Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi.

A/N: Ladies and Gents! We're back again with the latest chapter of Yokoso! First of all, I want to thank you guys for all the feedback in the previous chapter. I truly appreciate it! Hope you enjoy this chappie and don't forget to tell me what you think! Enjoy!

*This is the revised edition of the previous Chapter 30. I re-read it again and unintentionally left a lot of loopholes so I added some few changes (wink! wink!). Anyways! Read! Read!


Chapter 30: A long hiatus


4 ½ Months later

3:00 PM

Konoha Gakuen

"And that's all for today. Don't forget to submit your reports tomorrow," Kurenai informed the class as she closed her book. The students heaved a sigh of relief. It was finally over. Listening to their teacher's drone-like voice made them all sleepy. Not to mention the on-going butt cramps from sitting since first period. Everyone was bustling with activity. Some are putting their textbooks back in their bags while others are catching up on the latest news and plans of hanging out. Finally, the students left the room.

Kurenai sighed and arranged all her things. She was about to leave the room when she saw none other than the nerd boy standing directly in front of her. She raised a brow. Doesn't this boy know that class is over? But still, as a giver of education, it was part of her job to entertain whatever problems a student might have. "What is it, Suke-kun?"

The lad bowed his head timidly, he looked hesitant at what he was about to say. The teacher frowned. "Is there something wrong?" she asked again. As if on cue, she heard snickers coming from the corner of the room and she glanced to find Chouji and his group.

'What are those guys still doing here? If I remember correctly, they should be having a club meeting at the field…' she thought. Something's not right. "Chouji! Aren't you supposed to be at the football field by now?"

The fat boy only grinned. "We don't have a meeting today, sensei. In fact, we'll be leaving for home soon."

She suddenly became worried for the boy in front of her. "I suggest you go home too, Suke-kun. But if you have any concerns, you can look for me at the teacher's lounge."

He only nodded his head then turned his back on her. Kurenai turned to leave, and was only a few feet away from the doorway when she there was a loud commotion. Looking back, her eyes widened as she saw Chouji and his cohorts threw Suke's things outside the window. The leader of the pack was holding the poor boy by the neck and he was barking orders at him to do their homework.

Anger consumed her. "Boys! Stop what you're doing this instant!"

The boys reluctantly stopped their oppressive activity. They were all surprised to see their teacher glaring at them. Chouji released his hold on Suke and the latter fell on the ground with a loud THUMP! The brunette stormed angrily at their direction, eyes blazing red. "Akimichi Chouji! I'm disappointed in you! You're the captain of the football team and you're picking on someone smaller than you! Not only that, you even rounded up your friends to join this act!"

Chouji didn't say anything. The aggressors bowed their heads in mock shame. Even if they're already caught in the act, they didn't show any remorse. Kurenai helped Suke up on his feet while glaring at the rest. "All of you will have two weeks detention under Morino-sensei. And as for you Chouji, starting tomorrow, you're restricted from doing your club activities! I will inform Asuma-sensei regarding this matter."

"W-What! But sensei, it's not us who started it! The nerd boy did! He's the culprit!" Chouji exclaimed, flabbergasted.

The others followed suit. "Chouji's right, sensei. We're just helping him get even with that shrimp!"

Kurenai rolled her eyes. "Your point is? What you're doing is a violation of the human rights! I will not tolerate these kinds of acts, not just in my classroom but in the entire school! Since you kept on insisting that what you're doing is right, your detention duty will now be extended to two months."

The bullies clamped their mouths shut. There was no use reasoning with their irate teacher. Suke only blinked, he couldn't believe that someone would rescue him. A hand touched his shoulder. He looked at Kurenai who gave him a smile. "As for you, Suke-kun, you better get your things downstairs. You still have to do gym duty, am I right?"

The bespectacled teen mumbled thanks then left to recover his stuff.


4:00 PM

Teacher's Lounge


"I don't believe it! An incident of bullying at our school! This cannot be tolerated!" Anko exclaimed, taking huge bites of her mitarashi dango. Kurenai only sipped her tea. The homeroom teachers are currently having a meeting based on the incident earlier at her classroom. Asuma scratched his head in disbelief while Kakashi buried his nose at his book.

"I agree with Anko. However, Chouji is an important asset in my team. Not to mention we'll be up against Sunagakure for the next playoff," Sarutobi Asuma commented. He's currently the school's P.E. teacher and in-charge of the football team after the previous teacher Maito Guy went on a training mission to the Himalayas for unknown reasons.

Kurenai scoffed. "As much as I love to see your boys play in the game, they also deserve punishment for bullying."

"Aren't you being harsh? Our principal's looking forward to their performance against Sunagakure," he retorted.

"I'm not changing my decision, Asuma-sensei."

Anko raised her hands in mock surrender. "Now, now let's not all get hasty. How about we figure out what to do for the upcoming Sports Fest?" Kurenai and Asuma didn't answer. The buxom teacher glanced at Kakashi for support. "How about you, Kakashi?"

"Hmm, yeah. Sure."

She rolled her eyes. "Do YOU even have any idea what we're talking about RIGHT now?"

His eyes were still glued to the book. "Uh-hmmm, bullying. Bad. Very, very bad."

Steam shot out of Anko's ears as she stomped towards Kakashi. She was about to give him a piece of her mind when her cheeks turned fiery red. No wonder he wasn't paying attention. He was too busy reading his porn book!

Yanking the book off his hands, she snarled at him. "Kakashi! How many times do I have to tell you, don't bring your dirty books to school!"

