A/N: FINALLY I GET MY INTERNET BACK AFTER A WHOLE WEEK (to the day) WITHOUT IT! AAAH! AND I'VE HAD THIS CHAPTER AND THE SEQUEL FINISHED SINCE SEPTEMBER 30TH! DX
here's the finale, folks. the epilogue. it's been a good run, and now it's time to wrap things up... in white. and in 5,250 words exactly. :3
Chapter 39: Epilogue: Wrapped In White
"Hurry up, Gaara, or we're going to be late!" Naruto urges. He's frantically running around their shared apartment, collecting together clothes, food, and wedding presents for the happy couple that was getting married today: Shikamaru and Temari. Shikamaru hadn't been kidding when he said he'd propose to the cocky, stubborn blonde woman after high school.
"I'm nearly finished," Gaara replies. He sets something on his finger and a necklace around his neck from his long ago birthday party in Kumo. It's been about six years since then, perhaps a few months over seeing as how it was May thirteenth presently. He and Naruto both finished college and were twenty-two and twenty-three years old, respectively. Of 'course, Gaara's early birthday annoyed Naruto and made him feel young. But none of this mattered today; today, all that matters is the blonde's friend and the redhead's older sister.
"Ready yet, Resshin-koi?" the blonde asks. Over the years, he had stopped growing and Gaara had continued, so they were once again the same height. He holds out an elbow for his equal to take hold of.
"Ready," the other replies and takes the offered elbow.
They make their way to Naruto's bright lime green 2009 Nissan, a vehicle the blonde finally permitted to call his own. After being with the same strong-minded person for so many years, Naruto learned to get over his fear of cars. His mother's cause for death is behind him now.
Packing up everything need into the trunk, Gaara gives the okay-sign to his lover and takes the roundabout route to the passenger seat, just to let Naruto land a peck on his pale cheek. "Alright, let's get this show on the road!" the Uzumaki boy cheers, his foot hitting the gas pedal as soon as he hears the click of Gaara's seatbelt.
They arrive to the church exactly at 4:00, which is the hour of the ceremony. The two hurry passed the crowd to the reserved pews up front. Naruto stands near the groom as one of the best men whereas Gaara takes a seat in a pew with his brother on the bride's side.
As Naruto surveys the room, he's surprised to see Sasuke and Itachi sitting in the pews. Sasuke, even more shockingly, is smiling genuinely. In Naruto's memory, Sasuke always looked uncaring, snarky, or angry. But this expression was entirely different. And beside him, his older brother was also smiling, though less so. It's odd, but seeing his old best friend smiling in that manner causes Naruto to grin even broader.
"And I thought you two weren't going to make it," Kankurou mutters when Gaara comes to sit beside him, a smirk in his voice.
"You were wrong to doubt us," the youngest Sabaku sibling replies.
Then the music starts; a techno version of the wedding march, most likely requested by Temari. The whole church rises to their feet.
Kankurou nudges Gaara. "Time for us to go escort her since mom and dad are gone," he tells him. "Uncle Shu would do it, but she kinda refused him." Gaara nods and stands to greet his sister at the top of the stairs.
Temari is quite the sight to behold. She paces herself with the usual step-together-step-together, and waits a moment as her brothers come up the aisle to touch her elbows lightly. Her fingers, the poet notices, are striped white from holding on so tightly to the bouquet of paper-thin desert wildflowers, one or two stalks of baby's breath, and about five red-brown and sandy yellow roses. A few sprigs of green poke through, looking like rosemary to bring the scents and colors together. It was gorgeous. But even more gorgeous was her dress, which swooped down at an angle from her knees to reveal a few layers beneath, each layer adeptly torn and waved into stretched spirals. The top is strapless and becoming with tactfully placed sequins and beads to flow into the bottom. Her veil is frosty and short in front, but the back of the veil trail to the ground as her train beneath it glides across the floor a good four feet behind her. And her hair was out of it's usual quad ponytails to instead be in a collective, tri-knotted bun with six or seven curled loops of hair pinned into the center of the bun. And the way her makeup highlights her eyes and caresses her face… it was all flawless. And all a pure, innocent white with elegant silver.
"My God, sis," Kankurou whispers to her as they continue their journey down the aisle. "I think I'm gonna cry, you look so damn good. And you're actually getting married," he emphasizes. The brunette shakes his head briskly. "I shouldda said 'no' to that little pipsqueak up there. He doesn't deserve you."
"No," Gaara contradicts. "I think he does. They're a good match."
