Failing: to not succeed; in academics, to not pass a class or grade level. Antonyms: passing, achieving
Graduation: to complete an academic course, such as middle school, high school, or college; a ceremony celebrating the passing of classes. Antonyms: to fail schooling
To 'fail graduation': An oxymoron implying that something will go terribly wrong even though the student(s) participating passed all their classes. Example: Saying something inappropriate during your graduating class speech if you are the honor student chosen to do so.

A/N: Here's that other oneshot in the DB timeline that I promised. It's June in this oneshot, and is a few weeks following the prom oneshot I did, Anti-climactic Excitement. Since prom and graduation are somewhat close together, prom being in the spring and graduation in the early summer, I wrote and posted the prom one first and then worked on/posted this. M'kay? Just so we're clear. :D

Random voice: Oh, and this is over 9,000 words long, according to Microsoft Word…

Me: WHAT? WHO SAID THIS WAS OVER 9,000 WORDS? THEY LIE!
…Okay, so 'they' (cough,me,cough) don't, but that's beside the point.


"Should I read a poem?"

"Huh?" Naruto Uzumaki asks stupidly as he shovels another mouthful of marshmallow fluff into his mouth.

He and Gaara Sabaku are currently eating fluff 'n' nutters up in his room while some dumb, unrated comedy called Don't Mess With The Zohan plays on his television set. Naruto doesn't dare touch the peanut butter, however; he's allergic to peanuts, and doesn't like nuts very much. But Gaara does; one of his favorite ice creams is pistachio, of all things.

"For the graduation speech," Gaara murmurs, taking another mouth-sticking bite of his too-sweet sandwich of white and brown goop.

"Are you still worrying about that?" the blonde whines. He points his used spoon at his boyfriend. "I told you: just go up there and wing it. Whatever you end up saying will be perfectly fine. Everyone believes in you, and you're a real smart guy. You'll think of something motivational and sappy to say, everyone will love it, and then we can all go home in our ridiculous graduation cap and gowns with our pretty little diplomas."

The redhead highly doubted that. Sure, he's the honor student chosen to give the big graduation speech, and sure, people have warmed up to him some since he began showing his softer side a bit more often thanks to his relationship status with his former e-pal, but… he doesn't think it'll go as smoothly as Naruto makes it out to be.

"You have that furrow in your brows again," Naruto grins. He taps Gaara's forehead, right between his eyes, making the furrow disappear as the other boy blinks in surprise. "Chillax, will you? Everything will go smoothly, you'll see." He tells the redhead with confidence, his words seeming to oppose Gaara's doubtful thoughts.

"How can you be positive?" Gaara grumbles. He picks up his glass on Naruto's end table and sips the milk inside.

"Call it instinct," the hurricane smirks. He licks the end of his spoon, white fluff rimming his lips. Gaara looks away, trying not to buy into the obvious sexual innuendo Naruto is giving off. The blonde laughs and languidly pokes his boyfriend. "So, for graduation... are we going to have a party? Dad wants to," he says, referring to his adoptive parent and half uncle, Kyuubi Bijuu, who was both a respectable lawyer and father figure.

"Uncle Shukaku also says we should," Resshin replies. His uncle has been living with him for over a year now, ever since his father's death. Sometimes the earthquake wished his siblings weren't away at college; it would make the living arrangements a lot easier to deal with.

Naruto waves that aside. "Yeah, well, all my friends say we should, too. Technically our house isn't big enough, and we should host it at some place like the Uchiha Clan Estate, but you know how Sasuke is these days…" He shakes his head. "We could manage, I suppose. But I want your opinion; I know you're not one for crowds, and it'd be pretty crowded here."

The poet sighs and avoids the question that wasn't even worded as one. He picks up his poetry book and leafs through it. "'Destructive' is a good poem, but too depressing for graduation. Perhaps I should read 'Philosophical' and explain it, and that could be my speech…"

Shippuuden rolls his overly blue orbs. "You're hopeless," he mutters, referring to Gaara's habit of not saying much or not saying anything he needs to hear. He hasn't even heard 'I love you' from the boy's mouth yet; which is fine, he can wait… but it'd be nice. Indirectly Gaara's said it through the kisses and touches and poems, but Naruto secretly craves for those three words in specific. Naruto swings his legs over the side of his chair and pauses the movie. He gets a serious look in his eyes. "Party or no party, Gaara? Answer me."

Gaara sighs through his nose the way he does when he's trying to decide something. "Party," he says curtly.

"Really? Are you sure?" the blonde asks, a worried tone in his voice.

Gaara looks up over his lids, his head still cocked down at his journal. "If I wasn't sure, would I've even answered?"

There's that Gaaracasm again. Naruto grins. "Guess you're right," he says. He reaches over and gets his own glass of milk, taking a hearty chug and pressing 'play' on the remote. Wiping his mouth, Naruto remarks, "At least graduation will be more exciting than prom."

"Prom was plenty entertaining," Gaara contradicts lamely.

Naruto sends him a look. "Yeah. Sure. Entertaining, but not very exciting," he emphasizes. "It was at first; the whole idea of it, anyhow. But then it totally got weird."

"It felt relatively average to me."

"'Relatively' being the key word here," Naruto says with a chuckle. He sighs suddenly, wanting so badly to go over there and molest his former e-mail partner. He looked so cute at the moment, his head cocked downwards at his own writing in his unique scroll, his legs crisscross-applesauce style on the bed. His hair was on his face, and Naruto wanted to brush it out of the way and kiss the oddly placed tattoo on Gaara's forehead.

Suddenly, the redhead's gaze connects. "Why are you staring at me?"

That question (rephrased at times, but with essentially the same context) came up a lot between the two boys.

Flushing with embarrassment, Naruto adverts his eyes. "No reason." He reaches up and wipes the sticky residue from his mouth.

Gaara clears his throat and passes the composition book nearly filled to the brim with poems to Naruto. It's open to a page with pencil scribbled across the page, an array of capital letters in the margin of each line. The title reads, 'Philosophical'.

"What do those letters mean?"