"Ara, ara, Anko-sensei. I believe that it's rude to suddenly yank a person's only source of entertainment," Kakashi commented idly, prying his book away from Anko's fingers.

The buxom teacher hid the book behind her back. "Not another word, Kakashi! Apparently YOU need to focus in improving your teaching methods! They're your students too! You overlooked their actions because you're too busy reading trash!"

The History teacher sighed. Now he was being picked on. "I don't see why we have to indulge ourselves in this situation. Bullying is common in schools. Let's just give the boys a week's detention to serve their sentences."

Anko raised a brow. "Mr. Oh-I-am-so-cool, what about the victim? He might be developing some sort of mental or psychological trauma! It may sound cliché but safeguarding his well-being is our top priority."

"Not to mention he's our best student in terms of academics," Kurenai added, handing Kakashi her class record. Opening it, he barely skimmed the pages though he had to out of fear that Anko might burn his precious book. He raised an inquisitive brow at the nerd boy's impressive grades.

Now this was something interesting.

He closed the book then handed it back to Kurenai. "It was indeed…unexpected. Who knew we have a brainchild in our school? Scratch that, we have a nerd with remarkable grades."

The brunette rolled her eyes. "Whatever. So, do you have any suggestions on how to protect this boy?"

Kakashi tapped a finger under his chin. "Hmm, we could propose a non-bullying act to the principal. There's a possibility that he might not be the only victim." His face then lit up as if he received an answer from the heavens. He clapped his hands in mock enthusiasm. "Nevertheless, I want to know the details why he's number one on Chouji's list. So, I'll volunteer to interrogate the nerd boy regarding this incident."

His co-workers looked at him as if he sprang another head. "What? Is there something wrong with my idea?" he asked.

"Why not let Kurenai do it? She's their homeroom teacher after all," Asuma pointed out. He was smacked by Kakashi on the head. "Ow!"

"Baka. They're not going to open up to her, she's a girl. Those boys will only talk if they are in the company of MEN," The stoic man replied dryly.

Anko and Kurenai traded looks of annoyance. Kakashi had a point. Knowing that he won, he reached a hand out to Anko. "Since there are no objections, I would like my book back please."

Still seething, she relented.


5:00 PM

School Gym

Men's Shower Room


The constant downpour of warm water provided a fleeting relief on Sasuke's back. Earlier, Chouji and his thugs cornered him at the gym as he cleaned the floors. They subsequently meted out every punishment they could've thought of to him. After being thrown in the mouldy storage closet, Sasuke thought of hitting the showers. Itachi would kick him out of their house if he went home smelling like dirty men's socks.

Relishing the feeling, he closed his eyes. Truth be told, he couldn't stand the bullies' offending treatment. But he wouldn't risk his low-lying status because he's vying to be valedictorian. It's his last year at Konoha Gakuen and he wouldn't allow a jerk like Chouji to deter his goals. He smirked as he turned off the shower. Of course, he won't be leaving the school without any payback. After graduation he can finally beat the crap outta them. Wrapping the towel around his waist, he opened the glass door when his senses immediately warned him to full alert.

"My, oh my. Now this is a very startling discovery."

The raven-haired lad flinched, recognizing that voice. He saw Kakashi sitting lazily on the bench, porn novel in hand. He looked up and gave the unmoving boy an inquisitive stare.

Sasuke didn't like that look. "What do you want?"

The man sighed. "I'm looking for Suke, the unfortunate boy who was bullied by Chouji's group earlier. Kurenai informed me that he had cleaning duties so I decided to drop by and interrogate him. But lo, and behold! I found a gorgeously handsome Uchiha Sasuke-kun in his stead. Care to tell me why?"

The younger man huffed in annoyance. He never expected his lazy teacher to find out his secret. It was mortifying. "Well, you found him."

His sensei didn't even look surprised. The fact that his smirk was pretty obvious under his mask added more fuel to the fire. Why was he covering his face anyway? Does he have a contagious disease that he didn't want to share with anyone? Or, he has a deadly case of halitosis. Sasuke shrugged his thoughts aside as he opened his locker and took out his uniform. Standing in front of his teacher with only a towel on was a bad idea. Not to mention very creepy.

Finally dressed, Sasuke grabbed his glasses and closed his locker shut. He glanced at his teacher who was too engrossed at his book. He remarked, "If you don't have anything to say to me, I'll be going now."

"Oh, that. Well," Kakashi scratched his head. "It's strange but I wanted to know why you're being bullied. And also, I was wondering how much money I'll make if I took a picture of your wet body and sell it on the internet." He raised a hand dismissively, the lad's raging aura directed at him. "I'm just kidding!"

"Whatever. I'm going," Sasuke slung his bag over his shoulder. He was about to leave the room when Kakashi placed a hand on his shoulder. He swatted his teacher's hand away. "Don't touch me, you lazy lecher!"

"My, my. I never expected Suke-kun to be this brash. If I'd known better, I would report this to the higher-ups and tell them that we have a rogue student here in our school."

Sasuke sighed, resisting an urge to punch his teacher. "I'm not a rogue student. I enrolled here."

"Yes, under Suke's name. But what will happen if I report to the principal that Uchiha Sasuke studied here illegally under the guise of a weak nerd?" Kakashi's expression went from mirth to grim. "You will never graduate. And you will never become valedictorian because of your deception."

Sasuke's eyes went wide. "How'd you know I was aiming for…I mean, what gave you that idea?"

"Your impressive records showed me."

The teen sagged against the door. He already knew the consequences underlying his deceit. Clenching a fist, he gave his teacher a wary look. "Tell me, what should I do in order to keep your mouth shut?"

