed to the bowing. "I'm Colby Lockhart," he said slowly, pointing to his chest.

"I'm Shikkari Temari," she introduced herself with another polite bow. She liked him. For the first time she noticed that he was carrying large travel bags. He must have just arrived. "Are you hungry?" she asked, looking into his beautiful green eyes. He looked so different, strange and stunning like some foreigners do. He had a few days worth of stubble on his face but he did not look unclean or untidy. In fact, it looked quite attractive actually. Trimmed and neat. The tan blazer was unbuttoned and his white button up collared shirt was untucked, hanging nicely over his dark denim jeans. His whole look was completed with dark brown leather dress shoes. He was quite attractive and her heart leapt with excitement. She wanted to know this man. This Colby Lockhart.

He looked at her curiously and tried to copy the words she just spoke, as if trying to think about what she said. "Ano*, food?" she made motions with her hands; one hand cupped in a bowl and the other holding an imaginary spoon or fork, bringing imaginary food to her mouth. "Eat?"

"Ah!" the light lit behind his eyes and he nodded, saying "Yes, please" in a very broken American/Japanese accent that made her smile. He was trying at least. So she picked up one of his travel bags and led the way to the bar & grill. Maybe love wasn't so bad after all?

Thank goodness, little Lori-San was quite fluent in English. The little waitress served as a translator between Temari and Colby. Or Cole as he liked to be called. "Ask him what he would like to eat," Temari urged with a large smile.

"Is there anything we can get you to eat, Lockhart-San?" Lori asked in understandable English.

Cole chuckled slightly, the corners of his eyes crinkling with mirth as he looked at Temari. "Whatever you recommend. I'll eat anything."

Temari decided she liked the sound of English. It had certain fluidity. Or maybe it was just his voice that made it sound so nice. Lori told Temari what Cole said Temari nodded and bowed with a smile, going to tell the Head Chef what to make the American. It didn't take long before Temari brought out tsukemono** and beautiful bowl of nikujaga***.

"Ask him if he needs anything else," Temari told Lori. Lori obliged. Temari was only a little nervous when Cole shook his head then gestured to her and smiled. Lori even laughed and blushed. "What did he say?"

With a giggle, Lori covered her mouth and nose with one hand very cutely. "He asked if you would join him, Shikkari-San. I think he likes you!"

Temari flushed darkly and fidgeted. "Th-that would hardly be professional of me! I couldn't possibly…"

"Oh Shikkari-San, no one would say no to you. You never go out or do anything for yourself! You deserve to flirt with a cute American! Sit with him!" Lori persisted, nudging her boss slyly.

"I wouldn't be able to talk with him… I don't speak English very well…"

Lori presented this problem to Cole and he frowned and thought about this for a moment. Then he went 'Aha!' and pulled out his laptop and plugged in his air card. He did some quick typing and before Temari knew what was going on, Lori was pushing her down into the seat with a wide smile. Lori explained to Temari what Cole was doing.

"Lockhart-San is setting up a voice language translator. You speak to the computer and it translates your language to his and vice versa. So you two can talk to each other through the computer!" then with a sparkle in her brown eyes, Lori left the two alone.

"Thank you for inviting me here for dinner. The food is lovely." Cole spoke to the computer. Then a moment later, a robotic voice, definitely not as nice as his, spoke in Japanese, roughly translating his English to her Japanese. A jolt of excited giddiness went through her and she giggled.

"You are welcome. Thank you for inviting me to sit with you." Cole smiled warmly as it translated to him.

"After running into such a beautiful woman, it was the least I could do," he said, a merry twinkle in his eyes. Temari gasped and flushed, feeling completely out of place. But this was the start of their relationship. The beginnings or stirrings of love that Temari thought never existed. And it all began with a single look and a warm smile.

The beginning of the year also meant the beginning of clubs. All clubs met after school every day for 2 hours as was customary and, in Japan, quite mandatory.

Naruto, Dai, Ryder and Yuuto had all signed up for baseball club on top of their baseball team. It was a lot to schedule but it was something they all loved to do. Ino and her best friend Sakura had both gone into cheerleading, Sasuke of course went into basketball though he rarely went, Shikamaru went into Book Club and Chouji joined the food club. Cute little Hinata, always in the background and kind of forgotten, had gone to Tsunade-Sama, the Principal of the High School and Coach to the Mihoshi Tigers Baseball team, and asked to be the Team Manager.

