AUTHOR'S NOTE: What's this? An... An update?! No way! Yes. Yes way. I have FINALLY provided you amazing people with an update! I have about 1,000 words written for the next chapter, and I'm on a serious roll, so hopefully you'll have another update in a week. I was originally going to make this chapter a lot longer, but I figured you guys have waiting long enough. So, without further adeu, I give you...

Chapter Four;
"A Native American elder once described his own inner struggles in this manner: Inside of me there are two dogs. One of the dogs is mean and evil. The other dog is good. The mean dog fights the good dog all the time. When asked which dog wins, he reflected for a moment and replied, The one I feed the most."
― George Bernard Shaw

The next couple of days passed by uneventfully. Sakura was shocked when she discovered that it was already Friday morning when her alarm woke her and Naruto up for school. The day that Sakura was sick, Naruto had returned looking thoughtful and reserved, something that was definitely not like him, but he wouldn't talk to her about it no matter what she asked. She had a feeling that it was about Sasuke – in fact, she was pretty damn certain that it was all Sasuke's fault that her friend was now acting this way. The guy was hot, but seeing him the next day had pretty much solidified her slight fear of him. He was even more broody than usual, and he gave off the most horrid feeling. It was hard to even consider him attractive. She didn't want anything to do with him, and she had hoped that Naruto would be smart enough to listen to her.

However, she knew that was a long shot, and not something to hold her breath over. Naruto was surprisingly independent and spunky for a kid who was abused; yes, he had his moments where he'd flinch and cower, but Sakura was surprised – as well as impressed – by his upbeat attitude and his resiliency. Through the years spent with him, Sakura had come to admire and respect Naruto. While she did not have personal experience on the matter, she was certain that Naruto was stronger than most others who went through the things he did.

And yet, despite this, despite the fact that she knew Naruto was strong and capable of taking care of himself, she felt the need to protect him constantly.

After pushing the snooze button on her pink alarm clock, Sakura rolled over and looked at the scarred face of her best friend. He was snoring quietly, looking peaceful and serene. Sakura's pink comforter looked surprisingly amazing against his naturally tan skin, though she'd never voice that allowed to him. Although Naruto was one of the most sensitive, feminine men that she knew, he liked to think he was manly. Sakura giggled at the thought. About as manly as a kitten, she mused to herself, running her fingertips gently over his scarred cheeks, her eyes softening and her lips forming a frown as she recalled the source of those scars.

Deep in thought, she almost didn't notice that her friend had stopped snoring, and that his eyes were open. "You look sad, Sakura-chan. Are you alright?" Naruto asked softly, tilting his head, his cheek pressing into Sakura's fingers.

"I'm fine. I was waiting for you to get up. You snore too loudly," she stuck out her tongue, pinched his cheek, and then quickly rolled out of the bed.

Naruto sat up and glared at her. "You liar! I don't snore!" he paused, looking away briefly, before looking back up at Sakura. "Do I?"

The pinkette laughed. "Yes! Like a rhinoceros!" she joked and dodged the white pillow that was thrown at her. "I'm kidding, chill out!" she giggled, before turning around and opening her closet. Sakura grabbed the hem of her shirt and started to pull it off before Naruto's yelling stopped her.

"What the hell are you doing?!" he screeched.

Sakura looked at him over her shoulder. "Taking off my shirt so I can change?" there was a silent 'duh' at the end of her sentence.

"Not with me in here!" Naruto stood quickly and hurried to the door.

"Oh please. We bathed together," she rolled her eyes, but did nothing to stop him as he exited her room. Sakura pulled off her shirt and pajama pants, put on a bra, and quickly dressed in her school uniform so that Naruto had time to dress. She walked out of her room to find Naruto sitting against the wall in the hallway, a vacant expression on his face. Frowning, Sakura walked up to him, sitting in front of him. "Are you okay, Naruto? You've been so distant since you came home from school the other day," she said softly, her green eyes showing the concern she felt for her blond best friend.

Naruto looked up at her, into her eyes. He knew that he should tell her what had transpired between himself, Sasuke, and the group of four that had surrounded Sasuke. He also knew, however, that if he did, Sakura would only worry – and very likely threaten Sasuke, as well. In the end, Naruto shook his head and smiled up at her. "Don't worry so much, Sakura," with a sly grin, he poked the center of her forehead. "You'll get wrinkles that way."