Kakashi placed a hand above his chest as if he was overwhelmed by the offer. "Ah, bribery. The best way to get a teacher's heart," He closed his book. "How about you let me take a picture of you so that I'll make a profit out of it?"

"That's very smooth of you, Kakashi. However, I'm a public figure. I don't allow my pictures to be taken privately," Sasuke smirked, seeing his shoulders droop in disappointment. "But I'm serious here, what do you want in return for your silence?"

The lanky sensei's expression was filled with incredulity. "Demanding eh? You're indeed an Uchiha, resorting to deals when being put in a tight spot. But I'm not here for that."

Kami-sama, his teacher was still putting him at edge. "Spill it then."

"Earlier we had a staff meeting regarding the bullying incident between you and Chouji's gang."

"It doesn't concern me."

"Uh-huh. Well, that was the first time for us to have that kind of incident here in our school." Kakashi saw his eyebrow twitch then added, "My guess is, this would've been prevented early on if the victim reported it sooner. However, he didn't. And from the looks of things, this has been going on for some time, am I right?"

Sasuke didn't answer. He already expected what would happen if he filed the complaint. A background check will be done on him and eventually, his cover will be exposed to the entire campus. He gritted his teeth. "Yeah, but I never had any problems with it." Until now, he added as an afterthought.

"This is also the reason why I'm here. The teachers are looking forward to your support by telling us your side of the story."

The younger man clenched his fist. Stupid teacher, he's ruining everything! "You teachers are so dumb. Even if you guys punish them, they won't stop. They won't stop until they succeed in breaking the person inside out," he retorted. "And besides, I can't corroborate against them. My cover will get blown!"

Kakashi sighed. This boy's a tough nut to crack. He opened his book again to pass the time and their conversation. "This will be all over if you'll just cooperate, Sasuke-kun. All we need is just a testimony from you. And besides, what are you so afraid of? You're tougher than those guys."

The boy glared at him. "Yeah, but I already planned on beating them up after graduation."

His teacher snickered. "That's very mature of you. But since you're still studying in this school, you have no choice but to follow the rules. So, are you going to help us or not?"

"Sorry but I have to say no," Sasuke smirked back. No way was he going to back down on this one.

Still grinning, Kakashi closed his book. He wasn't satisfied with the lad's decision and leaving the room empty-handed. Anko and Kurenai will have his guts once he returns without the lad's affirmation. Nonetheless, a little sacrifice wouldn't hurt. "You're going to regret this. But, your pig-headedness paved a way to my heart so I'm going to help you."

Sasuke blinked. Did he just hear that right? "What…?"

Kakashi chuckled, waving a hand dismissively. "I caught you there, didn't I? Yes, I will help you since you're also one of my cute students."

The student looked at his teacher with suspicious thoughts. Now this was something unexpected. "Is there a catch to this particular help of yours?"

His teacher only smirked. "Let's just say that a certain someone asked me to."


5:30 PM

Konoha Shopping District


"Man, I just can't wait for our annual sports festival! It's going to be a blast!" Naruto exclaimed. He and Tenten are currently on their way to meet Sasuke at Sasori's shop. They were going to celebrate the opening of Sasori and Deidara's otaku shop. Sasuke already told them to go ahead and help with the preparations while he stayed at school to finish his duties. "Aren't you excited, T?" the blond asked the girl beside him.

Tenten snickered. Konoha Gakuen will be having their 20th sports festival in a few days and this time, she and Naruto are gonna participate as their school's front runners. Sasuke on the other hand, wouldn't be able to join because he prioritized his cover-up. The brunette sighed. Their friend had way too many problems on hand which made him unable to have fun.

Though nowadays, she noticed gradual changes in Sasuke's disposition. During the past few months, the morose teen occasionally showed his crabbiness except when he's being annoyed by Naruto. He seemed to be more relaxed when he's around them, as if he didn't carry the whole world on his shoulders. Everything seemed well for her, and she thought that the reason for the Uchiha's mood switch was because of them.

Until stupid Foxface noted that his personality changed for the best ever since the pink-haired hussy entered their pack.

She bit her lip in indignation. Just what did she do that made him change anyway?

"Earth to T! We're here!"

She blinked, abruptly stopping her walk. They're now standing in front of a rundown building. The two sweatdropped as they saw the signboard next to the entrance. Naruto read the sign out loud. "Welcome to S.A.D's Shop of Earthly Delights, where you can find all of your heart's desire. Wow, I mean, isn't that a crappy name for a shop?"

Tenten sighed. "Well, it was supposed to be named after the first letter of their names. They didn't like the previous name Kisame-san picked out."

"What was the previous one?"

He grinned. "SASORI AND DEIDARA's HOUSE OF HORRORS."

The girl sighed again. Leave it to Kisame-san to come up with a scary name. After all, the shop was the puppet enthusiast's dream and along with his partner's help it was a huge success. Naruto finally opened the door and stepped inside. "Hello! We're here!"

Deidara looked up from the counter. "Irasshaimase! Well, well, well! What brings you here?"

Tenten plopped on the bean bag chair next to a shelf full of comic books. "Sasuke told us to go here and help prepare for tonight's celebration."

The owner nodded while he tended to the cash register. "Ah, I see. Itachi and Kisame went out to buy refreshments. So, just relax for a while."

Naruto on the other hand, gushed at the latest issues of Icha Icha Paradise at the glass cabinet. "Woweee! These are all best sellers! Where do you guys get all of these anyway? You wouldn't mind if I take a look now, wouldn't you?"