"Thank you, Gaa-cookie," she replies sweetly, teasing her younger brother with their childhood nickname for him. With a slow exhale, Temari closes her eyes. "I was a real bitch to all my bridesmaids a minute ago. I hope they don't hate me. But I was freaked! And now… I'm calm. – Sticky with hairspray and sweat, mind you, but calm. It's unreal." She re-opens her dark teal eyes and surveys the room. They were nearly to the pastor at the front, and a sweating but smiling Shikamaru in beside of the old man.
"Wedding days are like that," Gaara answers to her unspoken question of 'why the change in me?'. He uses a paraphrased version of something Naruto said. He also speaks from his own marriage-like experience. A dull smile comes to the redhead's lips at the memory of those short seven-or-so months ago.
Once they get to the front, everyone sits down again. Kankurou and Gaara split from their sister and reseat themselves. Looking back at it, now, they notice two other things about Temari's appearance: lights are streaming in through the painted glass windows behind the pastor's podium to color Temari's snowy dress with soft rainbows. In addition ,she's wearing white combat boots.
Leave it to Temari to be tough and yet radiant on her wedding day.
The pastor clears his throat and smiles at the couple. "Dearly beloved," he begins, sounding like Gaara's father's funeral all over again, but with a much happier tone, "We are gathered here today to unite Temari Sabaku and Shikamaru Nara in holy matrimony. If anyone has an objection to this union, please speak now, or forever hold your peace."
Gaara nudges his brother to stop him from making a wise crack of some kind. It works; Kankurou remains silent.
"Now then, the bride and groom have prepared a set of their own vows, and would like to read them. Temari, won't you please read yours first?"
Knowing Temari, she wrote a very heartfelt list that is both blunt and tartly sweet. And knowing Shikamaru, he had been either too lazy or thought the whole thing a troublesome drag and didn't write any at all. But that's only Gaara's guess; he could be wrong. Secretly, however, Naruto is thinking the same thing, as was half the church.
Temari brings out a piece of paper from the folds of her bouquet and holds it under her veil to her eyes. "Shikamaru…
"It's true what people say about you. You're a carefree lazy ass who likes to stare at the clouds and put off his work for later because you're too focused on the simple things in life to do squat. But it's also true when people describe you as a brilliant man with both street and academic smarts. But this isn't why I agreed to your ridiculously early marriage proposal.
"I agreed to it because even after that dumb e-mail project we met through and our failed first dates, and after all the times you drove my crazy with your antics and I drove you crazy with mine, you stayed with me. My father was never there for me; I had been the one holding our family together. But in our relationship, you hold me together. You saw passed my rough, stony outside and took me for all my mushy insides, the good and the bad. You're mature even if you're a few years younger than me, and I love that about you.
"So here I am, trying to hastily write my wedding vows and not knowing how to go about it. I don't even know why I requested to write my own; maybe it's because the pre-made, general vows don't suit our case.
"Whatever the reason, I'm here to say that no matter what happens, I'll back you up and punch out your enemies, because I'm going to be your wife whether you like it or not, dammit. Through sickness and health, poverty and wealth, and all that other rhyming shit. Because that's how I am, and how I want us to be. Since, under it all, I love you."
Naruto gazes at Temari in that very second with new eyes. The way she worded her vows is exactly how he thought she would, but he never imagined what she might say exactly. And now he saw why Gaara thought of her as a mother figure, and why she was so highly regarded in his life: because she's strong and caring. And that's a combination hard to come by.
Meanwhile, Shikamaru was staring at her with what Naruto thought were those 'I just died and went to heaven' eyes; the kind that glow and are full of fondness. Quickly, Naruto steals a glance at Temari's siblings. The brunette of the two seems to be choked up and itching to applaud his sister's speech, whereas the redhead seems to be interested and thoughtful.
The pastor looks to Shikamaru. "Now you," he says.
Shikamaru gets a crooked grin. "I kinda stole part of my vows from some pre-made ones since I couldn't think; it was all so troublesome. But you know, I think I have something to add to them." He takes out a couple note cards and clears his throat. "Temari…
"With this hand, I will lift your sorrows; your cup will never empty, for I will be your wine. As your candle, I will light your way through the darkness; and with a ring, I ask you to be mine."
He pauses, and you can tell that this is where he shifts from the slightly altered pre-made vows to a speech of his own. Shikamaru goes on with:
"But I don't know if I'm man enough to do all that for you. You said that I'm lazy; and I am. You said that I'm careless; and at times, I am. And when I proposed to you, I was being logical about things, and wasn't acting completely out of love; even ask one of my best men, they'll tell you that I planned it from the start.