"They represent the rhyming scheme," Gaara explains idly. "In this poem, it's ABCABC for every verse save for the last, which is ABCDB. The corresponding letters are the ones that rhyme."

It was basic, seventh-to-eighth grade stuff. But it was new to Naruto (actually, he was asleep during lessons like these, so he didn't recall what his teacher taught him). "So… in this poem, A rhymes with A, B rhymes with B, and C with C?"

"Correct," Gaara praises, although his voice shows no sign of it.

"Got cha," Naruto murmurs. His pupils scan the page, reading the poem. After he finished and handed the book back, he asked: "Are you going to read that one at graduation?"

"I might," he responds. "That's what I've been trying to decide. Should I?"

"I dunno; what others do you have?"

"Not many. At least, none that isn't depressing."

"Really? Read one."

Grunting in minor protest, Gaara flips the pages back to 'Destructive', a poem he mentioned earlier. He clears his throat, and using his acting voice, he recites with heavy emotion:

"Sharpened wings
Strapped to your back;
Twisted strings
Tightened around your neck;
Ugly black feathers
Make up the wings you bear,
And those terrible darkened fibers
Are the strings of which you wear.

"How I empathize with thee,
A limited soul bound with chains so cold;
You cannot speak,
And yet you do as you're told.
But who are you to be enslaved?
Must your tombstone be already engraved?

"You sit there, upon the brink,
Too scared to even blink.
Pain earns you knowledge
And sends you to the edge
Of sanity.
Don't gaze at me with vanity,
For I am no better than you:
A bleeding body torn in two,
Needing to be sewn.

"Your skin may be slicked with sweaty grease,
And your brain may be wrecked with disease,
But this destructive pulse flows through me
So I can finally see
Why you bleed so heavily:
Those wings on your shoulders;
They were merely drawn there by the Death Holders.

"So shatter the illusion,
And break the chains;
Shed your black feathered wings
And strip the bloody remains.

"Save yourself,
So that you may save me as well…"

Naruto whistles lowly. "Um… yeah. Fantastic poem and all, but much too depressing, if not a little grotesque." He grins at his use of that last word, which is one of the few he's retained when Gaara used it and taught him it's meaning. Naruto pauses as he looks over at his boyfriend. "What else you got?"

"I have a poem in I am format titled 'What I Am', but I don't want to talk about myself at graduation."

"Good point," the blonde remarks. "Hmm… Well, I guess you could read 'Philosophical', but don't you have any others that are a bit… shorter? You know, since lots of kids will space out if the speech is too long."

Gaara shrugs, flipping the sewn pages of the journal. "None that are good enough for something school-related. They're meaningful enough, but…"

"Not apt for graduation?" Naruto supplies to finish Gaara's sentence, once again using a vocabulary word he picked up from the redhead.

"Yes."

Naruto shrugs. "Oh well. I say you go with what your gut says."

A voice suddenly carries from down the stairs, startling the two. "Boys!"

It was Kyuubi. The blonde turns and throws his voice to his adoptive father. "What is it, Dad?"

"You better not have eaten too many snacks, because dinner's ready!"

"Shit," Naruto laughs. "I didn't know he was going to make dinner this early. Are you even hungry?"

Gaara shakes his head.

"Heh, I am; you know me, the boy with a landfill for a stomach." He laughs again. "Well," he says, standing to stretch out his limbs. "Better go down there and force some food down to be polite in your case; and in mine, to woof a bunch of it down to fill the gaps."

The poet shrugs and sets his composition book on the bed. He follows Naruto out of the room. They wind down the hallway to the kitchen, where Kyuubi resides with a plate of food in his hands. He places it at the table. "There you two are. Dig in," he remarks as he removes a line of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. The kitchen is overly warm since the stove was being used. Plus, summer is approaching, which only adds to the warmth.

"Thanks," Shippuuden says as he takes a big spoonful from one of the presented plates.

Resshin, however, doesn't move a muscle in his seat beside his hurricane. Kyuubi cocks his head. "What's the matter, Gaara? Not hungry?"

He nods. "No; sorry, Kyuubi."

Kyuubi hates being called his respectful name, Mr. Bijuu, and has known Gaara long enough to not mind it when he's called by his first name from the teen. He sighs and shrugs, running a hand through his russet orange hair. "I gotta say, you having no appetite all the time is starting to bother me. You're already chicken-bone thin, boy! You need some meat on ya!"

Says the man who has a stocky, garbage-disposal-like boy like Naruto for a nephew, Gaara scoffs mentally. He loves Naruto's body – it's built, strong, and muscular – but that's just not his body type. He's slim and pale and toned, not meaty and tan and broad like his boyfriend. Sometimes Naruto teases him about it. In fact, he did just the other day: they were ordering their graduation gowns, and Naruto had to get one of the biggest sizes for his height and shoulder width. While Gaara, on the other hand, had to get one of the smaller sizes. After a year of growing, Naruto is much taller than he is by a good three or four inches, which secretly makes Gaara steam with a sense of inferiority when they embrace or kiss.

"So, Dad, Gaara's thinking about reading a poem of his for part of the graduation speech," Naruto mentions as he stuffs his face with food. He swallows half of it down and says a bit less muffled: "D'ya think it'll be good? I do."

"What poem is it?" the business man inquires.

On more than one occasion, Kyuubi has read Gaara's poetry. He knows some of them as well as Naruto now, which is by heart.

"'Philosophical'," Gaara says quietly.

That being one of the poems Kyuubi actually knows, he grins. "Really? I like that one. It's great for talking about moving on in life, which is what graduation is all about."

His mouth too full to speak, Shippuuden nods in agreement. He takes a sip of milk to clear his esophagus. "That's what I was thinking."

"Then it's settled," Kyuubi smiles. "You can read it to start off your big speech, and in explaining the poem, you can motivate everyone. It'll be fantastic; I don't doubt you, Gaara."

"I don't doubt him, either!" Naruto says, locking his elbow around his earthquake's neck, causing him to blush. Not noticing the effect his actions are making, Naruto brings Gaara closer and says in a chipper tone: "And I'll be right behind him in the 'U' section, supporting him every step of the way."

Kyuubi smiles warmly, which is a rare sight. "I'm glad." He ducks out to get himself a plate and serve some of the food he made.

Inwardly, the business man is thinking about how nice it is to have two people so deep in love at such a young age. He doesn't even care the male/male pairing; he knows what's best for his adoptive son, and no woman could ever compare to Gaara. And his good friend Shukaku – Gaara's uncle by blood – agrees. Shu knows that no one, girl or boy, could ever complete his nephew the way Naruto does. 'Every time they're together, it's like nothing makes him happier,' he told Kyuubi some time ago. 'I know that Temari and Kankurou see it, too; their little brother is actually happy.'

Naruto finishes off his ice-cold milk with a big, 'ahh!' and claps his hands together, rubbing them. "I'm so excited. We get to graduate tomorrow! It's going to be awesome. We can say goodbye to Konoha High and hello to college! And remember what I mentioned at prom? I still mean it. We should live together."

Kyuubi nearly chokes on the bite of food he recently placed on the tip of his tongue. He begins coughing, and once he's done, he gasps, "Live together?!"

The blonde winces. "Oh. Um, yeah… I was gonna mention it to you after graduation, Dad."

Kyuubi looks dead serious. "You do realize what kind of sacrifice that is, don't you? And what it could do to your relationship? Living with someone either makes you see how much you love them, or how much you decide you hate them."

"Is that why you're not married? You lived with some chicks and decided you didn't like them?" Naruto teases.

"Actually," Kyuubi retorts stiffly, "Those women decided that they didn't like me."

Naruto bursts into laughter, but Gaara is not as amused. His thoughts are too centered on what the businessman just said.

What if he and Shippuuden weren't as made for one another as they thought…? What if Naruto broke up with him after he saw how Gaara can be on a daily basis…? Resshin's heart aches ferociously at such thoughts. He wouldn't be able to bear it if Naruto left him. He hadn't meant to or wanted to, but he's grown very dependant on the blonde's love. After the abuse from his father and betrayal of his uncle Yashamaru, Gaara can't take much more heartbreak; he might just kill himself or something close, like internally wither and die. The redhead isn't suicidal, so the latter sounded more accurate. He's probably never associate himself with anyone ever again, including his family, if such a thing occurred. It's a gruesome topic to think about; he better stop.

Sensing the depressing, on-the-brink-of-weeping aura that's emitting off of his boyfriend, Naruto turns and looks Gaara in the eye. "Resshin," he murmurs with overpowering concern, "Are you alright?"

Kyuubi also looks. Then, to Naruto, he supposes: "Maybe he's worried you two will break up."

The blonde looks stricken. He leans over and kisses Gaara on the cheek and grabs hold of his hand, warming it in his own. "No, no, no. That won't happen! You hear me, Gaara? That's not going to happen. I swear it'll bring us together, not tear us apart. I wouldn't do that to you, not in a million years! I love you too much to leave you."

Kyuubi blinks and feels as though he just intruded on something private, even though he's been here this whole time. He tilts his head slightly. His half-nephew sounded so confident, so sure of his feelings. Sometimes the fox-like man wonders how their relationship works. He's an equal ebb and flow, he notes, but it's more than that. It kind of freaks him out. Two teenagers in his day – seniors like these two, or slightly younger or older – have never spoken to one another so passionately. And if they do, it's influenced by sex and hormones, not raw emotions like this. It blows Kyuubi's mind. It also boggles the Sabaku family's minds.

Naruto watches as the poet relaxes, his expression falling smooth from it's former twist of panic. "Thank you, Shippuuden," he whispers. He squeezes the blonde's hand in return and allows his head to fall onto the strong shoulder next to him, the blood red hair covering Naruto's back and tickling his neck.

Naruto returns it with a small head nuzzle, knowing how much comfort Gaara needs right now; he's stressed over this whole graduation thing and now a new worry has entered his mind. Over the past year and a half (give or take a few weeks) he's learned the way Gaara's brain works.

Kyuubi shakes his head and stands, leaving with his dinner plate. I'll let these two have a minute, he rationalizes.

Once his adoptive parent is out of the room, Naruto smiles for support. "You know what? Screw what I said about winging it. I'll help you write the speech. Sound good?"

Now, Naruto isn't the brightest light bulb in the warehouse, but he's pretty good with words when he wants to be. So, after a second of thought, Gaara lifts his head and nods. "Yes; that would help immensely. Thank you," he repeats, staring into Naruto's eyes.

"No problem," the blonde shines with another smile. He lends one last squeeze to the hand in his, and then releases it. Best butter him up first by helping him before I tell him what I did, he thinks to himself.

Secretly, Naruto has another blow to lay on the redhead up his sleeve. He wants it to explode as minimally as possible. He doesn't want another class ring fiasco on his hands. So he'll wait until after graduation to tell Gaara – or, rather, show him – what bomb he has to drop. And at the same time, he can tell/show Kyuubi. But he knows neither of the two will appreciate it now. They'll both be better with such information after graduation is done and over with.

o0o0o0o

"Okay, let's read over what we have so far," Naruto suggests as Gaara cracks his knuckles for the umpteenth time while typing up his speech on Naruto's computer monitor, the tiny words running across the screen. Or, rather, it's Naruto's speech, since over half the things said so far is from his mouth (only reworded by the redhead).

Resshin sighs through his nose. "No. Let's finish first. Then we can read it aloud to Kyuubi."

The other teen shrugs. "If you say so."

So they do. They work until they're ready to drop, but by this time it's far too late to go to Kyuubi with the speech. "It'll have to wait until tomorrow," Gaara mutters.

"Uh-huh," Naruto yawns. "Oh well. At least it's done now." He smiles tiredly and hugs his boyfriend from behind, his arms reaching over the back of the computer chair to hook near Gaara's chest. He lightly rests his chin on the poet's head. "Are you spending the night?" he asks. "It's late…"

The earthquake hesitates. After all the teasing torture Naruto put him through on prom night when he slept over, he hasn't done so since. But it seems he has no choice this time. His tense shoulders fall limp in defeat. "I suppose so."

"Awesome," Naruto grins. He removes his chin and leans downward, kissing along the redhead's jaw to his ear, still from his position behind the chair. He feels a small shiver run through Resshin's skin. The blonde laughs. "Come on, let's get ready for bed. I call the bathroom first!" And then he was racing down the hallway, pajamas in hand.

Gaara shakes his head to himself. How that boy moves so fast, he has no idea.

The poet sighs aloud and slowly shuts down the computer. He gets up from the chair, stretches, and glances around. It seems whenever he's invited over, Naruto's room is clean and mostly tidy, and yet Kyuubi always complains in the background during phone conversations how messy it is. This fact brings a small smile to Gaara's lips; Naruto cleans just for him? How sweet…

"Done! Your turn!" he hears Naruto holler from down the hall. Seconds later, the blonde's in the bedroom again, a bundle of clothes in his arms and a pair of pajama pants on his legs.

…But no shirt.

Gaara blinks and bites back a shit-eating grin. He can't stop the blush on his cheeks, however. He's seen Naruto half nude this way before; it's no surprise to him. But the redhead doesn't see it often enough, and at the moment he can feel his fingers itching to run long trails all across the expanse of that well-built (but not overly muscular) tan chest.

He turns his head so he's not caught staring. "I'll be right back," Gaara murmurs.

"'Kay."

Resshin goes into the bathroom and brushes his teeth. Then he changes into his pajamas and returns. Naruto's sitting up on the bed while glancing down at a novel. No, wait, it's too big to be a novel, and much too thin; it's his poetry book. "Naruto! Give me that," he hisses.

"What for? It's not like I haven't read any of your poetry before."

"Give it to me."

Shippuuden grins. "Nope." He closes it and holds it up high. "You'll have to come and get it for yourself~!"

"Why, you…" Gaara growls.

He storms up to Naruto and reaches for it, but the blonde pulls it backward. He holds it high over Gaara's head, since he's so tall. His grin widens as the redhead leans into him more to reach it. Then, he nearly laughs when Gaara freezes in place as he realizes that their chests are touching and their noses are two centimeters apart.

They lock gazes. "What are you waiting for?" Naruto whispers. "Take it."

Gaara can feel the heat radiating off Naruto's body, and the heat on his own pale face. He smells light traces of aftershave, clean and fragrant.

In one sweep the poet takes back his journal and gets off of his boyfriend. Looking at where he had been, he realizes he had been in the blonde's lap, his knee between his legs. Gaara's glad he moved away; that could've been potentially dangerous.

Naruto won't stop smiling. At this rate he'll tear his cheeks in half. "Are you going to sleep on the floor again?"

"Yes," Gaara says strictly. "If I share a bed with you, you'll probably refuse to leave me alone when all I want to do is sleep."

"For once."

"Is that another insomniac joke?"

Naruto chuckles. "Maybe…"

"You're horrible."

"Shut up and kiss me!"

"…What?!"

Naruto drags the surprised redhead down and forces their lips together. Reason being? Having Gaara that close had reminded him of how much he wants his boyfriend, so he decided to go for it.

With a body crashing down onto him, Gaara gives in, knowing he has no choice. He returns the kiss with just as much force and lets his itching fingers explore the rippling tendons of Naruto's bare shoulders. It shocks him how supple Naruto's skin is. Gaara mentally sighs in satisfaction.

Naruto breaks the intense kiss to breathe… and smile for the billionth time. "Graduation is coming up in a little over twelve hours. What d'ya think of that?"

"I think I shouldn't have waited until the night before to write my speech."

"It's not your fault; you didn't know what to say."

With such a sweet, handsome face smiling above him, Gaara softens and accepts Naruto's excuse. "I suppose so."

They lay in silence for a few minutes, their minds off in different places. Gaara starts to get warm. He pries himself from Naruto and begins setting up his makeshift bed on the floor.

Naruto pouts and protests in a whine: "Ne, Gaara… come on! Don't be like that. You're ruining the moment…"

"I'm tired," he replies dully. It's a half-lie; he is a bit sleepy, but mostly he's getting uncomfortable with the lack of personal space. Without his little 'bubble' around him, he felt insecure and embarrassed, two feelings he hates.

"Then sleep in my bed, dammit! I won't bug you, I swear." For added effect, Naruto brings his hands together and gives his watery, kawaii-chibi-kitsune-desu eyes. "Pleeeease?"

Gaara sighs through his nose in irritation. Half of him wants to give in; the bed is always nice and warm when Naruto is in it. But half of him tells him that it's a bad idea.

"Fine. But only because I don't want to argue with you."

"Yay!" Naruto claps once. He yanks Gaara back into his bed. "I hope my dad doesn't walk in…" he teases.

"That's not even funny."

"Yes it is; because you know I'd never force you to have sex."

The earthquake has no comment; he merely sinks under the covers and cuddles his back against his hurricane's chest. He felt tiny in comparison, but he wasn't about to complain; it's nice having a partner who protectively holds you and whispers things in your ear.

Things like… "Hey," Naruto says as he shuts off his lamp, which has been their only light in the room. Darkness overtakes every corner of the room. "You know that song by HIM? 'Love You Like I Do'?"

"Hn," he replies vaguely, his eyes closing as he soaks in the warmth of Naruto's body heat and the comfort of the blonde's grip around his waist. So much for personal space.

"Well, it's true. No one will love you like I do." Shippuuden's heart clenches as he whispers the words. He's still hung up on what happened at the dinner table. "So… no matter how annoying I get when we live together… don't leave me, okay?"

Gaara's eyes fly open in the dark. He's too in shock by the needy tone in the last four words to catch the fact that Naruto slipped and said, 'when' and not 'if' they live together.

"I…" Resshin tries to respond. Doesn't he know that I'm more afraid of him leaving me? he thinks. He swallows hard. "Okay."

Naruto seems relieved. He sighs and relaxes. "Good." He yawns. "G'night, love."

The redhead next to him bites his inner lip. "Good night…"

o0o0o0o

It's mayhem in the Uzumaki/Bijuu household. With the morning sun comes a wave of smelly breath, mussed covers, intertwined bodies, scrambling for the bathroom, the wolfing down of brunch (since they had woken up so late), and the rushing out to stores for last-minute things like toothpaste, hair gel, and dress shoes. Plus a few things more, like party supplies for the celebration they are now planning to host next weekend.

Gaara tags along for the ride. He watches with patient eyes as Naruto takes his time like a girl in deciding which shoes to buy. And he waits patiently as Naruto picks out a proper suit to wear. All of this brings many eye rolls from Kyuubi, whom is trying to hold back his urge to tease the two boys for 'sleeping together' (said in the innocent sense, of 'course).

Kyuubi doesn't hold out for long. He grins wickedly in the car on the way back to their home several hours later and brings up the topic. "So, boys… mind telling me why, when I came to finally wake you two up, I found not one body in Naruto's bed, but two tied together like a conjoined pretzel?" The business man revels in the blushes that coat two pairs of cheeks. He chuckles. "If you two weren't clothed and the room didn't smell so clean, I would have to ask something else. Be glad I didn't."

"We just fell asleep that way on accident," Naruto lies before Gaara can say anything.

"Oh?" Kyuubi smirks. "It looked on purpose to me. You two were cuddling like a couple of honeymooners." The teens' blushes deepen, and Kyuubi laughs even harder. "Wow, it's too easy making fun of you two. I need to do it more often."

"You won't be able to soon!" Naruto snaps to cover his humiliation. "We'll be college kids."

"…The term 'kids' makes you sound so manly."

"Shut up, Dad."

"Shutting~!" Kyuubi sing-songs as he turns a curb.

Gaara remains silent and glances down at his graduation speech, which he printed out this morning in the chaos and brought along so he could rehearse. It's not that hard to memorize; it already has the poem in the memory card section of his brain. All that's left to memorize is the (hopefully) motivational explanation of said poem.

The rest of the car ride is mellow. They head for a restaurant and decide to have a leisurely meal, which means ordering three courses: the appetizers, the main course, and the dessert.

Kyuubi indulges in some wine and, when the rest of the people in the place aren't looking, he slips some of it to each of the teen boys. He tells them, "If the Europeans can have a little or even watered-down wine with dinner from ages twelve and up, why can't you have some? It's not like I'm going to let you get drunk!" And he winks.

Naruto laughs and takes a sip, but finds that he prefers the fruity taste of white wine. Gaara is partial to the red, and he enjoys the sample Kyuubi gave him. It's called 'Seven Deadly Zins'; it's a mixed wine of different zinfandel grapes. It tasted great.

Gaara takes another sip and softens. He allows the burning alcohol to melt away his worries and calm his quaking heart. It warms all the way to his tummy and stews there. The next few sips don't even burn. The honor student relaxes completely. "This speech won't be difficult; what was I worried about?" he wonders aloud.

Naruto smacks his boyfriend's shoulder lightly and chuckles. "Exactly! That's what I've been trying to tell you!"

After dessert – Naruto got the 'Mega Chocolate Meltdown Mousse Pie', Gaara ordered key lime pie, and Kyuubi asked for the cherry cheesecake – the three pay out of Kyuubi's pocket and head for home.

In the car, the Uzumaki boy pats his stomach. "Uhg, I am totally stuffed! The food at that restaurant was awesome. Thanks, Dad!"

"Hey, what's all this money for, anyway? I might as well make graduation night special for you guys."

The blonde grins. "So, are we going home to get ready for the ceremony?"

"That's the plan," Kyuubi replies.

"Cool." Naruto leans back in his chair. "Man, I'm so fucking excited–!"

"Naru-to," Kyuubi remarks, drawing Naruto's name into syllables, "Watch your mouth, won't you?"

"Sorry," he apologizes to his adoptive parent. "But still, this is huge! Graduating high school… I never thought I'd see the day."

Kyuubi chuckles. "Why not? Everyone graduates at some point."

"Yeah, but, I dunno… It just feels bigger than I thought it would. And so much sooner." He sighs happily. "Well, at least I'm going through it with someone special."

"You mean Mr. No-talk over there?" Kyuubi grins and with a nod of his head indicates Gaara's absence of speech.

"He has to rest up for all the vocal-cord usage he has to do later on," Naruto defends.

The redhead simply ignores the russet-haired man's jesting. He's too centered on two things: what his hurricane said about 'someone special' and the fact that he has to say so much in front of over one hundred people; perhaps two or three hundred, considering all the family members, staff, and senior students.

If the wine hadn't calmed him down already, Resshin might get sick with panic right about now. But he doesn't dare show any ounce of his worry on the outside. No, he's much too strong to do something like that. He refuses to appear weak, although he'd like nothing better than to crawl in Shippuuden's lap right there in the car and be held for comfort. It's scary being chosen as the top honor student to give the ending sermon for the four years nearly everyone spent at Konoha High. It unnerves the earthquake to know that he'll be in front of so many people, with their eyes on him, watching. He's never gotten stage fright in the past because only once has he been a main character in a school play. But now…

Now, he's 'nobody' turned into 'somebody', and it doesn't settle right with him.

"Gaara?" the blonde whispers with a gentle tone in the redhead's ear once they walk in the door of Naruto's home. "You look bent out of shape. Your face is real solemn when you should be pumped for the ceremony."

The other swallows. "If by 'pumped' you mean 'utterly distressed', then, yes."

"Gaara…" Naruto frowns. He takes the redhead by the arm into his room and shuts the door. To Kyuubi, it'll look like they're going to get dressed. But in actuality: "Sit down."

Gaara sits obediently on the bed.

"Look," Naruto says with such care and trust in his voice. He kneels down in front of his boyfriend and gives a wry smile. "If you can act and sing your hear out in front of who knows how many people during Rent, I think you can handle this." He pats Gaara's knee. "I mean, it's not like they expect anything flamboyantly fantastic – heh, try saying that five times fast! – from you, they only expect your best. And I know you can give it. It's not like you're running a country –" Hmm, that sounds familiar… "– you're just giving a little oral rant about a poem after everybody gets their diplomas. Piece of cake. Nothing big, ya know? You'll do fine."

The poet takes a deep breath and nods.

Naruto smiles tenderly. "There's the Resshin I know. Now then," he grunts as he gets on his feet, "How 'bout a hug? After that, we can get ready and blow this popsicle stand."

Without having to be asked twice, Gaara stands and collides with Naruto, his arms wrapping tightly around Naruto's ribs. He holds on for dear life and bites back a sob as tart drool fills his mouth. It happens every time he's about to weep; but he won't break down this time.

Maybe it's not only nerves.

Maybe it's the concept.

Yes, the concept… That's what must be ripping Gaara up so much inside.

The concept of leaving high school forever, of never seeing certain people everyday, of never going to another drama club meeting, of being apart form Naruto while he goes away to college for five painfully lengthy years. Being away from Naruto for a period of time hurts even now, but for five years…!

Gaara doesn't want to think about it. He knows he's grown too dependant on Naruto's affection, but can you blame him? He's gone through so much abuse and other hardships throughout his life; it's hard not to be this way.

"Hey," Naruto says lowly, "I have an idea."

Still holding Gaara, he moves towards his boom box and puts on a song. After a couple seconds the lyrics float in. Of all the bands in the world, it's the Goo Goo Dolls. Something Gaara knows Naruto would never really listen to religiously.

"Recognize it?" the blonde asks with a soft smile.

He does. Gaara almost wants to laugh; laugh so he won't cry. "It's the song that played at Starbucks when we met for the first time. Or, I suppose, 're-met'."

"Re-met? That's a good word for it. Yes, it's that song. 'Feel the Silence'. I found it the other day and decided to download it to play after graduation for memory's sake. But now is a good time." Shippuuden informs the other. He brings their bodies back together and idly strokes the crimson locks beneath his fingers. "Do you feel confident now?"

Resshin can't speak; he's choking suddenly, his throat closing tight. I will not cry on my graduation night, he tells himself. I will not cry on my graduation night, I will not cry on…

So Naruto began crying. If Gaara can't cry, he does it for him. He sobs heavily onto Gaara's shoulder and soaks his shirt with his tears. He sniffles and when he speaks, his voice breaks. "Man, what's wrong with me? It's just graduation…"

Just graduation? Graduation, like Naruto said earlier, is huge! It's the passing on from minor schooling to the last of your schooling, from friends to careers, from the past to the soon-to-be-set-in-stone future. It gives Gaara a gut ache thinking about it.

Naruto grows jittery in his arms, and he knows that the blonde must also feel the lie in those words.

"We have to get ready," Gaara murmurs so quietly that Naruto barely hears him.

Shippuuden straightens himself and wipes his nose. "Right…" he replies. He sniffs and releases his boyfriend and steps towards his closet. "Time to bloom."

Bloom like a caterpillar from it's silkily woven cocoon. Bloom into a mature butterfly, an adult, a man of the world.

That's the kind of bloom everyone must undertake following graduation.

And getting that diploma is only the first step.

o0o0o0o

"Dude! The auditorium is jam-packed..." Kiba murmurs to the person next to him. Down the line near the other I's is Hinata Hyuuga. She glances Kiba's way, and he smiles at her. 'Don't worry,' he mouths.

Meanwhile, Shikamaru rolls his eyes as he stands with the N's. "This graduation is such a drag. Why would they go through all the trouble of having this dumb ceremony, anyhow? Tch."

Sakura fidgets, the armpit of her dress rubbing her skin raw with the scratchy fabric. She holds back the urge to adjust it since it might look strange. Instead she pounds her fist into her hand, swings her arm back, brings it forward, and pounds it into her other hand again. Over and over to settle her nerves.

Ino, damn near at the end of the line because of her last name, is extremely bored. Her ugly graduation gown clashes with her style and the hat makes her hair flat. Plus, that little tassel was just annoying the hell out of her. It dangles and bobs in the corner of her vision like a bothersome insect you want out of the picture. Only she can't squish this bug.

Speaking of bugs, Shino seems to be the only calm face. He adjusts his glasses and rocks impatiently from heel to heel.

Chouji, on the other hand, is doing fine. He's up front with the other A's, three pieces of gum in his mouth since he's obviously not allowed to have any food. He chews thoughtfully and glances around. Everyone is sweating from the collection of blistering body heat and lights blaring overhead in the auditorium.

The other graduates simply look bored, save for Naruto and Gaara. One is smiling broadly, whilst the other is crossing his arms tightly over his chest by means of keeping himself calm. You can guess who is doing which.

"Attention, everyone! We are about to begin," Shizune says into the microphone on the podium up front. She's smiling with sheer happiness.

The parents and family members alike shush and stare intently at the principal, Tsunade, as she paces up to the podium.

"Parents, guardians, family and friends: today is a big day. The school year ends here; as do many. Today is the closing of twelve years of hard work. Finally, you can sit back and say, 'my child – or cousin, or niece, or nephew, or grandchild – has made it through high school. They will go on to college and make something of themselves. They didn't drop out, they didn't fail, and they didn't make the wrong choice. They made the right one.'" She pauses. "Tonight is morally, emotionally and mentally a huge step into an adult society. College is different than this, assuming all the students behind me attend one. They'll figure this out the same way we did. Hopefully, they'll take tonight to heart and come to terms with not only themselves and the completion of their elementary, junior, and high schools, but also with their peers. Some of these students may never see one another until the reunions. Some might get married. You never know what lies ahead. But we know what lies in front of us: and that's a certificate with a handshake."

Some of the crowd laughs.

Tsunade continues, "Now, you don't want to hear me rattling on. You came her tonight to snap a photo of each of these strong individuals switching the tassel on their caps and tossing them into the air. You came to celebrate and scream your lungs out. So let's get on with it, eh?"

Clapping rings in the graduates' ears. Some of the girls tear up. Some of the guys squirm. And some – like Naruto and Gaara – exhale slowly, then gulp loudly.

One by one they march. A name is called, and the student proceeds to the end of the stage, takes the diploma from the Board of Education's hand while shaking his other, smiles into the cameras, shakes Tsunade's hand, and has Shizune flip their tassel.

One by one…

The line flies by. So many students, and yet, it seems like there's hardly any at all. The procession slims down as the graduated seat themselves in the front few rows of the auditorium. Slowly, steadily, the letters count down until Gaara has to walk down the stage. Then, he sits – not in the padded seats closest to the stage, no, but in a chair next to the podium. He waits until the last of the names are called, but glances behind him when he hears, "Naruto Uzumaki."

Naruto forces a smile over his nerves and pads down the stage to the white-haired man at the end holding the diploma. Wait, is that…? It is!

"Jiraiya?!" Naruto gasps as he takes the diploma and shakes the old perverted man's hand. The same man who taught Sex Education his freshman year. The same man who came to his New Year's party because he's an old friend of the family. The same man who writes these risqué novels he sees Kakashi sneaking a read of in chemistry class sometimes.

The white-haired man chuckles. "Yes, Naruto, it's me. I really worked my way up the ladder, huh? The Board of Education… sounds great, huh? I love having this title. Makes me feel powerful."

Naruto cracks a smile. "You're a head-honcho now, just like what I wanna be. Respected and everything."

"You know it!" Jiraiya booms with a grin. There's a twinkle in his eyes that reminds Naruto of a cheery grandfather. "Now then," Jiraiya says, "You better go shake the old bat's hand. She's getting antsy."

Naruto laughs – half out of nerves and half out of humor, since 'old bat' sounds like something he would call Jiraiya's girlfriend. He moves on to the blonde, large-breasted woman and smiles. He takes her hand and nods it. Her grip is strong. "Your parents would be very proud of you, brat," she says. "Especially your mother, Kushina. She would be crying. And your father Minato? I bet all the cash in my purse right now that he'd be cheering his head off for you." Tsunade winks at him. "And I am, too. I know your record; you were a pretty big prankster in your youth, and got into a fight before you came here."

"True," Naruto grins. He can't deny it.

"And now you're a man."

The blonde teen flushes slightly as he releases her hand and gets his tassel flipped by the assistant principal. The black-haired woman bows her head slightly at him and waves as he thumps down the steps to the chair awaiting him in the front row.

Ino is the last to get her diploma, seeing as how the only Z student they have didn't have enough credits to pass.

Once everyone is seated, Tsunade returns to the microphone. "Now… Prior to tossing hats and throwing confetti and all that jazz, we have a closing speech by our highest honor student, Gaara Sabaku."

The crowd applauds, a few going as far as to whistle. One of the whistlers, Gaara notices, is his boyfriend. Another is his brother, Kankurou.

Gaara stands and spins around to take his place behind the podium. The wood is cold under his palms as he places them on the ledge which normally supports paper. Shit, he forgot his note cards! Now what? Try and remember that he spent hours writing with Naruto, or…

Should he say whatever comes to mind?

What Naruto said to him last night springs to the front of his mind:

"I told you: just go up there and wing it. Whatever you end up saying will be perfectly fine. Everyone believes in you, and you're a real smart guy. You'll think of something motivational and sappy to say, everyone will love it, and then we can all go home in our ridiculous graduation cap and gowns with our pretty little diplomas."

And then, something said in the car earlier tonight:

"Yeah, but, I dunno… It just feels bigger than I thought it would. And so much sooner. …Well, at least I'm going through it with someone special."

Someone special… Gaara thinks. He stares out at the mass of people, whom have all gone silent.

Resshin clears his throat and leans into the mic. "For starters, I'm going to recite a poem for all of you that I wrote myself. It's titled, 'Philosophical'.

"We walk the line called Life,
Trying to balance on a taut rope
Like a circus performer
Lost in their strife;
Wobbling and swallowing their hope,
Attempting to please a conformer.

"We know not how things will end,
Nor do we know the hour of day;
When the line will loosen or break,
And send us spiraling around the bend
Of the turning point in the way
From what we can tell is 'what it'll take'.

"We once understood the world,
And brought into context the stars;
Which, out of reach, caught our attention.
Awaiting for the reasons to be unfurled,
Asking ageless puzzles; 'what will we do's and 'who we are's;
The latter being the most frequent mention.

"Whether the glass is half empty,
Or whether it is half full,
We must tread the destined path.
And if we fail…
Then at least it won't be considered dull."

Gaara is about to launch into his real speech when the crowd roars into life, hands clapping while mouths hoot and holler. A few whistles resound as well, taking the poet off-guard. He blinks rapidly, and as everyone simmers down into silence once more, Gaara feels more confident. From the audience, Naruto lends a wide grin and a thumbs-up. He almost wants to smile for all sorts of whacked reasons.

Time to elaborate, Resshin commands himself mentally. Only I won't follow much of what we wrote together; instead, I'll pick out the key points and wing it like Naruto originally suggested. I hope I don't pause too often… I do that since I don't stutter.

"The first verse of my poem is a metaphor. It implies that from day to day we all walk on eggshells. We try not to think about the danger of things and simply move on with whatever we decide when a choice is given to us.

"In the second verse, I talk about what Ms. Principal Tsunade mentioned: we don't know where things will go or how things will end, or when it'll all happen. We simply wait for things to fall into place and for our actions to take effect.

"The third verse is a bit of that common teenaged cockiness, saying how we think we know everything and how we always ask, 'who am I?' every time we look into a mirror. It's part of growing up and maturing, of finding our place in the mapped-out world.

"Final verse. Now, for this one, I summed up how pessimistic or how optimistic seniors can be when they reach this point so rightfully named 'graduation'. If life from here on out half full, or half empty? Do we see fulfilling things in our futures or nothing at all? Either way, the poem states, we're going to be in for one hell of a ride."

The redhead stops here and wets his lips. He looks to his boyfriend and smiles distantly.

"I don't know about you," Gaara is saying, "But I want to live my life. After I leave Konoha High with my memories, I want to be able to say, 'Psh, that was easy. Look at what I'm doing nowadays.' I want to continue with the good times and survive through the bad, just like how I did everyday in class."

He earns some random bursts of laughter with that remark.

"Most of all, I want…" Gaara hesitates. He nibbles on his lower lip for a second. "I want to go Naruto's house next weekend at the Grad Bash he and his guardian are hosting and enjoy myself before I travel far away to the college that accepted me. And, I think, that will hurt all of us; our final goodbyes to one another as a senior class, as peers, and as friends."

The faces of the audience grow soft. Even Sasuke, who is seated grumpily in his wheelchair from the Akatsuki shooting last year, makes a less-tense face. He knows the pain Gaara speaks of pain all too well. In some ways, he felt that lonely ache as a physical burn when he got shot those three times up his leg and in his crotch. Because when he was shot, Sasuke knew he could never be the same again; not only with the way he'll walk once he heals, but with the things he can do. He'll be limited, and since the only person he really loved is in love with the paprika-haired boy above him, he'll be forever lonely. And he won't have school every day with the blonde – or any of his friends! – to help ease that pain.

Graduating really changes things.

The earthquake steps away from the microphone slightly so he's not heard as well. His face twists out of it's mask of calm. "But, deepest of all, some of will have to say goodbye as lovers. Even if some of the couples haven't gotten as far as being 'lovers', thank God, but the bond is just as deep as if they would have made it physical."

"Gaara, what are you doing?" Naruto whispers to himself, the words thankfully not caught by the people near him.

His aquamarine orbs shining slightly with unshed tears, Gaara locks gazes with that feels like every pair of eyes in the auditorium. "I know that feeling best of all. Some people think that teen love isn't real. Sometimes they're right. Personally, I think it depends on the case. And, in my case… Well, I'm not as easily believed. I'm shot down most of all, because the person I'll be leaving when I exit high school and enter college is another male, so our relationship is questioned."

Murmurs fill the room. Kyuubi stands from his seat, surprised that Gaara announced such a thing. Even Gaara is surprised with himself. Where is this coming from?! He doesn't feel like himself. He wishes the floor would eat him up and take back his words for him.

Dammit, I'm failing my own graduation. How can I say all this? What's possessing me to? Gaara questions hastily.

Naruto is moving. Fast. He jumps on stage and stands beside his former e-pal. He turns to the audience. "He has a point. Graduating means a lot, especially to people in a romantic relationship. And especially to us," he says, taking Gaara's hand. Feeling he has to fix things, the hurricane places his hand on his cap. "So let's all leave here with a smile and know that whatever happens, at least we have our high school years to look back on."

And he throws his cap into the air, praying nothing fell flat and awkward.

Gaara waits. He watches as, steadily like an ocean wave, the grad students begin to toss their caps into the air and cheer. The remainder of the room claps, some laughing in relief as the tension dissipates.

The blonde tugs the poet off stage and joins in the friendly mosh pit forming in front of the first two rows of seats.

After about ten minutes, Naruto grabs his boyfriend and jerks his head towards a door. "Let's leave."

Gaara follows gratefully. They leave via the emergency exit doors on the side of the stage.

Once they were outside, Naruto inhaled and sighed loudly. "Ah, what a night. The breeze is a little cool, but everything feels like early summer. It's nice."

"It's better than that crazy auditorium."

Naruto chuckles and grasps Gaara's hand. "Yeah," he agrees. "But you know, I loved your speech. It went over great, even if you basically winged it from start to finish! – Oh, and, uh, I kinda saw that you left your note cards in the car."

"Then why didn't you say anything?!" Gaara growls.

"Because I knew you didn't need them," Naruto replies. He stops walking and directs his gaze at their intertwined hands. "I thought it was very brave of you to mention us," he mutters. "Not many people could come out of the closet to everyone and their grandmothers during a graduation speech."

"Well," Gaara responds with a lift of his tip-toes, "I'm not like many people, am I?"

The blonde smirks. He likes it when Gaara gets flirty. "No, you're not."

And he seals the gap between their lips, taking Gaara completely into his arms.

"You know what?"

"What, Shippuuden?"

"You won't have to worry about us splitting apart for college. So I guess your speech was a lie, haha."

Gaara furrows his invisible eyebrows. "What do you mean, I won't have to worry?"

The other teen sends Gaara one of his sneaky fox-like grins. "I mean… I bought us an apartment. It's perfect, too; two bedrooms, one bathroom, and located forty-five minutes from your college and an hour and fifteen from mine."

There, the bomb has been dropped. What will Gaara say?

At first, nothing. He peels apart from Naruto and with a gaping mouth searches the blonde's face for any signs of a joke or a lie. He finds none. "You… you're serious? We're… we're going to…"

"Live together? Yes."

Without warning, Naruto hears a clapping noise and feels his cheek sting.

Gaara just slapped him.

"Dammit, Naruto! How are we supposed to keep up on an apartment?! And why didn't you tell me before? This is insane, even for you!"

Naruto begins laughing as he rubs over the most likely red scars on his left cheek (left because Gaara is right-handed). "Yeah, yeah, I know, but we'll manage! Plus… I thought it'd make you happy."

The redhead is taken aback. He blinks. Secretly he's overjoyed, but…

Gaara runs a hand through his hair as he composes himself. He hadn't meant to get so fiery; he blames the wine he had at dinner. Eventually he looks back at Naruto and offers his hand. "We'll talk about this later."

"Thanks, Resshin," Naruto murmurs. He smiles and leans his head against Gaara's shoulder as they hold hands and continue to walk to the car at a snail's pace.

"Only for you, Shippuuden," Gaara whispers. Yet the whisper goes unnoticed. He doesn't mind; after all, when you fail at graduating, nothing bothers you.

Not even the fact that you have an entire senior class to face the following weekend at your boyfriend's house at a party…

Ouch. Now that should bother you.

.END.