His friend rose from the chair and unceremoniously bonked him on the head. "Baka! Do you even know why they're inside the glass cabinet?"

"It's because they're all special editions!"

Deidara almost dropped the Gunpla he was putting on display. "Naruto, it's because those books are strictly for adults only. Seriously, that's not for guys like you. Anyways, even if you try to pry that open you won't succeed. Sasori's got the key with him."

"And he's not going to tell where."

The three of them looked at Sasori who just came out from the employee's room. He set the package he was carrying down on the floor. "I'm afraid you guys were a bit early. Itachi just called and said that Sasuke's not home yet from school."

"Well, he told us to go on ahead. So most likely he got stalled again by Chouji and his thugs," Tenten sighed. Those guys were always hot on Sasuke's heels.

Naruto snickered. "Ah, Sasuke-chan. I like that masochistic streak of his."

The two owners rolled their eyes in reaction to Naruto's comment. Though they suddenly felt bad for Sasuke especially Deidara, who looked oddly worried. He asked, "Shouldn't you guys like, help him or something? This is the first time I heard of an Uchiha being bullied. Usually, it's the other way around."

"Yeah, but Sasuke's aiming to be valedictorian so he decided to keep his cool."

"That's an Uchiha trait all right. Always have to be perfect at everything," Sasori commented as he opened the package and began sorting out the comic books in alphabetical order. He wasn't surprised by Sasuke's competitive nature. Itachi was also like that. He fondly remembered one time during home economics class that they have to make a doll out of scrap materials. Itachi made his doll out of papier mache while he on the other hand, created his project out of used rags.

Of course, we already know who got the highest grade. 'That was the only time that I didn't get a perfect grade.' The redhead thought bitterly.

"Anyways, I have to go and get Sasuke. He might be stuck in the dumpster or in the toilet as we speak," Naruto spoke, breaking the puppet master's musings. Deidara only nodded while Tenten looked grim. "Do you want me to go with you? You might need backup just in case," she offered.

The blond flapped his hand offhandedly. "Nah. Don't worry, T! Just wait here in case Itachi-san comes back with the food."

She huffed. "Just make sure that Sasuke takes a bath before he goes here. Leave the preparations for the party to us."

Naruto flashed a victory sign then left.


6:00 PM

Konoha Gakuen

Faculty Room


"And that's how it happened. According to Suke-kun, Chouji and the others were just teasing him about his hairstyle and they were actually volunteering to help him modify it."

"Are you sure? If I remember correctly, Chouji was bullying Suke-kun in doing his homework!" Kurenai exclaimed. This was not the answer she was expecting. "Was he threatened by them?"

"Nope."

Asuma laughed. He was relieved that his boys will still have a chance in participating the sports meet. "Why are you so upset, Kurenai-sensei? That's what the kid told Kakashi so I suggest you let this one go."

"You're not on helping matters, Asuma! That boy's been bullied, of course, he'll develop Asperger's syndrome!" Anko interjected. She also didn't like Kakashi's report. There must be something that's holding the kid back to make him change his side of the story.

Kakashi coughed. "I believe they call that Stockholm syndrome, Anko-sensei. And would you please stop attempting to burn my book?"

Eventually, the teachers are engaged in a heated argument over Kakashi's final report. They were astounded at his report that each of them had different mind sets and goals about the incident. Kurenai knew that something was up and she wasn't letting this incident go that easily. Anko, on the other hand, sees this as an opportunity to rehabilitate Kakashi from bringing his erotic books to school. Asuma obviously didn't want his precious players to miss the upcoming sports fest which was already fast approaching.

Kakashi finally wrestled his book back from Anko and tucked it safely in his pocket. As expected, his colleagues would take the bait. He volunteered to be the sacrificial lamb in order to safeguard Sasuke's alter ego. 'Now, why did I agree to do this again?' he complacently asked himself.

The bickering went louder and louder until they heard a loud cough coming from behind them. They turned their heads and sweatdropped. The principal was standing right behind them. "I suppose there is an explanation for this debate. Well, my dear teachers?"

The three of them went silent while Kakashi just laughed silently under his mask. There would be a lot of explaining to do.

'This is a total let-down,' Naruto sighed dejectedly, retracing his steps back to the school. Oddly, Sasuke would've been able to handle those bullies by himself if it wasn't for his ultimate goal: Be the valedictorian. Ah, the ironies of following school rules. Even if you're playing as the good guy, you'll still get beaten up in the end.

"Man, if he didn't give us that order of leaving those guys alone then his life in Konoha Gakuen would be easier," he muttered. When it comes to achieving a certain goal, no matter what the hardships are, Sasuke cannot be deterred. He won't stop at becoming the best of the best. Like Sasori said, that was a certain trait that Uchihas were known to have.

The blond boy laughed, remembering the numerous times he competed against his friend. Of course, in the end, he was cruelly defeated one challenge after the other. Ah, yes, kindergarten still held the best memories regarding those said competitions.

Regardless of that, Sasuke is still one of his treasured friends.

'Maybe that's why I'm a bit possessive of him,' Naruto chuckled as he kept walking. He was about to make a turn around the corner when his eyes caught a flash of pink. 'Huh?' His expression went from disbelief to shock. Distracted by the scene in front of him, he took the opposite route and followed the source of his confusion.


6:45 PM

Sasori's shop


"I'm here!"

Tenten greeted the newcomer with a huge grin. "Itachi-nii! You finally came!"

Itachi gave her an approving wave as he entered the premises. Kisame followed and had two bags of food and refreshments in each hand. Tenten rushed to his side and helped him put the bags on the table. The older Uchiha scanned the area and was surprised that Sasuke and his loud-mouthed sidekick were not there yet.

Frowning, he turned to Deidara who was helping Sasori sort their merchandise. "Where's Naruto and Sasuke?"

"Ah, Naruto went back to school to get Sasuke."

Itachi raised a brow. "At this time?"

Tenten smiled sheepishly. "Um, yeah. You already know why, right?"

"I see." Bully trouble. "That stupid brother of mine, he would rather get hit than hit them himself. I wonder where he got that masochistic streak of his."

His friends only stared at him as if that was a trick question. Tenten only rolled her eyes in mild annoyance, taking out several paper plates and cups from one of the bags Kisame brought. Placing the plates and cups on the table, she sighed. She already knew the answer to that question.

It's not because Sasuke had a masochistic side in him. He had other choice. If he shed that nerdy disguise of his, his looks would raise his popularity in less than a minute and not soon after, his fan club would compromise his stay at Konoha Gakuen. In the long run, his dad would find out that he wasn't attending his classes at Sunagakure and then he'd get punished. The brunette sighed. She had nothing to do against his decision to be a nerd. It's just that it would've been easier if he attended the school without the crappy get-up. But then again, memories in pink began to occupy her ruminating space.

Her mood turned sour. That hussy will still stick to Sasuke like glue if that were to happen. She angrily plunked the rest of the paper ware, not caring if it were placed haphazardly next to each other. In that case, she has no other choice but to protect her best friend from the pink-haired seductress.

'I don't know how she does it, but that innocent persona of hers has to go down!' she said to herself. She was so immersed with her thoughts of punishing Sakura that she didn't notice the four pairs of eyes staring at her direction.

"What's going on with Tenten?" Kisame whispered to Itachi who was reading one of Sasori's comic books. The ponytailed man shrugged as he flipped the pages. "Ah, you know women. They have that determined look on their faces whenever they're trying to impress their men."

Kisame gave a hearty laugh. "Who? Us? Aw, she's so sweet. I wonder who she likes."

Sasori gave a small chuckle as he and Deidara finally finished sorting the books. "Cut the jokes, Itachi. You already know who she likes. And apparently, he's not here."

His friend only smirked. "I didn't know you're into my kind of teen flicks, Sasori."

"Well, you know me. I don't want to lose to the likes of you."

Deidara snorted. There they go again…


7:00 PM

Yamanaka Ice Cream Shoppe


"Thank you for waiting. Here are your orders, two chocolate sundaes and one banana split."

The two girls gave the waitress an approving smile and they began to eat. Satisfied, she went back to the counter to get more pending orders. Upon reaching the counter, she drew a line across the order she just brought and waited for the next batch. She looked up to see her friend putting the finishing touches on the strawberry parfait. "Yum, that looks delicious!" commenting at her friend's handiwork.

Ino laughed, placing the order on the counter. "Stop praising me, Sakura. Now give that order to our next customer so you can take your break."

"Hai, hai." The pinkette put the parfait on her tray and headed for her next customer. She's currently working part-time at the Yamanaka Ice Cream Shoppe. It was a huge decision to make but it was worth it. The past three months brought nothing but problems on her behalf. Most of which, are still unresolved. But looking on the brighter side, having a part-time job would distract her from one of her burdens and will enable her to take one step closer to independence.

Humming softly, she checked the number on the order slip. With the parfait on hand, she reached the designated table. "Here you go, sir. One strawberry parfait…" her voice trailed off when she saw who the customer was. "N-Naruto?"

"I never thought I'd see you here, Sakura-chan." Naruto gave her an intrusive gaze.

She almost dropped the parfait. "I didn't expect to see you here either," she replied weakly, placing his order in front of him.

The blond then scooped a small amount of ice cream and put it in his mouth. "Hmmm! DE-LI-CIOUS! No wonder you always call off our study sessions. You've been working!"

Sakura checked her watch. Time for her break. "Well, I better get going now. It was nice seeing you here, Naruto." She turned around to leave when she felt a hand on her arm. She looked at him and was surprised to see a serious expression on his face.

"Does he know that you work here?"

"You mean, Neji?"

He shook his head. "Sasuke."

Surprise marred her features. She didn't expect that. "No."

Naruto decided not to prod her with inquiry any further. He grinned widely. "I see. Since it's your break, why don't you hang out with me for a while?"

Sakura smiled. She couldn't say no to that.


8:00 PM

Sasori's shop


Everyone was in live spirits as they celebrated the shop's opening. Sasori and Deidara enjoyed the food while Kisame and Itachi entertained the guests. Konan and Zetsu admired the collectibles placed neatly on the shelves while Nagato drank quietly from his cup. At the far side of the table, Tenten sighed. All that she did in the entire evening was poking her food.

'Where in the hell are those two? It's been more than 2 hours!' she huffed. Without Sasuke and Naruto, she's nothing but a sitting duck in the party! Even though she appreciated Itachi and his group's company, she would never have a good time fun if her friends weren't there.

The front door opened and everyone stopped, checking who it was. Tenten looked up as well and she sighed in relief when she saw it was Naruto who entered the shop. She immediately stood up and greeted him. "Finally! I thought you'll never return!"

Foxface gave her a wide I'm-so-sorry-I-was-late grin. "Sorry about that, T! Don't worry. I'm here now so let's get this party started!"

"Oh yeah! Let's get it on!" Deidara raised his arm in excitement. Sasori smirked as he cranked some tunes on his CD player. Everybody then started dancing including Naruto, who yelled his approval.

"Ohhhh yeah! Now this is my kind of FUN!" He exclaimed then joined the fun. Tenten smiled as she also went to join her partying friends when she remembered something.

"Wait, where the fuck is Sasuke?"


9:30 PM

Yamanaka Ice Cream Shoppe


With a huge smile, Ino finished counting the money they earned for tonight. Closing the cash register, she turned to her friend who just finished wiping the counter. "You're done for tonight. You're free to go, forehead girl."

Sakura smiled as she tossed the rag to its proper place. "Thanks, Ino-chan." She then reached behind the counter to get her bag.

"Tonight was really something. Isn't it?"

"Maybe."

Ino observed her every move, worry showing in her face. "Are you sure you're okay?"

She frowned. "Okay with what?"

Her friend crossed her arms. "You already know what I mean, Sakura. You didn't tell Naruto about the entire thing, didn't you?"

She fished out her comb inside the bag and began combing her hair. After gathering it up in a messy bun she answered, "It's for the best, Ino. I don't want anyone else to find out." Seeing the blonde's unwavering expression, she gave her a pleading look. "You're the only one who knows what my current situation is so please, don't tell anyone."

"I got it, I got it." Ino gave her a comforting hug. "Everything will turn out well, Sakura. We still have a few months left until graduation. If you ever need someone a shoulder to cry on, don't hesitate to call me."

The pink-haired girl blinked back her tears. She was thankful that Ino's there to support her. Sure, they bickered a lot when they were kids but deep down, she could count on her friend. The two girls resumed closing the shop when Ino glanced at the clock.

9:45 PM.

She winced at the time. "Uh-oh. I'm late for my dinner date with Shikamaru! Is it okay if I leave the rest to you?"

"Sure. Just go through the main door."

The blonde girl nodded her thanks then left.

Sakura sighed as she locked the rest of the doors. Tucking the keys in her pocket, she took her stuff then left through the back door. Stifling a yawn, she began the long trek back home. While walking, she began to rethink all the events that transpired during the past few months.

'Hmmm, let's see. The first one's about my recent breakup with Neji,' she started, remembering her last conversation with Neji. They were on the roof during lunchtime and she wondered why he called her out. He told her he wanted her back and promised her that he would change. Of course, knowing that even if he apologized and changed his ways there was still a huge chance that he would revert to his old ways.

And she was already tired from being a punching bag.

So, she mustered all the courage remaining within her body and tactfully broke up with him. She knew that she loved him with all her heart but she already had enough. She had to pick up the broken pieces of her life one by one and start gluing all of it back together. And just when she was starting to recover from her breakup another problem followed.

A few weeks after her breakup with Hyuga, she received a letter. With curiosity getting the better of her, she opened the letter and read its contents. It was a petition for divorce. She dropped the letter and sagged against the wall. Her stepmom filed a divorce from her dad because he left them with a huge number of debts.

They thought that he was still working abroad. It turns out he didn't and mysteriously disappeared. At first, she didn't know how she would react at what she read but she did the only thing that was in her mind at that time.

She cried.

At school, it was hard to concentrate due to the impact she suffered from her problems. The rent for their house was due next month and if they wouldn't be able to pay on time, they'll eventually be kicked out. Her stepmother suggested that they move back to her family's home in Sunagakure but she disagreed. They have to wait for her father to come back, regardless of where he is.

But first, where are they going to get money to pay the rent?

And that's when she decided to approach Ino. The Yamanakas owned an ice cream shop not too far from her place and that gave her an idea to apply for a part-time job. Her friend was didn't agree to it at first but after telling her of her current situation, she relented. When she started out, it was tough dividing her time between school and work.

Hopefully, once she'll be able to earn enough money, the rent will be paid and she'll start earning next for an apartment of her own. Her family's situation was already becoming worse due to the divorce proceedings and she didn't want anyone to find out. The only that was on her mind right now was to save enough money and move out.

Until she saw Naruto and was emotionally disturbed by his words.


Flashback!

"Uwaahhh! This is sooooo good!"

Sakura smiled as Naruto finished the remains of his parfait. The blond leaned back on his seat and patted his belly. He grinned at her. "That was the best strawberry parfait I ever tasted! I'm very picky when it comes to ice cream but this one really knocked my socks off!"

She placed the empty glass on her tray. She'll clean that later. "Well, you should thank Ino for that. She's the one who made it."

"Haha, thank her for me then," he whispered. He was still wary of Ino because of her tyranny during the School Festival. Glancing at the girl in front of him, he couldn't help but ask. "Sakura-chan, why are you working?"

She fidgeted with the napkin in front of her. "Oh. It's just part-time. I'm saving up for my allowance you see."

Tucking a hand under his chin, Naruto gave her a wary look. "Allowance? I thought you told me that your father's working outside the country. Doesn't he provide you guys sufficiently?"

An onset of tears was beginning to appear but she calmed herself. She didn't know that Naruto was that observant. Lately, she had been hanging out at Itachi-san's place because Kurenai-sensei assigned her to be Naruto's study buddy. But Naruto preferred hanging around with his buddies rather than studying so she had no other choice but to go along and put him to work. It was okay with her, since, there were times that even she couldn't figure out the answers to their homework so they would occasionally ask Itachi-san. He would often aid them at times until recently; he passed the help baton to his younger brother because Sasori and Deidara needed his support in opening up their business.

For the first time, Sasuke didn't seem to mind helping them. She never wanted to admit it but he was a better tutor than Itachi-san. Sure, he can be very crabby at times whenever they didn't get a certain problem right but eventually; he would help them solve by providing the easiest methods.

Who knew that the stoic and arrogant Uchiha Sasuke would be considerate?

And as for Naruto, she never imagined that he would in time be one of her closest friends. She remembered Neji warning her before not to get close to him because of his rowdy and careless behaviour. She believed him then. At first, she was wary of his behaviour but after becoming his study buddy and hanging out with him she later figured out that Neji's claims were false.

"Oi, Sakura-chan!"

She blinked. How long did she space out? "Ah, I'm sorry. What did you say again?"

The blond flicked her gently on the forehead. "I was talking about Sasori and Deidara's party but it seemed your head's in La-la land! Is there something troubling you? You looked like you're having some kind of dilemma!"

"No! Of course not, I'm just thinking of what to do for our study session tomorrow."

"I see." He grinned at her. "Are you that excited?"

She blushed. "Ah, no…not really."

Naruto was wholly amused. He didn't mean to tease her like that. Her reaction was priceless. 'If Tenten were here, she would surely clobber Sakura-chan,' he mentally snickered. No doubt he was on Tenten's side but after knowing the pink-haired girl, he was having second thoughts of antagonizing her. Now, there are two girls with different personalities who are vying for Sasuke-chan's affection. The first one's a raging tomboy who was still on the verge of realizing her feminine side. The other one's nursing a broken heart and was now afraid of loving another.

Who knew that the love triangle between them and Sasuke would be that colourful?

As if there was really a love triangle. The Uchiha was too much of an ass to realize his feelings for the two. Even though he knew his best friend from head-to-toe, there were some instances that he couldn't predict what he was thinking. Besides that, Sasuke was focusing too much on his goals. But then again, seeing Sasuke's attention being taken away from him somewhat made him envious. So, he decided to spice things up a bit.

"Ne, Sakura-chan," he leaned a bit closer and whispered loud enough for her to hear, "how are things going on between you and Sasuke?"

Her face went beet red. "W-what? Why are you asking me that?"

He feigned ignorance. "Weeellllllll, I didn't mean to pry but I noticed that the two of you are now in good terms. It's actually rare to see him in a good mood. Usually, he would act like Mr. Grumpy from Snow White whenever there's a new member in the pack."

"Oh." Sakura smiled slightly. "That's because I would always consult him regarding our lessons in Geometry. I couldn't figure out the difference between postulates and theorems."

"Uh-huh. Just postulates and theorems…hmm?"

She frowned, never liking where the conversation was heading. "What are you trying to say, Naruto?"

He waved a hand dismissively. "Don't get so worked up, Sakura-chan. I admit that I'm really impressed you were able to break Sasuke's barrier. How'd you even do it? Not even T and I know what that bastard's thinking. And it's really surprising that he's beginning to overcome his fear of women."

"Naruto, I…"

He leaned a bit more. "In other words, Sakura-chan…what did you do to him?"

Her brows furrowed due to misperception. Was Naruto trying to imply that she and Sasuke-kun were getting into a relationship? "I don't know why you're telling me this kind of things, but I want to let you know that he and I are just friends. Our bond will not go beyond that."

"But what do you really feel about him?"

She couldn't lie to Naruto. It was hard to pretend that she didn't have feelings for his friend. Knowing that she couldn't hide her face which was bright red as a tomato, she bowed her head and quietly admitted, "I…I do like him."

Instead of reacting loudly like he always do, Naruto murmured, "I see."

She hastily added, "But, even so, I don't want to confuse him with my feelings. I want him to see me as a friend, not because I was Neji's girlfriend. That's why I don't want to ruin our friendship just because I'm feeling something for him. I…I don't want him to think that I'm baiting him to have a relationship with me."

"Sakura-chan…" Naruto was at a loss for words. "I understand. I admire your honesty. However," his expression turned forbidding, "If you keep on pretending that there's nothing between the two of you then you're just fooling yourselves. And, I'm pretty sure that's not your only problem."

She swallowed thickly. She wasn't ready to open up her problems to him yet. "I'm sorry, Naruto. I…I do love Sasuke-kun. But, I don't want to complicate things for him. Furthermore, I'm afraid I can't tell you with what I'm dealing right now. I have to do this by myself. Onegai, don't tell anyone."

Even if she didn't tell him about her predicament, he was still satisfied. She finally admitted her feelings for his big-headed friend. Tenten wouldn't live this one down. And knowing Sasuke, he'll find ways to prevent a bloodbath from happening. But it would be pretty interesting if he could extract some juicy details from the tight-lipped Uchiha.

Hmm, maybe Itachi-san has some great ideas.

End flashback!


Sakura pushed all her remaining thoughts aside. She was a few steps away from the front door when she suddenly stopped. Somebody is standing under the cherry tree near her house. The streetlights were dim at her place so she was having a hard time identifying the person. Moving a bit closer, she was finally able to make a distinction and immediately reddened upon doing so.

"S-Sasuke-kun! W-what are you doing here?" she asked, in disbelief.

Said man straightened up. Moving in purposeful strides, he walked towards her direction. Apparently, he got annoyed waiting outside her house for a long time. "What does it look like I'm doing?" he snapped.

Her head cocked to one side in confusion. "Anou…were you…waiting?"

He flicked her on the forehead. "Duh! Tonight's the opening of Sasori and Deidara's otaku shop. Stupid Itachi called at the last minute and told me to pick you up because he forgot to remind you of the time. And since you took so long, we're missing the rest of the party."

Sakura blinked. "Tonight's the party?"

"Bingo."

The pinkette's eyes went wide. She made him wait for a long time! Not to mention she let Itachi down because she promised him she'd be there. But then, she saw Naruto earlier! 'Why didn't Naruto remind me? No, scratch that. I should've known it was tonight. I'm such an idiot!' she berated herself.

Knowing that she caused a lot of trouble for the irritated man in front of her, she bowed her head in apology. "Gomenasai...Sasuke-kun. I wasn't aware of the time. I didn't know…" she didn't get to finish as he flicked her again on the forehead.

He wasn't letting her off that easily. "You think so? Yeah. I wasted a lot of time waiting for you, Haruno." Of course, he was pissed. What kind of person in the right mind would make him wait for 3 straight hours without even answering his calls? He was about to give him a piece of his mind when he stopped.

He saw 'that' look on her face again.

Sasuke lifted a hand and placed it on her cheek. She instantly tense up under his touch. "Why are your eyes red?" he questioned.

Sakura looked down and mumbled, "They were itchy so I scratched it."

His eyebrow rose up. "You think I'd fall for that kind of excuse?"

"I…I didn't mean to…"

"Spill it, Haruno."

With her cheeks still flaming red, Sakura felt like a child who got caught with her hand inside a cookie jar. She wasn't supposed to feel guilty. It was such an awkward state. Was she really that easy to read? The only reason why she never wanted to share her problems with her friends was because she didn't want them to worry. Ino was the only exception since they grew up together. The blond girl was the only one who knew her family's background which is why it was easier for her to relay her thoughts to her. "I'm sorry…but I…" she mumbled, mostly to herself.

Sasuke sighed. He didn't come all the way to her house just to reproach her. They were already running behind schedule and he didn't want to waste any more time. However, seeing her tired and puffy face suddenly brought him concern. Having known her for months, he was able to discern her feelings just by looking at her expressions and body movements.

Her face would light up and her eyes bright would mean that she's in a happy mood. And when her shoulders droop and her expression crestfallen, it would mean that she's sad. But, the combination of these two coupled with lots of stammering and jittering would mean that she's worrying about something and she's trying her best to hide it.

Apparently, the third expression's the one she's having right now.

He took a deep breath. Right now, her expression's more essential than the party. He wouldn't admit it but she was already one of his closest friends. He looked down at her and noticed that his hand was still on her cheek. Seeing her red face, he quickly dropped his hand to his side. "Forget about it. I didn't come here to scare you."

She flustered at his response. "I-I'm sorry." She then glanced at her watch and her frown deepened. It read 10:30 PM. "I'm afraid we won't be able to make it to the party, Sasuke-kun. It's already late."

Sasuke ran a hand through his hair. What a bummer. It was Friday Night and he missed Sasori and Deidara's opening night. Just when he thought he could finally unwind due from the events at school earlier. Kakashi literally dropped the bomb when he discovered his secret and unexpectedly, he was able to provide cover for him when the faculty demanded his participation in the bullying incident. The tall sensei admitted that he only did it out of favour for someone. He began to wonder who this enigmatic person was but then he decided not to act against it.

For the first time in his life, he felt exhausted.

And now Haruno was making it worse.

He spoke out of the blue. "What are you going to do about it?"

She was puzzled by his words. "What did you say?"

He glared at her, pinning her down with his gaze. "I'm tired. I'm hungry. I'm bored. I'm thirsty. I'm sleepy. And top it off, I'm annoyed."

Silence passed between the two. Sakura didn't say anything. She was afraid that one wrong response might tick off the irate Uchiha. But like him, she was also exhausted. She went to school like always and worked nonstop at Ino's shop. Not only that, she had to go home and deal with her family problems. It was too much for her to bear. Tears formed around the corners of her eyes and her shoulders shook with fatigue. She desperately needed Ino's shoulder to cry on. It was bad enough that her friend wasn't there and she was tearing up in front of another person.

"I…I…"

Sasuke noted the hitch in her voice and opened his mouth to speak when she, all of a sudden, slumped against his chest. "Haruno! What in the world…" he didn't get to finish when he felt her shoulders shaking and she was making tiny muffled sounds. His hand clenched as he realized what the girl was doing.

Apparently, in this kind of situation Uchiha Sasuke had no idea what to do.

Should he stop her from crying?

He was supposed to, right?

Oh man.

Instead of putting his stupid thoughts into words, he gathered her in his arms. She was crying rather loudly now, her tears staining the front of his shirt. 'Now what?' he asked himself. This was his first time to hold a member of the opposite sex. What was he supposed to do? It was then he remembered a particular incident in their school project when their electronic baby cried nonstop. He held the wailing Koichi in his arms and by instinct, stroked its back. It seemed to work since Koichi stopped and his cries were reduced to giggles.

Maybe, it will work on her.

Still unsure, his hand went up and stroked her hair. She kept on crying so he repeated the action until she finally calmed down. The two of them stayed in that position and Sasuke had qualms that the pink-haired girl must be enduring something much more.

'This is going to be a very long night.'


A/N: And there you have it folks! I'm kinda happy that this one turned out to be longer than the previous chapter and I must say, the title suits my situation but, don't fret! Yokoso will still continue, as always. Or else my beta reader will have my head. Again, don't forget to tell me what you think and stay tuned for the next chapter!

And of course, I missed asking questions and leaving you with cliffies, I'm leaving you guys with this question:

"What's Sasuke's next step in comforting Sakura?"

a. Beat her up to a bloody pulp.

b. Give her a warm cup of milk tea.

c. Put her to sleep.

d. Other: (Come up with you own answer.)

Don't forget to answer and I hope to hear from you guys again! Ja ne! ^o^