Sakura slapped his hand away and glared at him. "Shut up," she mumbled, standing. "Go get dressed. Today's Friday!" her glare quickly formed into a brilliant smile. "Fridays are supposed to be happy!"

Naruto laughed and stood, too. Sakura was right. Fridays weren't for moping around and wondering about the possibilities of new kids being dangerous. "Ah, hey, isn't today the day that Sasuke and Ino are supposed to be going out?" he asked, though he already knew the answer.

"Hm? Oh, it is, isn't it?" Sakura looked down and pursed her lips. "I'm going to try and talk Ino out of it. I just feel like he's got some ulterior motive or something," she said softly, more to herself than Naruto. Although the blond disagreed with his pink-haired friend, he only shrugged and entered her room. Naruto pulled his school uniform from Sakura's closet and dressed quickly. As he walked from Sakura's room, the girl was just stepping from the bathroom. She grinned at him as he moved closer. "Ready?" she asked, the scent of her mint mouthwash wafting in Naruto's nostrils.

"Yeah, I just need to brush my teeth," he answered her. Sakura stepped away from the door of the bathroom so Naruto could enter, then went downstairs as the blond brushed his teeth, too.

The pinkette made her way into the living room where she sat on the couch. She sighed, her thoughts immediately on Naruto – though they usually were. The two of them had grown up together after their parents grew a sort of bond over the fact that all four of them were of Japanese descent. At first, like everyone else who met him, Sakura had thought he was just an idiot who was too naïve to have even a little bit of pessimistic qualities. As they continued to grow, however, it was his optimism that Sakura had used as a crutch whenever she needed it. Naruto was there when Sakura was picked on. Naruto was there when Sakura's friends turned into her enemies. Naruto was there when Sakura's parents fought and went through divorce.

Through all of that, however, not once did she ever think that Naruto was going through something much, much worse. He always smiled, always gave this warmth of acceptance, love, and, as cliché as she found it, sunlight.

Yes, no matter how cliché it might have been, Naruto was Sakura's sunlight. Because she felt so strongly, there was a time in her life where she thought she liked him – possibly even loved him. And although she did love him, it didn't take her long to find that the love was platonic. It was strange, though, because it almost hurt her to think that she didn't love such a wonderful person in a romantic way. It made her wonder if she would ever even find love.

Oddly, the idea that Naruto was the only man she'd ever actually trust with her heart was comforting, even If Naruto himself found someone else. And even though he'd never shown any interest in anyone, Sakura was convinced that there just had to be someone out there for him. Someone who was equally as wonderful, who would come and rescue him from his torment, who would take him away, marry him, and love him until they both passed.

Sakura laughed out loud. Talk about cliché.

"What's so funny?" the source of her thoughts was at her side, and Sakura jumped slightly, blinking owlishly.

It took her a moment to finally respond. "I was just thinking about how stupid you look in these uniforms," she grinned innocently, giggling when Naruto glared at her.

"Yeah, well, it's not like the skirt flatters your legs, so I wouldn't be talking," he grumbled.

Inwardly, Sakura smiled. This was the way it had always been with them. Jabs that neither meant thrown at each other, half-hearted glares, and many weeks sleeping curled together on her bed. They were very much like siblings. On the outside, she rolled her eyes before glaring at him. "You don't insult a girl's appearance, Naruto. It's rude," she chided lightly, standing up and poking him in the chest. Before Naruto could respond, she'd already turned and was at the door, picking up both of their backpacks. She threw Naruto's to him, and slid the straps of her own pink and black backpack on her shoulders. "Come on, stupid; we'll be late if we spend too much time talking about my sexy legs," Sakura grinned at him, then looked in the direction of her mother's room. "Mom, we're ready to leave," she called. Moments later, a woman with dark red hair walked from the room, walking at a fast pace, as women typically did.

Like Sakura, the woman's hair was not naturally dark red. The roots of her black hair were beginning to show. Naruto figured that, by tomorrow, both Sakura and her mother would have refreshed their hair color. Really, he couldn't understand women. Bringing a hand up to his own unruly hair and running it through the bright locks, he couldn't imagine ever changing it.