"That's just the thing, though; I planned it. I knew we'd be together. Through thick and thin, I knew we'd stick through everything and last as a whole. Because you're determined, and I'm willing. Because I give you reason and you give me rhyme. And because no girl I've met has ever measured up to to you. You're feisty, I'll admit, but I'd be proud to call you my wife if you'll have me. …And it appears you will, because here we are.
"I know things will get rough; after all, my brains aren't always in use. But then again, what man uses his brain?" Laughter sounds from the audience in the pews. "Anyway, I'm ready to commit. I'm ready to settle down. And I want to do all that with you, Temari. You and only you."
Naruto holds back applause, much like how Kankurou had. He's proud of his friend for saying so much off the top of his head. Even if he kinda-sorta stole the beginning from Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. It's still a lovely round of vows.
From there, the wedding ceremony goes smoothly. And when it comes time for Temari to lift her veil and kiss her new husband, she takes the initiative and passionately kisses Shikamaru, going as far as to dip him down tango-dance style and smother his muffled, grunting protests.
The church cheers and the newly married blonde woman tosses her flowers, which promptly land in Neji's lap. An idea seems to spark in his pale-colored eyes. Sakura and Ino, however, look disappointed that they didn't catch the bouquet. And Kiba and Hinata are already engaged, so the wives tale that 'whoever catches the bouquet will get married next' doesn't apply to them if either of them had caught it, since marriage for them is inevitable. Neji, on the other hand… well, he and TenTen aren't necessarily together at the moment (she's angry with him for some reason or another), so perhaps that glint in his eye meant he had a plan.
The couple scurries along the aisle as a spray of uncooked rice showers them and they exit the building. They hop into a limo, destined for the reception dinner at a local hotel (and a fancy one if that).
About an hour later, everyone is seated at long tables at the banquet hall of the hotel. Naruto and Gaara had already placed their gifts for the bride and groom on the collective table, as well as handed their own special dish to the caterers in secret.
Temari taps her champagne glass with a tea spoon. "Shaddup, bitches!" she hollers with a smile on her face. There's a few short chuckles, but the hall is otherwise silent. "Alright. So. Welcome to the Hokage-Ritz Hotel, and please enjoy the mountains of food we have for you. But only if you brought our presents." More laughing. "Nah, just kidding. You can all eat the food, present or not. This reception is more for you guys than me; personally, Shikamaru and I just want to get the hell out of here and to our honeymoon." Even more laughter, and this time Shikamaru shows the faintest mark of a blush on his cheeks at that final word.
The caterers come by and set food before everyone, and mostly everyone digs in immediately; especially Naruto. Next to him, Gaara smiles to himself and shakes his head as he delicately begins slicing the filet mignon in front of him.
"Naruto," Sakura hisses from the Naruto's other side, "Don't you have any manners? You're a grown man, for goodness sake."
He swallows his current bite to speak. "Technically, a grown man is middle aged; over thirty. I'm a young man."
She rolls her eyes. "You're impossible."
The blonde nods in his guardian's direction. "And so is Kyuubi."
Sakura glances over and nearly chokes on her food when she spots him talking to Shukaku, who is seated beside him. The businessman is in one of his "moods" and currently has two sprigs of parsley sticking out of his nostrils. You can only guess how loudly Shukaku roared with laughter.
Across the table from Sakura, Sasuke kept smacking his brother's hand. "Stop trying to steal my food, asshole!"
"You're not going to finish it," the older man grumbles.
Naruto cocks an eyebrow. "Did those two get closer since I last talked to Sasuke, or is it my imagination?" he asks Sakura.
Around a bite of rosemary/olive oil seasoned potato, she shrugs. "No, you're not imagining it; they did grow closer. Sasuke and Itachi are like father and son now. Only Itachi annoys Sasuke instead of embarrasses him."
Naruto turns to look over at Lee, who resides Sakura's other side. Under the table, they're holding hands. "And when did that happen?" he asks with a quieter voice.
Sakura stops chewing altogether. She clears her throat. "Well, let's just say he never really stopped crushing on me and was only confused about being gay. And after talking to him through that Faceless-and-Nameless thing I learned some stuff about him. And at Gaara's eighteenth birthday party when you two left the movie marathon, Lee and I had a great time together."
"So you two getting together; it's been going on for a while? Why didn't I know?" Naruto says with a hurt frown. His best friend keeping secrets from him? Now that stings.
Sakura flushes. Her voice grows lower, if possible. "Er, well… maybe I was sick and tired of Sasuke and men in general all through college and Lee was just a friend that whole time."
"Ah, I see," Naruto nods. He didn't actually understand, but he pretended to and let the subject drop, save for one last comment: "I'm happy for you two. Lee needs someone, and you do, too. It seems a bit weird, but actually, you two kind of fit in an unexplainable way."
The pinkette isn't sure if that's a complement or not. She takes it as one anyway since she knew Naruto would never say anything hurtful to anyone. "Thank you."
Naruto, finished with his food, turns his attention to Sasuke. "Hey," he acknowledges.
The raven-haired man looks up. His hair's longer and cut a bit differently, but his distant dark eyes and face appear the same. "Hey, Naruto. It's been a while."
Gaara glances sideways at his lover, wondering what he was saying to his former friend. He perks his ears to listen in, just in case Sasuke says something cruel and Naruto needs backup.
"Yeah, it has. How ya been, Sasuke?"
The other shrugs. "Okay, I guess. I can walk again if that's what you mean. I limp a little, but I haven't needed the crutches for two years now, and the wheelchair for twice as long."
"Awesome," Naruto says. The moment is awkward for him, Gaara can tell. Especially since neither Shippuuden nor Resshin knew if the younger Uchiha still held some feelings for the blonde or not.
Reading the looks on their faces, Sasuke shakes his head. "No, Naruto, I'm not still in love with you. I've found someone else."
"I didn't say anything about that…"
"But you were thinking it, dobe. I know your mind."
Naruto grins. "The good old Sasuke that I like is back!"
Sasuke smirks. "Hn. Guess so."
Suddenly, something Sasuke said sparks in Naruto's head. "Wait… who did you find?"
"That's none of your business."
Itachi smirks and tells the blonde to spite Sasuke, "It's this guy he met in college." His face turns hard. "Personally, I don't like him. I think he's more of a bastard than my fool of a brother is, and that's saying a lot."
"I'm the bastard? You're the one who – uhg, never mind. I'm not talking to either of you." Sasuke shoves a bite of steak into his mouth to keep from speaking.
The elder Uchiha shrugs. "It's not wise to stay in a relationship with a guy like him; you should dump him before he expects something out of you, Sasuke."
"We've been over this, Itachi," Sasuke scowls. "Leave it be. We're at a wedding reception. We're supposed to celebrate love, not diss it."
"But that guy doesn't love you, he's using you, I say!" Itachi snaps back in a low voice. "You're better off alone, trust me. Not unhappy, but definitely uncommitted."
Sasuke pounds the table, causing the dishes to leap and the glasses to ring. "Shut up!"
Half the room falls quiet.
Kiba starts cracking up. "Always have to make a scene, don't cha, Sasuke?"
Not wanting to embarrass himself further, Sasuke gets up and leaves. Neither Temari nor Shikamaru protest; they only invited him out of courtesy. So when Itachi leaves, they act as though the outburst hadn't happened.
"Time to cut the cake!" Temari chirps some twenty minutes later. But it seems Chouji had beaten them to it.
Every guest frowns at him. "What?" the pudgy man says in his defense. "I thought this was a serve-yourself dinner! So when I finished eating, I helped myself."
Kiba laughs at that one, as does nearly the entire room. The bride, on the other hand, isn't laughing. She merely whacks him with a white paper fan, consequently tearing it, and cuts the rest of the cake equally. Everyone gets a slice of the dark-chocolate-peppermint cake and swears it's the most moist cake they've ever had.
After cake and idle chit-chat, it came time for the dancing portion. Shika is reluctant to dance, saying he sucks at it, but Temari begs to differ. "You're fine; I was at both your proms as your date, wasn't I? I know you can dance, so suck it up and get on the dance floor with me."
So he removes her garter (as is tradition) and they get dancing, first with a fast-paced sequence similar to a tango, and then into a slow-dance. They take up the entire center of the floor, and other couples spin around them like tops. The infamous Shippuuden and Resshin among those couples.
"I'm really not the best slow-dancer, Gaara… I mean, you remember senior prom…" Naruto whines.
"Oh, I remember," the redhead replies stiffly. "Which is why I'm going to teach you right now. Place your right hand on my shoulder and your left on top of my right," he instructs.
"But that's where the girls' hands go!" he complains further.
"Then the people who created slow-dancing should have thought of male/male couples. But they didn't, so stop dragging your feet and get serious." Gaara retorts.
Naruto sighs exasperatedly to the point of groaning, but does as he's told. The small of his back tingles under his tux from Gaara's hand, and comforting heat forms between their clasped hands. Slowly, the blonde grows okay with this.