And Kiba, poor Kiba, was left to join the Pet Club. He wanted to be a Veterinarian after all. Kiba had been finding it extremely hard to enjoy hanging out with his friends while Ryder was there. Since his fall out with her a while back, he felt like it just wasn't the same. Maybe Ryder was right when she said that kissing or dating would ruin their friendship. But he would never admit that to her.

And since he had started suspecting that she was gay, it just made it worse. He had seen the way she looked at Hotaru Moriko. Moriko stayed close to Ryder most of the time but she was super cute, funny, friendly and upbeat like the rest of the group. The entire group enjoyed her company. And Kiba knew that look that guys gave really pretty girls. That longing, lustful gaze was unmistakable. And Ryder had that look. It threw Kiba for a loop.

Though, what would you expect when a tomboy dresses and acts like a guy and hangs around with a bunch of guys for years? It was inevitable. But it was gross. As much as Kiba may have liked Ryder before, now he was just disgusted with the fact that Ryder, a girl, would like another girl in the way that boys like girls. It was just plain wrong. And for that reason, it started making him upset. And the more the teenager thought about it, the angrier it made him.

Didn't she know it was wrong for a girl to like another girl? Maybe it was time for Ryder to give up the charade and to be a girl. Maybe realizing that she was a girl and having to act like a girl would set her straight. Repurpose her priorities. It wasn't right, what she was doing. Maybe, he thought that if he took the girl that she liked, maybe it would show her that she really had no chance and realize that as a girl she couldn't have those feelings for Moriko. Maybe if Kiba took Moriko, Ryder would realize that her judgement was being clouded by this ridiculous charade and put a stop to it and be a proper girl like the rest of them.

He liked the sound of that plan. He would set Ryder straight if no one else would!

A few months into their first term, The Mihoshi Tigers Baseball team was doing well. This meant that Daisuke and Sakaeguchi were doing well together again. Granted, it was still slightly awkward for the pair but they somehow managed to push away those feelings and work well together in the field. They had even gotten to the point where they could talk comfortably with each other outside of baseball. They did share a few classes together and the same club after school. Though Daisuke was having a much easier time adjusting to life than Yuuto was, not for lack of trying.

Yuuto tried very hard in fact, to reacquaint himself with the friendship he had with Daisuke before the whole Delilah incident. But for some reason he just couldn't seem to get the romantic parts out of his head. He had tried to convince his mind to separate the two experiences and leave it at 'they were separate people'. But try as he might, he kept remembering that Daisuke had told him, again, that despite being dressed as a girl, it was still him. Everything they did together and joked about and felt and experienced was all real and it was all true.

It was just hard for Yuuto to come to terms with that information. So trying to convince himself that these were not two separate people, but one person, was an incredibly awkward and hard thing to do. But over the months, he had been coming to terms with it, only to find that those romantic, loving feelings were still there. Those stirrings of care and happiness were always hovering right there in the back of his mind every time he saw or talked or hung out with Daisuke. And that was what bothered him the most.

He couldn't love Daisuke or care for him or share with him the way he did with Delilah… could he? It was wrong to love another boy. It was a sissy thing to do. It was looked down upon for the most part and yet still… somehow those rousing feelings of love and care hung there and Yuuto didn't want them to go away. Because as he looked back on the friendship he had with Daisuke and the love and happiness he shared with Delilah, the thought of those two people combined into one wasn't as daunting or off-putting as he may have originally thought. The thought of having a fun, smart, caring boy and a cute, loving, happy girl in one person as his partner was actually more attractive than he ever would have thought.

So he tried to be friends with Daisuke and put in an effort to get to know him personally. He started asking questions about his family, his studies, what his likes and dislikes were, hobbies, dreams and goals. And the more Yuuto learned about Dai, the more he started relaxing around him. He really liked Dai; there was a lot to like about him, and he'd be damned if he didn't admit that one day, with some work and courage and patience, he could possibly see himself being with Kazumi Daisuke.

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