"Okay, I think I've got everything," she mumbled, more to herself than to the two teens watching her with little interest, one hand going through her purse, her eyes on the contents. Finally, she looked up. "Ready?" she asked with a cheery voice, her dark brown eyes looking from her daughter to Naruto. Without waiting for a response, she sauntered between them and quickly opened the door. "Whoever's last, lock the door, please," she said over her shoulder, not really looking at either of them, her voice detached, like the words were just an afterthought.

Sakura was right behind her mother, walking quickly.

With a sigh, Naruto slid one strap of his backpack on his left shoulder, flipped the lock of the door, and shut it. His blue eyes looked around at the sky. The colors really were beautiful; the way the hues mixed in a strange and yet perfect way was oddly fascinating. He noticed how everything was remarkably still; the leaves on the trees were not swaying, the clouds were so slow to move across the sky, they might as well have been completely still. The weather was very comfortable. Though, in the many years that Naruto had lived in Texas, mornings usually were quite nice. However, he, like any other Texan, was well aware of just how quickly that could turn. Scanning the sky again, he couldn't shake the feeling of impending doom; like that moment, with the sky clear and still, was the calm before the storm.

Sasuke slid his shoes on in a hurry. Aika hadn't been able to wake him until she finally decided to bark, which meant that Sasuke woke up late. Aika's walk was cut short; that meant he'd be sneaking back to the apartment to take her out again during lunch. As he stood, Sasuke winced and gripped his side, his teeth biting into his lip. He forced himself to breathe and act normally. When the sharp pain in his side dulled, Sasuke pulled up his shirt. There was a bandage wrapped over his right side, on the curve just above his hip. He couldn't see any blood soaking through, which did relieve him slightly. It at least meant that Sasuke managed to stop the bleeding. His eyes looked over the rest of his torso, checking on everything else. There were large bruises that would definitely get ugly, and a few scrapes that would heal slowly, but overall, that one wound was the worst. "At least they missed my face," he muttered, though it was a dark joke. The only reason he was happy that they'd missed his face, was so that he didn't have to come up with some stupid lie about bruises on his face.

He pulled the shirt back down and carefully tucked it in, then put the blazer on. Now, if he did bleed through the bandage and his white shirt, the blazer would be able to cover it, and no one would question anything.

Running a hand through his hair, Sasuke walked to his door, forcing himself not to limp. He picked up his bag, letting the strap rest on his shoulder as he opened the door and walked out. Like a magnet, his eyes were drawn to the sky. Looking over the horizon, Sasuke noted the clear morning sky. He admired the colors for a moment before turning away from the sky and hurrying down the apartment stairs and onto the sidewalk. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket to check the time. If he took his car, he'd make it to school in time.

Sasuke hurried around the apartment building to the parking lot, his dark grey eyes searching for his car. His eyes landed on the black used Nissan, and he couldn't help the grimace that appeared on his face. Sasuke far preferred the more… expensive cars, coming from a successful background. With a sigh, the raven-haired male shook his head. It wasn't as though that mattered anymore, he reminded himself. And this was enough for Sasuke to get into the car, pull out of the parking lot, and drive the relatively short distance to the school. He quickly got out of the car, his eyes down as he arranged his belongings. The second he looked up, there was a flash of yellow before he felt the wind knocked out of him and pain in his tailbone and torso. Again. He tried not to wince, forcing himself to ignore the pain in his side. Somehow, Sasuke knew that he didn't need to look up to see who it was. Yet, the simple hope – prayer, even – that it was someone else urged his dark eyes to open and look around.

Sure enough, staring down at him with a shocked expression, was that annoying whisker-marked kid. Sasuke didn't even want to remember the kid's name.

"Naruto, for christssake, watch where you're going!" Sasuke heard the girl, but his eyes were locked on Naruto's, and Naruto's were likewise locked on his. Sasuke was glaring, Naruto was staring, shocked.

"Are you going to help me up or not?" Sasuke bit out. No, he wasn't helpless, and he could have easily stood. But it was Naruto who knocked him down – again – so, naturally, it should be Naruto who helped him back up. It was just logic.