"Now, watch my feet," the poet tells him as he leads in time with the beat. "Step, one, two, three, four; turn; step, one, two, three, four…"
His eyes glued to the floor, Naruto follows. Soon, he's getting the hang of it, and can look directly at Gaara's face while he dances. He smells patchouli oil emitting off some female dancer near him – most likely Hinata – and can barely smell the familiar scent of his lover. But he doesn't mind; staring into those amazing aqua eyes lined in black and framed with strands of red is enough for now. The kanji character for 'love' smiles at the blonde, and he smiles back. Suddenly, he wishes he could see Gaara's full body; he never did get a good look at his earthquake in a tuxedo, and it's been years since he was dressed in one for prom…
The music abruptly stops. Naruto turns to look at where a crowd is gathering around the DJ. Neji is up in the booth with a microphone in his hands. He's waving the bouquet Temari threw to him in TenTen's general direction. "TenTen!" he's calling out to her, "I know you're upset with me right now, but hear me out, will you?"
The crowd looks to TenTen. She blows her bangs off her face and tosses her head, accidentally loosening one of the buns on the side of her head. "What is it, Neji?" she asks with crossed arms. But Gaara and Naruto can tell by her tone that she desperately wants to hear what Neji has to say. She must not be mad at all, and still very much in love with him, because you don't go handing out such a tone of voice without love behind it.
"After seeing Temari and Shikamaru so happy tonight, I realized how jealous I am of what they have; surely our relationship is stronger than theirs from more years, and yet we're the ones having the problems? I couldn't understand it, and I didn't know how to fix it. But then I caught these flowers and I thought: TenTen and I are destined to be together. Can you deny destiny, TenTen? Please…" Neji says, coming down from the DJ booth and walking towards her, "Will you marry me?"
She doesn't think twice. TenTen bubbles up with an inner water volcano and leaps into his awaiting arms. "Of 'course, you dolt! I was only mad at you because you hadn't asked me sooner!" And she kisses him full on the mouth.
Naruto laughs. Without that small moment with Sasuke at dinner aside, this has been one fabulous day. So many smiling faces… so much overflowing love… it's miraculous.
The music starts up again, an upbeat song by Cascada which Naruto thinks is the old popular single, 'Everytime We Touch'. If you ask him, they should play 'I Write Sins Not Tragedies' since it mentions a wedding in it. But whatever; this seems more like Temari and Shikamaru's song than anything composed by Panic! At The Disco.
The night settles down after Neji's proposal and steadily, the crowd thins as people head home. As the last guests to leave, Shukaku, Kyuubi, Kankurou, Gaara and Naruto approach Temari and Shikamaru.
"So, how come you didn't open your wedding gifts?" Kankurou and Naruto want to know.
Shikamaru shrugs. "Too bothersome; we're going to wait until after the relaxing honeymoon, thanks."
Temari shakes her head and leans towards the two and mutters, "I let him win that argument. To be honest, I don't care when we open the gifts. But since he seems to care, I didn't fight him on it. We'll have plenty of time to fight later on in life about the petty things, ne?"
In turn, they both chortle and her brother clamps his hand on her shoulder. "You pretty much have this marriage thing down to a tee, don't ya, sis?"
"Damn straight," she replies with a short laugh. "Now unless you have anything muy importante to say, we're off to the airport."
Kankurou waves her away, as if he's already saying goodbye, but Shukaku, Kyuubi, and Gaara have something on their minds they'd like to voice. Shukaku steps up first to give his niece a bear hug and a jab in the ribs with his shoulder. "Take care of yourself, girly. You've got a big life ahead of you now; college is in the past, marriage and children and jobs in the future. But don't let all that mess up what you want and need, alright? And remember that you always have a home to come back to with good ol' Uncle Shu if you fall in the Money Hole."
Temari smiles warmly and returns the hug and the jab. "Thanks, Uncle. You have your flaws, too, but I'd say you did a better job with us than Dad did."
Shukaku sniffs at the mention of his brother, but pushes the air with his hand to move that statement aside. "Tch, get outta here. Go! You have a plane to catch." And he walks away towards his car.
Kyuubi can't help but laugh. "You should know better than to flatter him when he's being nice," the fox-like man warns her. "Shu doesn't like being called on when he's nice." He hugs her. "I don't want to repeat, but do take care." He looks to Shika, who appears bored. "And you," he says in a threatening tone. Shikamaru stands stiff for a moment. "I've known you since you were a wee brat. You've always been welcome, but now that I've met Temari, it's safe to say that I like her better than you. She has guts. So if you break her heart now that you're committed, boy, there'll be hell to pay. 'Cause through Gaara and Naruto, she's one of the family. And you know how I am about family."
Shikamaru swallows, feeling uncomfortable under Kyuubi's red-brown gaze. "Yessir," he replies.
The business man smacks him on the back and grins. "Glad we agree. Now off with you to Happy Land or wherever it is you're vacationing." And then he, too, walks away from the couple.
It's Gaara's turn. "Temari," he murmurs, "I wish you only happiness. As a brother, you have my blessing." And he's about to leave it at that, but she pulls him back with her manicured hands. He trips and falls backwards into his sister's arms.
"You didn't think I'd let my baby brother leave without a hug, did ya?" Temari smiles. She's getting a bit emotional. To prove the point, she snuggles Gaara to her chest, an action that he's not used to and at the same time doesn't mind. Tears melt into her mascara, but it doesn't run, thank God.
"Okay, okay, that's enough; can I have him back now?" Naruto grumbles with his arms folded over his chest. A man, out of college and making a living, getting jealous of a hug from his lover's sister. Temari doesn't know whether to be offended that she can't even hug her own brother or content that her brother found someone who loves him that much to act this protective.
Either way, she releases Gaara with a kiss in his blood red hair and waves them all goodbye. Shikamaru follows suit and they climb into the limousine, the cheesy decorative cans in back and the classic 'Just Married' sign hanging from the bumper flashing everyone.
"What a day!" the hurricane sighs as he puts his arms behind his head in a carefree fashion. By doing so, the too-short shirt of his tux slips from its tucked place in his dress slacks, revealing his stomach.
The earthquake comes up from behind and snakes his arms around the exposed waist. He heats his cold hands with the skin there.
The sudden coolness on his tummy makes Naruto jump. "Whoa! You're freezing! Why is that? It's May."
Gaara shrugs and buries himself deeper into Naruto's shirt. Naruto shivers, but not from the cool tendrils wrapping around him. No, he's shivering from the pleasantry of the embrace. Over the years, his lover has grown quite bold in the affection category. But only with Naruto.
"Let's get you home, Resshin-koi. Maybe I could warm you up when we get there…" he hints with a wriggle of his blonde eyebrows.
A beautiful flush burns the redhead's ears, and that's enough to satisfy Naruto. Without warning, he scoops up his "husband" bridal-style and carries him to the Nissan.
And they drove to their apartment, eventually living happily ever after.
In fact, you could say all of their friends 'lived happily ever after'; because Lee and Sakura, along with Kiba and Hinata, as well as Neji and TenTen, all got married within the next few years; that was a lot of weddings to attend. Aside from them, even Sasuke got a relatively nice ending; he ditched the boyfriend he had that Itachi didn't like and ended up alone just as his brother had predicted… but he wasn't unhappy. After the years mended her heart, Ino re-befriended Sasuke, although she married Chouji after he lost an enormous amount of weight and showed interest in her. The three moved near a beach; Ino and Chouji obviously together, and Sasuke a ways away but in the same city.
As for the Akatsuki and the ANBU… well, no one heard much from them again. The Akatsuki died like a passing fad since it lost so many members, but the ANBU carried on in secret to keep Konoha protected from any other threat.
In the end, things balanced out. And there was no detrimental benefit left in someone's sore hands; there was quite a cataclysmic peace instead.
A/N: Alright, now it's time for the honors. I know you've all been waiting for this, even if you are sad about this story ending (at least that's what the reviews I get say).
First of all, I'd love to thank each and every one of you. If you're not mentioned, I'm sorry, because I still do appreciate any reviews you left. If you've never reviewed this story before and are merely a reader, then I'm thankful that you even read the story. I've never, EVER, anticipated that I'd have a story this popular, nor this long, and with a YAOI main pairing of all things. So thank you, thank you, thank you.
Second of all, since I got my internet back finally and was able to post this and the sequel all in one day, I hope you all may review it, despite the fact that it's no where near as epic as this since I was running out of idea and merely wanted it to be a three-part chapter-long thing in-between the end of 38th chapter of DB and it's epilogue. So I apologize for the length of it, but still hope you like it anyway. Which you probably will; I mean, smut is smut, right?
Third of all, some of you will get weird honors. PLEASE, I BEG YOU, TAKE THEM WITH GOOD HUMOR. TAKE NO OFFENSE. I'm joking on a lot of these, people. I like to joke a lot. It's like my version of Gaaracasm.
With that said, here we go. Oh, and while sifting through, there is so real order. Just because you're listed at the bottom or last doesn't mean you aren't special or something. Same goes for if you're listed at the top, huhu. What really matters is what I say to/about you, not what arrangement you're listed in. Okay? Okay.
B.D. Garretson and Kyoxsakifan – you two get the honor of friendship and fastest reviewers. You both e-mailed me back and forth throughout this entire story and provided a few words of wisdom and plenty of support. Plus, you reviewed damn near every chapter. One of you I've known for quite a few years now, and the other I only met recently through FF.n but am glad to have met you. And as an added bonus, you both were usually first to review my new, exciting chapters! Yay you! XD
Rianne-ennaiR – you get the honor of push. You pushed me through this long fanfic with adoration and when I offered you random previews, you assured me what was appropriate and what wasn't, and was a good little girl by reviewing and cheering me on. Love ya, hun.
Icebender21 – I love you. Not in the same context as Gaara and Naruto, but I seriously love you. You get the honor of most loyal reader/reviewer. You're consistent with your reviews on my updates and even said in your most recent review that you might re-read this and then make sure you reviewed every single chapter. Do you have any idea how happy you make me? Your reviews are like candy! I look forward to them. (well, I look forward to a lot of people's, too, but you're in my top three.) …Did I mention that I love you? -glomps- ((favorite quote of mine that you made: "Yosh! Super Special Awesome Gaara Birthday Party Operation success!" ))
Mariana-sama – you get the honor of most exited response. You review I know every single chapter (pretty much), and each time you give such kind words and enthusiastic replies. It was wonderful to receive. Best thing? You were there for both Changed By You and this story. Both times you were a great big bubble of fangirlism, emotional reaction to a chapter, and joy for each of my updates and to me when I see that you reviewed. You make me smile.
Devastating-Sisters – you two get the honor of most interesting reviews. On a side note, I miss you two! I'm sure college got in the way, but you haven't reviewed in a long time. No matter; you get an honor anyway. Your combined reviews always sported joy in my writing and comments on all the little things. Each and every review of yours, Berri, and yours, Kitsune, were welcomed and cherished.
CeruleanRipTide – you get the honor of fame. I am so pleased to have a GaaNaru writer such as yourself reviewing and reading my stuff. You, too, haven't reviewed in a while, but you were there in the beginning when my story was at it's sweetest. And all your comments were taken to heart, no matter how small. And I adore your GAARA fanfic; it's extremely popular as far as I've seen (lots of favs and ooh, looky! reviews!), and I'm glad. You deserve that, and much more.
Temari88 – Now, I really love you, girl. You receive the honor of longest, most detailed reviews. You never failed to make me giggle and smile and feel utterly mushy inside with your own sentiments and little comments on just about everything in a chapter. Out of them all, your reviews are probably my top favorite, (no offense to anyone else). Yours were too awesome to pass up. And I just adore your poems about the two characters I love writing for.
Tsukia13 – I nearly always get a review from you. And you are the ever-wonderful voice of kindness and support. You receive the honor of love. Which wounds lame and kinda weird, but you do! You're so great with reviewing and saying nice things.
Gaara Itachi1 – you get the most frequent reader honor. You're always reading, always reviewing, and always giving your opinion. And it's great. (hearts)
Alcorion – Hey, man, guess what? You get the honor of the unexpected. And here's the dumb reason why: you're male, LOL. Which I find funny since I normally associate a story like mine with female readers. This could be another reason why you have an honor; 'cause you're one of the select few males (that I know of) who read this, heh heh. That aside, I like replying to your reviews, and you've stuck with this story for quite a while.
YamiTenshi – you are one seriously amazing gal. You get the honor of intellect. As little as you say sometimes, you tend to say just the right thing. And never in a stilly manner. And you yourself write mind-blowing stories for the same pairing, and with good taste. :3
Jess Anime – you came into the game about halfway through (as far as recent updates go), but have reviewed damn near every chapter. so you get the honor of most reviews. For the longest time, I'd come to my inbox and see another review from you as you progressed throughout the story, and each comment you left was heartwarming.
Between-The-Netherworlds – even if it's not made/posted yet, you egt the fanart award! You like my story enough to bring it to visual life, and that's enough to make me want to squeeze you with love and give ya an honor. Plus, in your reviews, you always have stuff to say. :D
RadioactiveJello – you've been with this story since I can't remember when, and I've enjoyed your reviews quite a lot. So you get an honor, although I can't think of any in specific besides having TEH COOLIEST PENNAME EVUR! XD (seriously. How did you come up with that? It's hilarious and awesome and if the jello is green and from the school cafeteria, then it's also totally true.
Kythy and jinsane226 – you guys get the honor of support. You three always have something supportive to say and review very often. …Pardon my lack of words, I'm tired from babysitting until 11:00 last night and waking up at 7:00 this morning. But know that I really, very much appreciate you three!
kkbug33 – oddly, you remind me of my cousin. Her name is Katelyn and we call her Bugs since she used to love Bugs Bunny as a kid. So when I see your username, I think of her. That aside, you get the honor of run-on-sentence rambler. Your reviews are my only reviews which feature text speak and no punctuation, LOL. And I love it. It makes me smile every time, and I love to reply to what you have to say since you normally voice quite a lot.
miskie27 – I bet you saw this one coming! You get the… EASILY AMUSED HONOR! Heehee. I know, I'm a dork for giving you that since you always end your reviews with "miske is easily amused". But you really are easily amuses from what I can tell by your reviews. Which always are positive and wonderful, by-the-way. (hearts to you)
17AutumnLeaves – I simply love your reviews. Can I say that to start off with? Ahem. Anyway. You get the honor of most thoughtful. Each of your reviewers make me think, and none of them have failed yet to make me want to hug you. You rock!!
fridamoore, naruto's sis and itachi's girl, Datenshi-Moon, and My Pet Gaara – this group gets the 'update soon plz&kthnxbai' award. In practically every review, one or all of you asked or told me to update soon. It's funny, because if I didn't love reviews and my readers so much, I might get annoyed upon hearing that, since it's so unoriginal. AND YET, I just laugh. I don't care that you guys, or any of my above reviewers write that. Know why? because I already know that I will update soon. Moreover, I know this phrase means you guys lovelovelove my story and want more of it. So I'm not annoyed. Which means this honor is a good one, un. (damn Deidara… D: )
fallen550 – you have been here since pretty much the beginning, haven't you? Well, I'm not sure what to call your honor, but you deserve something. 'cause you're just that awesome. :D
IraInvidiaInvictus – you haven't reviewed in a little while either, but your reviews were always long and reflective. So you get the Mirror Honor. Main example of this: the review you left on Chapter 24: The Truth Stings. 8D
Firex – hey, Jacob. Know what? You get the Gaara fanboy honor. Yup, I know, totally silly. But since I really like you, you get to have one of my funny awards. 'Cause, I mean, you only read this story for him for the most part, right? I know you had other reasons, and that you liked it and all, but still. I find it amusing. W00T TO NORTH CAROLINA! Ahem. sorry. I'm just determined to magically meet you when my dad moves us down there to Charlotte, which you said is kinda-sorta close to where you live. I don't mean to sound stalker-ish since we only recently met, but I dunno, the thought of possibly someday meeting one of my online friends makes me happy. Moving on…
Death's Shadowy Past – you get the comparison award. You compared and contrasted the events and characters and mentioned Changed By You, my canonverse GaaNaru fanfic.
Raidon Phantom – you receive the honor of questionnaire. You questioned what would happen next or what I was going to do (in mostly PMs). And half the time, I told you or hinted, heehee.
Suzume Chiyu – you get the feedback honor! I mean, every review is feedback in general, but you constantly had a shitload of things to say. And I think it's funny that you mostly like SasuNaru but I kinda-sorta made you like GaaNaru a lot, too, heehee. Keep rockin', girl. (heartheartshearts)
Arie-Bo-Bo-chan – haven't heard from you in a while but you were there in the beginning. And so you two get the 'here then gone' award, LOL. Don't take that the wrong way, please; you're both great, truly. I just think it's funny/weird that you both were reviewing quite a bit and then went POOF! Heehee.
GoldenKitsuneHime13 – I dunno what award to give you but you're just plain awesome. so maybe you get the awesome award? HEEHEE. Yeah. actually, I think that works out just fine… X3
Midnight-star363, ednama, and forevrlostinme – you three don't review as often as some (although of you, forevrlostinme reviewed more), and you don't have much to say sometimes, but I want you to know that you guys are worthy of a mention because even if I have no real honor, I do treasure your reviews. :)
And last but certainly not the least (since it took me a while to find the person) the honor of prediction. GOMENASAI, but I forget who I originally wanted to have this award! And I can't find the review that made me think of this honor to begin with. BUT if someone did have it, it would read something like: "You often made comments in your reviews about something you thought might happen, and 80-to-90 percent of the time, you were correct or very (very!) close." …but more personalized. /
Anyway, that's all, everyone. The sequel is posted so please, read it and hopefully be satisfied.
Finally, the biggest fanfiction project I've ever done is over. Now I can rest.