Chapter 21

Naruto certainly wasn't aware of his influence on people. Really. If ignorance was bliss, then he was the happiest person alive! Because by the time he left the infirmary and headed for home, he had completely missed all the looks of confusion, admiration and contemplation.

Sasuke was still pondering what Naruto was blushing about when he had helped him up. Why would Naruto blush like that? Why was he even so dazed and out of it to begin with? It was disconcerting to see the liveliest pair in school to brood and walk around like zombies. Sasuke was going to have to keep a close eye on Naruto. Again, not that he was concerned about the annoying kid but because he genuinely confused him.

And Naruto's recently made friends, Ino, Sakura, Hinata, Shikamaru, Neji and even Sai, were all concerned for the sudden quietness coming from their favourite blonde.

With any luck Naruto would return to being the rambunctious, rambling fool they loved soon. It was like a bad omen to see him silent.

Naruto on the other hand, didn't even notice (no surprise there) that he was scaring people. He was just much too busy thinking about recent events to particularly care. It seemed like the rest in the infirmary didn't do much good.

He had been hurt too much in the past. Was he ready to overcome that wall in his mind and heart to be with someone else? Well, Neji was a great guy. Polite, charming, funny, gorgeous... there was nothing not to like about Hyuuga Neji.

But the more Naruto thought about it, the less sure he was about dating.

He still felt too involved with Gaara to be able to move on completely. Yet, at the same time, he felt like he was over Gaara. As much as he may have loved him before, that love had changed.

Finally at his apartment, he opened the door and walked inside glumly, just remembering now his childhood nuisance was living with him now for God knows how long.

"Baby!" Kyuubi squealed in joy as he bounded towards his bummed blonde. "I missed you!"

Surprisingly, the apartment was still intact and not destroyed. That was a good thing at least.

"Yeah, yeah... I'm going for a shower," Naruto sighed and threw his stuff on his kitchen table before stalking off to his bathroom and slamming the door. After his shower he changed into his pajamas and decided he would just chill at home and watch TV since he didn't have to work tonight.

Relaxing on his couch and turning on his TV, he was determined to ignore the slow slinking of Kyuubi as he tried to get closer and closer to his blonde prey. No doubt he had stayed cooped up in Naruto's apartment all day and was completely bored out of his mind.

"So..?" Kyuubi tried, staring relentlessly at his roommate.

Naruto groaned and leaned his head back. "What?" Couldn't he have some peace and quiet?

"How was your day?" Kyuubi's voice was all sugary sweet and prodding.

"Long," Naruto answered shortly.

"So...?"

"What?"

"What happened to make you all bummed?"

Naruto sighed and glared at Kyuubi, "You moved in," he snapped.

Kyuubi grinned and poked Naruto in the side, "Don't be mean, Naru. What's on your mind?"

Relenting, Naruto decided maybe it might make him feel better to rant to someone. He stood and started pacing, hands twisting in front of him while his face scrunched up in thought cutely.

"I don't even know! I mean, I don't know if I'm ready! And the more I think about being with someone, the more I dislike it. Like... he's awesome and everything but he is still kinda bothering me. I forgave him and stuff but... I still don't know what really happened that night and I'm not sure I want to know. He just tried too hard and then there's that bastard Uchiha who is a constant prick and a prickly meanie! He is so hard to ignore now! But he was at least decent to me in gym today and that's weird..."

Naruto's fuming was making no sense to the confused redhead sitting on the couch and watching Naruto flail his arms in exasperation.

"And the kiss was great but I mean... Sai kissed me too and that was just awkward and he signed up to our school and that's alright I guess but what if he tries to kiss me again? I'm interested in Neji! But then I think about being with him and I'm worried about being hurt and then I just go in circles! I don't know what to do!"

Tears started stinging his bright blue eyes and Kyuubi smiled and pulled Naruto back down onto the couch, "So, what are the names and addresses of all these mean people, Naru?" he asked sweetly, patting the mess of blonde hair.

Naruto chuckled without humour, "You aren't allowed to hurt any of them, Kyuubi. You just got out of jail, dummy!"

Kyuubi pouted playfully, "C'mon, Naruto! I could totally make them pay! No one messes with this kid!" he ruffled Naruto's hair like a big brother would.

Naruto pushed off Kyuubi's hand and growled, "I'm not a kid!"

"You are to me. I'm 4 and a half years older than you! I'm 20," the redhead puffed his chest out in pride.

"You sure don't act like it."

"Ouch..." Kyuubi poked Naruto's side again, "You're being prickly!" he joked but saw the flinch in Naruto's eyes. Oops...

"I'm not a prickly meanie! Not like that Sasuke-bastard! He needs to take that stick out his ass before he can be decent to anybody!" the blonde growled and stood off the couch and headed for bed. Sure it was early but due to everything that had been going on and his stiffness from his fight a few days ago, he could truly use the rest.

He slipped into his comfortable bed and laid awake for quite some time, thankful that Kyuubi was kind enough to leave him alone to his thoughts.

...

The next day Naruto was back to his bright and sunny self. Turns out, all he needed was a decent sleep which he hadn't been able to have for the last week or so. He happily walked to school after waking up early enough for his usual morning ritual. Of course it had to change to include yelling at Kyuubi for being a slob and an attention whore (to which Kyuubi pouted and left the house for something to do).

At school, he met up in the usual place with his bestest buddy, Kiba and noticed his friend was in better spirits today too.

It certainly didn't take much to make them happy I guess? Simple things…

When lunch rolled around, their table was crowded again like yesterday. Sakura, Ino, Hinata, Shikamaru and the chubby guy came and sat with them and it felt like they had been buddies for a long time already.

But a certain observant student didn't miss the hesitation when Sai walked into the lunch room and joined their table as well. The table went a little quiet and Sasuke noticed the glare Ino was giving Sai who only smiled back.

Sasuke was just annoyed over all. While it was pleasant to see that he didn't have his worst fan girls fawning over him anymore, it was just depressing to know that they had joined Naruto and Kiba, the two least popular people in school. A fact that appeared to be slowly changing.

This began to bother Sasuke a lot. While he knew he was King of the people here, he knew his only real threat was Hyuuga (and he wasn't even that big of a threat). But now, in light of recent events, people were starting to be more accepting of Naruto in the shift of the social hierarchy. He was cute, friendly, and strong enough to take down a gang and a renowned Boss armed with a knife. People respected him.

And while Sasuke may see the dumb blonde in a new light of respect, he still did not approve of him threatening his hold over this hell hole. He had appearances to keep! It sure as Hell didn't look good to let a rookie take his status so easily. Not to mention the confusion that that blonde boy had thrown Sasuke into. Why the blush? Why the daze yesterday? Questions that Sasuke felt deserved answers.

Eager to see if anyone had voted for him on the sign up sheets for the competitions, Naruto went to check the sheets before his next class and was overjoyed to see that all his new friends signed up under his name. However, he felt ecstatic that Neji had been the first one to sign up for Naruto. The blonde boy felt his face flush darkly as he stared at the scripted penmanship.

Neji was kind enough to support Naruto for the competitions...

"Ready for gym class?" Kiba came up behind Naruto and tugged on his shirt to get his attention.

Naruto grinned, all of a sudden in a much better mood than before (if possible) and grabbed Kiba's hand, running all the way to class. Kiba had to wonder inwardly what had gotten into Naruto to make him so happy (not that he was complaining).

Sasuke was a tad relieved to see Naruto and Kiba being back to their unruly selves. Only a little though. The depressed and moody personality did not suit him at all. Sasuke much preferred the eager, fun and happy one. Though now he was sitting at a 50/50.

He had forgotten how loud and annoying they were.

"No, I'm better at basketball!"

"No I am!"

"No!"

"Yeah!"

"Shut up!"

"Make me, Shorty!"

"Bite me, dog-breath!"

They continued to quarrel childishly until Guy-sensei came in and settled the class down.

"Hello class! Ah, fine day to be outside, don't you think?! Today we are going to practice our long-distance running! We must prepare ourselves for the competitions! OUTSIDE!" he bellowed, huge smile in place, his creepy eyebrows wriggling in excitement as the class headed for the gym doors.

Sasuke smirked (inwardly) and headed outside with a confident air. He was good at long distance running as his endurance was better than most. Better than all!

Along with being King of the Court in basketball, he was also quite exceptional in Soccer, Long Distance Running and Swimming.

As Guy-sensei split up the groups and readied the equipment for training, Sasuke glanced back over at Naruto. He and Kiba were still arguing and muttering under their breath like kids. He couldn't hear them from where he was but Kiba said something to make Naruto stop dead and flush (prettily) and stammer, unable to properly form words.

If Sasuke really thought about it, Naruto did look quite...feminine. His features were soft and bright and though Sasuke knew, first hand, how strong the kid actually was there wasn't a lot of visible muscle on his tiny body to show for it.

Kind of like Sasuke himself but Sasuke was, of course, much better looking.

Pouting and turning away from Kiba, Naruto faced Sasuke's direction and his bright blue eyes zeroed in on Sasuke who was still eyeing the boy up. Holding his calm composure (on the outside) he glared and turned to face front again, focusing on what Guy-sensei was trying to tell them.

Naruto just frowned at Sasuke. What now? He's a total prick, then yesterday he was somewhat decent (though Naruto was convinced he was still a prick) and now he is back to glaring for no reason?! Was he bipolar or something? Sasuke was looking at Naruto before Naruto turned and saw him so that was all Sasuke's fault! Jerk-face!

"Naruto, pay attention!" Kiba growled and shoved him forwards as it was Naruto's turn to step up to the start line.

He noticed Sasuke was lining up too and his competitive blood boiled instantly. I have to beat him!

He moved into the line with a fierce fire burning in his blue eyes. Glancing over at Sasuke, he noticed Sasuke looked fairly nonchalant and relaxed. Like he knew no one could out run him. He would show him! Naruto would be a threat to him and teach him to not put himself on such a high pedestal!

"Go!" Guy-Sensei yelled, blowing his whistle loudly. The boys were off! There were a few others lined up and running, but to Naruto, they didn't exist. It was just him and Sasuke.

When Naruto pulled close to Sasuke, the Uchiha noticed the confident smirk on those pink lips and the bright burning eyes and realized Naruto was fighting for the win. Well, Uchiha's are not ones to be beat in something they are good at. Sasuke's own adrenaline kicked in, refusing to be left behind. Even though it was Long-Distance running, Sasuke would NOT fall behind Naruto!

"Heh, you won't be able to catch up!" Naruto taunted, pulling a few paces ahead.

"You won't be able to last once you tire yourself out!" Sasuke remarked right back, his teeth gritting in concentration.

"Like you could beat me!" Naruto stuck out his little pink tongue and pulled ahead a bit further and kept a steady pace.

They kept at it and it didn't take long before some of the other boys started dropping out. And soon the strain slowed even Naruto down. Before long it was down to Sasuke and Naruto and they had drawn neck and neck.

"You should… give up… already…" Naruto panted, sweat beading and dripping on his face and back. His flushed face speaking volumes of just how tired he was.

Sasuke wasn't any better. His own pale face was flushed and sweating. "And lose… to a dork… like you? Never…" Sasuke snapped back.

"WOOOOOOO! Go Sasuke and Naruto! Look at your youthful energy!" Lee called out from one of the classroom windows, watching their struggle despite him being in a completely different class. "Don't give up!"

"Give up already Naruto!" Kiba called from the sidelines. He was tired just watching the two and was bored waiting for them to stop. And for Naruto's own safety, it would be better if he stopped now. But of course that just wasn't in the blondes' nature to quit.

Of course, fate has a way of humbling even the most determined… Naruto really had been falling down a lot lately. And this thought struck him once again as he stepped on shoelaces that came untied and went down fast and hard. He had reached out for something to hold onto and it ended up being Sasuke's shirt.

With some tumbling and groans of pain, the boys fell and lay still for a moment. Then Naruto tried to pick himself up, still panting and held his head to try and still the throbbing. "Ugh…"

"Way to go, dumbass… you took both of us down with your ineptness…" Sasuke groaned and sat up.

"My what?" Naruto mumbled, trying to clear his head. He glanced up and gasped slightly, looking at Sasuke.

"And you ripped my shirt off… way to go idiot," Sasuke growled, rubbing the dirt from his pale torso and wincing (inwardly of course) at the slight burning from scraping the track.

"Uh…" Naruto couldn't say much as he took in Sasuke's form for the first time. He knew Sasuke was fit and thin but this had to be crazy… Sasuke's body was so defined and chiselled and…sexy…Naruto couldn't help his wide eyed stare and the flush that slowly crept over his cheeks. Who knew Sasuke-bastard was actually… hot?

"What?" Sasuke snapped, agitated and standing up, brushing himself off. Then his black eyes glanced over at Naruto. There! There was that blush again! Why was Naruto blushing? It couldn't be that… his shirt? Sasuke glanced down at himself and his pale skin broken by red patches where his skin scraped the track and the sheen of sweat still covering his body. What was Naruto looking at? He looked back at the blonde just as the rest of the class was reaching them from across the field.

Naruto cleared his throat and looked away guiltily and picked himself up. "S-sorry… I didn't mean to…"

"You're bleeding," Sasuke pointed out, a tiny flicker of concern coursing through him. Then it went away. It was the idiot's own fault. Sasuke would NOT be concerned about the bloody palms and knees.

"Naruto! Are you ok?" Kiba yelled, reaching the blonde first. He noticed the blood right away and instantly started leading him away to the infirmary. The girls of course flocked all over the hot, sweaty, shirtless Sasuke but Sasuke's eyes were fixed on the dazed blonde being lead away. And as he watched, he noticed Naruto glance back at him, still with that adorable flush on his face.

Sasuke couldn't help it. The thoughts running rampant through his mind, he couldn't stop the tiniest hint of a blush that invaded his cheeks. Was he… was Naruto… blushing because of him?

"You truly are a clumsy fool, you know that?" Kiba scolded, watching Shizune clean up Naruto's hands and knees.

Naruto pouted and glared, "It was my shoelaces! It's not like I throw myself down on purpose!"

"Well did you have to rip Sasuke's shirt off? That was a bit much. I mean, I know you don't like the guy but still!"

"Hey! That was an accident! I reached out for something to catch me and it just… it happened ok!" Naruto pouted even more, that flush staining his tanned cheeks once again. If he keeps blushing like this, it might just be a permanent colour!

Shizune chuckled and finished bandaging Naruto's knees. "Well try and stay out of trouble. These scrapes aren't too bad so they will heal fast. Though I don't know if Sasuke will want his shirt back," she motioned to the dark blue t-shirt still clutched in Naruto's hand. It had spots of blood from his hands and was torn completely along the seam of the right side. Naruto grimaced. Sasuke in all probability wouldn't want anything back that Naruto had touched, let alone bled on.

"Off you go! Back to class!" Shizune smiled warmly, recognizing the hazy look in Naruto's eyes. Then the bell rang and the boys got up instantly to go back to the gym to retrieve their bags.

On their way, they ran into Sasuke. Naruto flushed instantly. "Uh, Sasuke… I'm sorry again. I really didn't mean to uhm…well…here," he tried presenting the torn and bloody shirt back to the Uchiha who only sneered and shook his head.

"Why on earth would I want that back? Throw it away, dumbass." The Uchiha brushed by, continuing onto his next class.

Naruto snapped out of it then and threw the ruined shirt at the back of that infuriating head. Just when he thought there was something to like about Sasuke, that damned Uchiha had to go and be a pillock again! "YOU throw it out, asshole! And take that stick out of your ass while you're at it!" Naruto shouted, crossing his arms and sticking his tongue out.

Sasuke whirled around with his wrecked shirt in his clenched fist and was going to say something back but only saw Naruto struggling and protesting as Kiba dragged him away. Ooh…. That boy was lucky…

After school, Naruto met with Sai and began the trek to work, vowing that he wouldn't let anything else make him late. He felt like he was pushing his luck already so he would try better to be on time. And after an uneventful day at work, Naruto headed home. It was only as he was getting ready to snuggle into bed when he realized that Kyuubi wasn't home.

Strange, he thought, but perhaps not unheard of. Kyuubi was a big boy and could take care of himself so Naruto pushed it out of his mind. At least he had peace and quiet without an annoying pain in the ass to pester him… The blonde dozed off quite quickly dreaming of pale skin, dark hair and a very toned and chiselled torso…

Ok, so this is the first chapter written by me to continue this story. I hope I can write well enough to be worthy of continuing it… I know it's not as all over the place and funny right now but it will be later. This is basically a filler chapter. I have all the other chapters planned out.

Anyways, I do sincerely apologize for the long delay. I know it's been 2+ years since I posted anything to do with this story. I just needed to buy myself some time. I promise it won't happen again. I have everything planned now so there is no excuse at all for not posting aside from laziness!

READ & REVIEW PLEASE!

Love you all,

TLC