The demand seemed to break Naruto of his shock, and he glared, his blue eyes gaining an odd fire behind them. "No, I'm not," he responded haughtily.

This infuriated Sasuke. "You're the one who knocked me down," he reminded the blond kid.

"Yes," a sly smile crept its way onto Naruto's tanned face, "but you having shitty balance isn't my fault."

"It's your fault when you're not looking where you're going."

"Ah, but were you looking where you going, Mr. Hippo?" Naruto pointed a finger at Sasuke. Sakura, though she knew she should have stepped in, giggled.

"I-" he stopped, blinked, and stared at the blond, "Hippo?" Sasuke inquired, utterly confused.

Both Naruto and Sakura busted into a fit of laughter, leaning against each other for support. Sasuke stared at the two of them, his mouth hanging partially open, as he tried to understand what was so damn funny. With a shake of his head, the raven-haired teen pushed himself off, gritting his teeth against the pain. His pale hands brushed over the back side of his uniform, taking care to avoid his side. "Okay," he sighed, "I give up. Please enlighten me," his voice oozed boredom, and somehow, Sasuke knew he was going to regret it.

"It's simple," Naruto stopped cackling enough to respond, though his breath was still light and there was still amusement in his voice. "I just called you a hypocrite. Hippo sort of sounds like the beginning of hypocrite," he shrugged. There was a clear 'duh' in his voice. Beside him, Sakura snickered more.

Sasuke narrowed his eyes at the pair. "Are you high?"

Both Naruto and Sakura instantly became serious. "No," it was Sakura who answered. "Like Naruto or I would even think of doing something so despicable! You wouldn't understand, Sasuke; it's just something that Naruto and I find funny," she shrugged, seeming quite offended by Sasuke's question. Or perhaps she was just offended by Sasuke's presence.

He was fairly sure it was the latter, but he wasn't sure where the animosity toward him had come from. The week before, she was all over him, though not quite as badly as Ino. It was certainly a perplexing thought.

"Come on, Naruto, we have to go to class," Sakura took Naruto's hand, but Naruto wouldn't budge.

"Slow down, Sakura," he chuckled. "Let's walk Sasuke to class, too; that way he's not so lonely," Naruto suggested. He turned to grin in Sasuke's direction. "Are you coming? You don't seem to be the type who likes to be late."

Sasuke was suspicious. He wasn't used to kindness, especially from people who were beginning to build a history of constantly fighting with him. However, the blond haired kid seemed sincere, and his smile was so blindingly stupid that it was definitely causing brain damage. Being around Naruto was definitely causing brain damage, because Sasuke could feel the muscles of his mouth twitch. They seemed to have forgotten how to fully bring the corners of his mouth upwards, though. Sasuke licked his lips, a nervous gesture that he'd never really been able to get rid of. In his silent, suspicious stare, Naruto's smile had slowly deflated, and he was standing there, staring at Sasuke with a confused expression. Sasuke licked his lips again. "Why would I want to walk into that school building with you?" he asked, narrowing his eyes. That's not what I wanted to say.

Naruto blinked several times. His face burned a light red, and soon, he was fixing Sasuke with that strange, fiery blue glare. "Fine! Fuck you, too, asshole," he growled and turned sharply, pulling Sakura along behind him before she had a chance to retaliate to Sasuke's words.

Tense, Sasuke watched the duo leave. His mouth felt dry, and his brain suddenly hurt. When had he become such an asshole? He'd meant to follow Naruto, to say that he wouldn't mind walking with the blond to class. But instead, he'd said something horrible. Sasuke straightened and smoothed out the front of his shirt. "Well, it's all for the best," he told himself, shrugging. Naruto had seemed to have taken a fancy to Sasuke, and Sasuke knew it would only end up messy in the end. Fixing his bag over his shoulder, Sasuke began his walk to class.

A low grumble of thunder off in the distance sent chills down his spine. He hurried into the building, with one final look out at the slowly darkening blue sky.

"Fuck him," Naruto snarled, his hands balling, his nails beginning to dig into Sakura's hands. She winced, but he didn't seem to notice as he continued dragging her down the hall. "Who the fuck does he think he is? Who wouldn't want to walk into school with me?" a silent everyone rang in Naruto's mind as he remembered that there were very few people he actually talked to, and even less who willingly talked to him.

"Naruto," Sakura whimpered behind him.

"What!" Naruto rounded on her, his blue eyes wide with anger. Sakura shrank back, her own green eyes showing a mixture of confusion and fear.

Sakura had only ever seen Minato truly angry once in her life. It was frightening, even for the bold, surprisingly strong Sakura. The scene had caused nightmares , had completely wrecked her mind for several days after. She didn't go around the Namikaze home for months, it shook her so bad.

Naruto's face, at that moment, looked exactly like Minato's.

It took less than three seconds for Naruto to realize that he'd snapped, and he calmed down quickly, releasing Sakura's hand and looking away from her. There was an awkward silence between the two of them that lasted for what felt like hours. Just as Naruto turned to look at Sakura, opening his mouth to speak, the sound of the bell ringing told both of them that they were late. Sakura hissed a curse and was walking quickly in the direction of class, leaving Naruto behind.

"I'll see you later, Naru," she spoke over her shoulder, though her eyes didn't meet his. Naruto merely nodded silently, watching as his childhood friend power-walked toward class. Guilt ate away at him, quickly leading to hate.

He felt anger licking at him again, rising up over him. He tried to squash it, tried to tell himself that he was overreacting, that there wasn't anything to be angry about, that all he was doing was turning himself into his father. But all of these truths only added fuel to the fire. Naruto turned, fist raised, to punch the lockers to his right. However, instead of lockers being there, he only saw Sasuke. The shock of the other male's presence was enough to defuse everything, and Naruto took a step back. His mouth hung open, and his closed fist hung lamely in the air.

Sasuke was watching him with an unreadable expression. His dark eyes looked from Naruto's face, to his fist, and then back to his face. The older male cocked his head, something that struck Naruto as oddly puppy like for such an emotionless person. When Sasuke spoke, his voice was slightly higher pitched with an implied question, "You know," he began, "I may not know much about you, but from what I do know, rage doesn't seem to be your style," his eyes looked pointedly at Naruto's fist again, causing the blond teen to quickly bring it back down to his side.

Naruto was silent for a while, looking at everything but Sasuke. He took a breath and forced his eyes to turn to Sasuke, "No," there was hesitance in his voice, "it's not my style."

"I imagine it came from somewhere or something you'd rather I didn't know about?" there was no judgment in the raven haired man's voice, only light curiosity.

"Yes. I'd rather you didn't know about it," Naruto nodded once. There was a look of hesitation and worry on his face.

Sasuke only shrugged, "Good. I don't like hearing about everyone's secrets."

Naruto visibly relaxed. He cocked his head and smirked, "Look at you, Mr. Perfect. You're late for class."

"I'm not perfect," Sasuke said seriously, "and I've been late before. It isn't a big deal."

There was a silence between them before Naruto spoke again, "Is skipping school a big deal?" he asked quietly.

"Why?" Sasuke eyed him suspiciously.

The blond bit his lip, before taking another breath and speaking in a rush, "Because I really don't want to be in school right now, but I don't want to be alone either, and I can't go to my house, and I can't go get Sakura, and-"

"Hush," Sasuke held up his hand, his eyes narrowed in a half-hearted glare. "Am I really the only choice you have besides Sakura?" Naruto nodded slowly. Sasuke rolled his eyes and sighed, "I didn't really feel like today was a school day, either, so I guess I can accompany you on your skip day," he mumbled.

Naruto's face broke out in a grin. "Great! Thank you so much, Sasuke; I really owe you big time!"

Much to Sasuke's chagrin, the blond took his hand and ran down the hallway. "I can walk by myself," he growled, but the words fell on deaf ears. Sasuke pressed his free hand to his side, hoping the blond didn't notice how tightly Sasuke was gripping his hand, or the way the older teen was gritting his teeth hard he was sure they were going to break.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Wow. This story is startin' to get pretty deep, yeah? Where did those bruises come from, Sasuke? Will he be able to hide it from Naruto? And where will these two go? Oh yeah, and, I know that I promised an update on the weekend, but that would have taken even longer. And I like where I stopped it here. The next chapter will be longer and more fun stuff will happen. This time I really do promise! (:

If you're nice and review, I might even give you a little bitty sneak peak! O: