Summary: For some inconceivable reason that was nevertheless in line with his eccentric character, Naruto took Gaara's act of violence as an extension of friendship. NaruGaa. Yaoi. AU.

Warning(s): I'm not sure if this is aptly rated, but slapping an M on it seems like too much. So…yeah. Just be forewarned that there are mature situations and subject matters present.

Author's Note: I always wanted to write a growing up story. But then I started thinking about how difficult growing up can be.


"Life would be funny if it wasn't so sad.

Life would be sad if it wasn't so funny."

- Stephen King, Lisey's Story

They're at it again.

That would make this the third night in a row, and this time, Naruto really feels like he might say something. It would be one thing if they were in another room, but they aren't. They're right behind him, not more than five feet away from him, so that the kissing and sucking noises easily travel over to him even with headphones plugged in his ears. Naruto tries his best to concentrate on his reading—he has a test tomorrow, and it's one of the few opportunities to pull his grade up—but who could study like this?

He knows he should say something, but he can't. And besides, what would he say?

Kiba, would it be at all possible for you to make-out in another room?

If there is one thing Naruto cannot feign his way out of, it is speaking his mind and being assertive. Even with one of his friends (one of his best friends, but still) only a few articles of clothing away from practically having sex, he can't bring himself to say anything.

The girl's soft moan is his breaking point, and even then it is not enough to push him far enough to do anything but grab his book and leave. It's cold out, and it's late, so the library is already closed, and there's only one other person who would be up at such an hour, but he's not sure he wants to see that person's face. In fact, he's positive that person doesn't want to see his face either, which elicits a kind of smile from his lips even though his eyebrows struggle to meet in a golden line—which is why, at approximately 1:30 a.m., Naruto knocks on Gaara's door.

He's stubborn like that, but so is Gaara. Gaara is so stubborn that, upon opening his door, he doesn't hide the mildly disgusted expression that contorts his face as Naruto waves sheepishly at him and manages a more authentic grin.

"Naruto," Gaara states rather than asks. Even though he only utters a name, those three syllables convey a customary fatigue that has more to do with just this one night.

"Gaara," Naruto says.

"Do you have any idea what time it is?"

"I know it's late, trust me. Trust me," he says again with a small shake of his head, "but you're the only person I know who's still awake, and…I was wondering…Eh, would it be possible to stay here tonight?"

"Hell no."

Naruto is instantly perturbed. "That was a bit harsh. Besides, you didn't even hear me out." The irritation subsides. Naruto can never sustain it around him for too long. "Kiba's making out with his girlfriend," he grumbles. "I can't get any work done—and, I have a test tomorrow. I just can't concentrate with…that going on behind me."

Gaara is wearing the expression of one who has heard the exact same story again and again and is clearly tired of it. A kind of distilled annoyance just barely tints his voice when he asks, "Did you say anything to them?"


Gaara's flat stare is unyielding, and he is perfectly ready to send the other away. He has his own test to study for, and the last thing he needs is to deal with Naruto tonight. But he can't say no, and Naruto knows that. Unlike the blond, Gaara can say anything he wants, but he can rarely make himself mean it.

"Your roommate's already asleep right?" Naruto asks, the confidence he had started with steadily dwindling—dwindling as it always does whenever he talks to Gaara, such that he wonders if perhaps he made a mistake in coming here. Complicated does not even begin to describe their relationship. "I swear, I'll be quiet. You won't even know I'm here. I'll just read in the living room."

"I'm studying in the living room."

"I'll just sit in the corner quietly."


"Seriously, Gaara, there won't be a single peep from me."

Gaara sighs, and the sound makes Naruto feel like sulking. "Naruto, we haven't even seen each other in how long?"

"Doesn't feel that long to me," says Naruto with a shrug.

"Yeah. That's the difference between you and me."

There is a span of silence that enters the room, jarring the pattern of formal niceties that precedes it.

"Not one word?" Gaara repeats, clearly skeptical.

"My lips are sealed."

And for a moment, the feeling in the air is not that stifling awkwardness that prevails when two people who were once best friends meet again. For a moment, it feels like maybe this time will be different.

They were in sixth grade when they first met, when Gaara grabbed a wooden bat and cracked Naruto's arm hard enough to snap the bone clean through.

Gaara was quickly restrained by the gym teacher, who had only turned her eyes from the class for a few seconds when the madness ensued. "I don't know how this happened," she would later tell both sets of disgruntled parents. "To my knowledge, they weren't even friends, but I certainly didn't think they were enemies or anything. It makes no sense."

Naruto screamed all the way to the Emergency Room and back, the only moment of silence occurring, oddly enough, when his bone was set. Any attempts to find out what had caused the sudden attack were met with tears.

"He'll be fine," the doctor said. "A clean break is actually preferable, especially in a larger bone such as the humerus. All he'll need is some sleep and some pain medication. And he'll definitely want to stay away from the boy who did this."

"I still don't understand why this happened," Iruka said, rubbing Naruto's back and trying to reassure him with the gentle lilt of his voice. "They're just kids. Why would they want to hurt each other like this?"

"Well, they may be kids, but they're also boys." A small, apologetic shrug. "You know how boys are."

There are two plush chairs in the living room, both situated in their own corner. One is literally on its last leg—this one Naruto takes out of respect, but not without a few mumbled complaints under his breath. Gaara reclaims his own seat and immediately delves into a book, highlighting haphazardly in an attempt to stave off any sort of conversation that Naruto might attempt. Even though Naruto has promised to shut up, Gaara knows how much he loves to talk, and he is not so foolish as to think this has changed.

From the hallway, the gentle resonances of sleep can be heard. Neji does not always snore, but tonight he does, and Naruto produces little smiles whenever the sounds pull him from his work. Each of these soft quirks of his lip is sent in Gaara's direction—an attempt to foster some sort of connection—but Gaara only proceeds with his annotations and does not pay the other any mind.

"You have anything to eat?" Naruto asks after a while.

Still, Gaara does not look up. "No," is his curt reply, the tone enough to convey that he is not in the mood to talk. He remembers Naruto's small traps, expertly laid at times to draw him into conversation, and Gaara is not as naive as he once was.

"Shoot. I probably should have ate before I left."

Gaara turns a page, his wrist flicking quickly as he does so, and again Naruto is watching him, this time without a smile. Gaara looks so small sitting there in that plush chair, which is an odd realization because they are the exact same height, but it just doesn't seem that way. There was a time when Gaara was precisely three inches shorter. They had measured themselves at Gaara's house using a doorframe and crayons.

"Can I grab a glass of water?" Naruto asks.

"You don't have to ask."

"Just trying to be polite—"

"Naruto," Gaara interjects, finally facing him, and while his face does not yet display his impatience, the tone of his voice does. Naruto cannot help but smile at this.

"Yes, I'm sorry. I'm not supposed to be talking."

Gaara stares at Naruto like his parents used to when he would beg them to play with him, like Iruka still stares at him even now, on occasion. "I have a test tomorrow. And so do you. If you want a glass of water—fine, I don't care. Don't ask me; just get it."

It hurts a little to be chided like this, especially when five years prior, Gaara would have never said anything even remotely admonishing to him, but Naruto realizes that they aren't thirteen anymore, and that they haven't been for a while. This realization is what really hurts.

For some inconceivable reason that was nevertheless in line with his eccentric character, Naruto took Gaara's act of violence as an extension of friendship.

After all, Gaara was known around the school for his uncontrollable temper and flares of rage. Rumor had it that the only thing still keeping him there was his father's connections with administration downtown. That Naruto had survived one such outburst made him something of a hero among the other children, and Naruto, being—well—Naruto, milked this for all its worth. He tiptoed around Gaara, practically goading him to attack, and Gaara, being—well—Gaara, ignored him. Until the day he couldn't take it anymore and head-butted Naruto, sending them both to the Emergency Room with blood dribbling down their foreheads.

In the weeks following the incident, and as his arm steadily healed, Iruka told Naruto constantly to "stay away from that boy." Though not his birth father, Iruka was extremely concerned with the wellbeing of the child that he still considered his son. He was not terribly fond of the family that greeted him with open glares when he asked if they would be seeing to the medical bills. It was only fair.

So he nearly went ballistic went he got the second call from the school stating that Naruto had been sent to the hospital. Again. But when he reached the clinic, his shocked expression was one of the many that witnessed the entirely unexpected sight of Naruto, who had crawled into Gaara's bed after escaping from his own and was having Gaara sign the cast that the very same red-haired child had given him. They both had matching bandages on their foreheads.

"Iruka, look!" Naruto exclaimed, waving his cast in the air. "Gaara and me are best friends!"

Both families were quick to separate the two boys despite Naruto's lone protests, which persisted the entire way home.

"Naruto, really," Iruka told him, as he tucked him into bed. "You need to stay away from that boy. I was told you started it this time."

"But he's cool!"

"I don't care what he is. He keeps hurting you. Stay away from him. Got it?"


"No buts," Iruka warned, trying his best to sound authoritative.

"Fine!" Naruto shouted, whipping his blankets over his head and turning away. "I hate you!"

"I love you, too."

One of Iruka's most difficult jobs since becoming a parent was rationalizing with a child. Because it never worked. No less than ten hours later, Naruto had found Gaara and was peeling the bandage off his own forehead to reveal his glaring scrape. He told Gaara that their matching injuries meant they were like brothers, and Gaara stopped and looked at Naruto without the usual malice that broke the peace of his face, a kind of exquisite awe replacing it.


"Yeah," Naruto said, grinning from ear to ear. "Brothers."

They are in the living room together for little more than thirty minutes before Gaara moves to the kitchen. Naruto thinks for a moment that he's making a quick trip to the restroom, until the redhead gathers his highlighters and pens and book and plops down in a seat at the kitchen table.

"I need more light," Gaara mumbles idly, before Naruto can ask.

"Is it better in there?" asks Naruto, even though both of them are aware that there really is little difference between the rooms' lighting. Before Gaara can even think up a lie, there is Naruto occupying the chair across from him. Gaara watches him momentarily with sea-green eyes that narrow in conjunction with his growing exasperation. Like always, is Naruto still trying to push him, or is he truly that clueless?

"How did you know where I lived?" Gaara asks, noting Naruto's dull shock. He himself is surprised he said anything, and he knows this will come back to bite him.

"Well," says Naruto, "I know Neji. He's sort of a friend of a friend. I don't know him that well, but anyway, it came up that you were rooming with him."

"It came up."

"Yeah. Well, you're known on campus for your tattoo, you know? Say…Is it still there?" Smiling, Naruto reaches out to brush aside Gaara's bangs with the end of his pen, but Gaara pulls back, plucking the pen from the blond's fingers.

"Don't do that," he says, placing the pen on the table. Naruto is careful to avoid Gaara's hand as he retrieves it. It is an old habit—the prevention of touch—but in this moment, it seems like second nature. The atmosphere is that of two years ago when simply meeting the other's eyes was enough.

"Yes," Gaara says, writing something in his book. "I still have it."

Naruto laughs a little. "Oh yeah? Sometimes I regret that I didn't get one too, but…I guess it'd be weird now."


When Naruto pulls his book close, Gaara is relieved, because it means nothing painful is going to be brought up. But Naruto is right; it would be weird if they had matching tattoos on their head that said "Love." Back then, it seemed like a good idea, but how would they have explained it now? Apparently, some things worked themselves out, just like the silence, which falls over the room as the two resume their studies, the silence that is broken, suddenly, by Naruto's short laugh. Tentatively, Gaara meets his blue eyes.

"I remember when you got that tattoo," Naruto says, a grin plastered on his face. "You cried so much."

Angrily, Gaara retorts: "I did not."

"Yes, you did," says Naruto, teasingly. "I couldn't get you to stop."

"Naruto. That was you."


Gaara is calm, staring into the space in front of him as if he can clearly see the past. In many ways, he can. "It was definitely you. You cried because you said it looked painful."

Something about Gaara's face makes Naruto realize that he is telling the truth, and suddenly he remembers that day—how Gaara's face just barely twitched as the needle pressed into his skin, almost as if he was used to the pain. As if he welcomed it.

"You're right," Naruto says, his voice low. "I wonder how I mixed that up."

"You were always mixing things up." There is a peace and calm to Gaara's voice, a rare element. "You always got it into you mind that what happened to me had happened to you and vice-versa." He is looking at Naruto now. "Remember?"

"Yeah…I remember now."

And while the two try to study, it is really just a little bit impossible now, because a floodgate has been opened in each of them so that memories swim about the room. Each of them takes turns looking at the other, and every once in a while, their eyes meet, only to drop back down to their books.

"Hey, remember Konohamaru?" Naruto asks, expertly twirling his pen around his fingers. "He was so cute."

"He hated me."

Laughing, Naruto says, "He didn't hate you. He was just jealous of you. You know how kids are. He thought you were going to steal me away."

"He certainly entertained some interesting thoughts."

"Yeah, well, I guess I understand a little better now though, looking back. We were always together. You couldn't separate us for anything."

Gaara is no longer looking at him. His eyes have descended to the glossy pages of his book. "Kids are funny that way."

"Yeah." Naruto bites his lip. "Remember what we used to do?" This is a mistake, but his laughter comes too late. Gaara is looking at him again, but not without an odd mix of apprehension and cynicism. "I mean in the bathroom. I had actually forgotten about that until now. But, kids are pretty crazy sometimes."

"Yes," says Gaara, with all the enthusiasm of someone who either does not care or has no desire whatsoever of discussing the topic any further.

It was the summer before their eighth grade year when they first kissed.

The whole thing had been Naruto's idea from the start—one which Gaara at first rejected, because what was the point of kissing, after all? While Naruto was the compulsive one, Gaara was the reasonable one, and he needed a good enough reason if he was going to do that.

True, their friendship had grown a lot during their seventh grade year. While their families still shared something of an aversion to one another, it was this aversion, in part, that initially fueled their bond. What child wouldn't want to go against the wishes of an adult? So for the remainder of the sixth grade school year, they made it a point to stick together. Besides, it was fun to watch their teachers stare in confusion as they sat next to each other at lunch and talked between classes. But most of all, it was hilarious to watch Iruka's face when Naruto brought Gaara home one evening for dinner. Because Iruka couldn't very well send the boy home, not when they actually seemed to get along.

Naruto, as always, talked nonstop at the dinner table, but Gaara actually seemed to listen to him, offering a wayward comment or insult here and there, which Naruto took in stride. But kids (and boys, in particular) were like that. They could be ready to kill each other one moment and be best friends the next.

So Iruka allowed the visits, always casting a watchful eye over the two until he could see no logical reason why Naruto could not spend the night at Gaara's house. Naruto had never really had a close friend before, and it didn't seem to be Iruka's place to tell him who he could and could not be friends with.

And for all the intentions of going against their elders that had originally prompted their "friendship," the two really did become friends. Gaara's caustic attitude gradually diminished—what sense was getting angry when it only seemed to draw the other person closer to him? Naruto told funny stories and was nothing short of entertaining, while Gaara knew of scary places to explore and exciting dares to attempt.

But kissing?

"What's the point?" Gaara asked, kicking a rock across the pavement.

Naruto scratched his head. "The point? Well, have you ever kissed anybody? And I don't mean your mom and dad."


"Exactly! We can practice with each other so we'll be prepared for when we find girls and get married."

Gaara sat down on the curb, folding his arms over his legs. "I don't want to get married."

"Why not?" Naruto asked, sitting down beside him.

"Because…my parents are married and all they do is fight."

Naruto frowned, sitting back. "Oh…Man, that sucks. But you know what?" He clapped Gaara on the shoulder. "We'll just have to find you a girl who doesn't fight, right?"

"I guess."

"And to find her, you gotta know how to kiss her. She might not stay with you if you aren't a good kisser." The doubt in Gaara's face was slowly disappearing. Smiling, Naruto continued. "If we practice, then we can definitely make sure you'll find a girl who won't fight with you, because she'll want to kiss you all the time."

"But what's so hard about kissing?"

This got Naruto really excited. "Have you seen T.V.? People kiss and use their tongues and stuff. Even some of the girls here are already doing it."

"That sounds gross, Naruto."

"Come on. If it's with me, it won't matter. We can practice at school in the bathroom, and no one will know. Pleeeease?"

"…Okay, I guess."

So the next day after they ate lunch, both of them met in the bathroom by the gym, which was perfect, because there was only one stall and people rarely used that bathroom anyway. Summer sessions were going on, but other than that, there were very few students at the school.

"This is stupid," Gaara said, as Naruto locked the door.

"Stupid?" Naruto grinned. "We haven't even tried it yet."

"Yeah, well…"

It seemed to get extremely quiet as Naruto placed his hands on either side of Gaara's face. "You ready?" he asked, face set in a serious expression which didn't quite suit him.

"Do you have to put your hands on my face?"

"Yep. It's what they do on T.V. shows."

"But doesn't the girl get her face held?"

"Fine," said Naruto, hastily dropping his hands and yet still managing a smile. "You wanna hold my face?"

"Yes," and Gaara lifted his hands, resting them carefully on Naruto's cheeks. For some reason, Naruto started giggling. Sometimes, he would just break out in laughter, typically when he was nervous. Gaara ignored him and pushed forward, their lips pressing together carelessly at first, so that Naruto yelped and pulled back.

"No, no, no," he said, wiping his mouth. "You've got it all wrong. You've got to be more gentle." Replacing his hands on Gaara's face, Naruto nodded and said, "Close your eyes," so that Gaara really had no choice but to do so, nearly jumping when he felt lips press against his own. And for a moment, it was just a little bit scary, because he thought he knew what he was getting into but that was clearly not the case. He attempted to pull back, but his head knocked against the cold metal of the stall, which was an odd contrast to the warmth of Naruto's mouth, pressing against his own strangely at first but with a gentle clumsiness. There was a lot of repositioning of faces and the question of what to do with one's hands once they finally got into something of a rhythm, but gradually, everything seemed to fall into its own semblance of place.

It was actually Gaara who was the first to try and figure out how one's tongue worked in all of this, and while it did weird them both out just a little, the feeling was not entirely unpleasant. They each took turns attempting to work it out before Naruto pulled back with a smile and said they would try again tomorrow. Iruka would be wondering where they were.

"Did you hate it?" Naruto asked later as the two walked home.

"…Not really," Gaara said. "…You?"

"…Nah…Not really."

At some point during their studies, though Gaara is unable to pinpoint exactly when, Naruto has fallen asleep. Even after all these years, the blond is still stealthy about it, leaning on his arm and propping his book up at just the right angle so as to remain unseen. What gives him away is the sudden bobbing of his head, a motion that sends his blond hair every which way, like a splattering of yellow highlighter ink.

The digital clock on the microwave reads 4:35 a.m., meaning a nap would not hurt. Then again, Gaara is unsure just how much of his reading Naruto has gotten through, but if he has gone to such extents to hide the fact that he was falling asleep, then perhaps it makes no difference. And besides, with Naruto asleep, there is no more of that uncomfortable tension muddling the silence—silence which should have been welcome and would have been were Naruto to actually keep his mouth firmly shut.

Closing his book, Gaara watches as Naruto's face, propped haphazardly on the edge of his palm, wavers, teetering there, before it finally slides onto the table, sending the pages of his book fluttering closed. It's strange, just how much he resembles his sixteen-year-old self as he dozes, his lips parted just slightly behind the curled fingers of his right hand.

"Who's that?" a voice asks, rougher than usual from sleep. Neji stands in the hallway, scratching his chest. His raven hair has almost completely escaped from its ponytail. "Is that Naruto?"

"Yes. He's studying."

A smirk just barely tilts the edge of his mouth. "In his sleep?"

"He's taking a break. I'll wake him up in an hour."

"Are you two friends?"

"We can't be friends," says Gaara, re-opening his book. "We always end up hurting each other."

Neji sighs at this, knowing it's not something to be pressed further. "Well, make sure to get some sleep yourself," he says, disappearing into the bathroom.

Once Neji has returned to his room and closed the door, Gaara puts his book back down and folds his arms, bringing his face closer to Naruto's face. The blond has been making some interesting faces, indicative of some unknown dream, and Gaara wonders just what it is that he's thinking about, whether he's in some specific moment in time, and whether it's a good one. There is just the slightest of indents on his forehead near his hairline that is much easier to see when he laughs. It matches the one on Gaara's forehead, the one he traces idly, as he is apt to do when he is thinking.

He is thinking of the carefree indulgences of childhood, when there is a lot less thinking and a lot more of just doing, and he's not quite sure whether he hates or he misses that time—just as he's not sure if he hates or he misses this boy in front of him. But he is still sure to flex his fingers so that they do not stray.

Eighth grade brought with it all the discomforts, adjustments, and embarrassmentsof puberty. It was hair growing in weird places, a lot of waking up to sticky sheets, and sudden urges that were as freaky as they were foreign. It was classes divided into groups for sex talks and trips to the mall for pants with longer in-seams.

But most of all, it was just plain awkward.

Girls had suddenly become…attractive, and there was a certain seriousness to going out with someone that was so much more than simply claiming one was boyfriend or girlfriend to the other.

If anything, the lessons in the bathroom by the gym were essential.

Naruto and Gaara continued to meet there—if not once a week, then twice—and still, there was not exactly a weirdness between them when they met, but neither was there the frivolous lack of concern that persisted the year before. It used to not really matter who was holding whose face, but now there was a mild struggle for dominance each time and a whole lot of hands pushing other hands away or pinning them to the stall door or, sometimes, though rarely, resting gently on the other's back.

Eighth grade was the weird feeling in the pit of Naruto's stomach, the anticipation he felt for those meetings. It was Gaara lightly punching Naruto just to feel him. It was Hinata stuttering wordlessly as she asked Gaara to accompany her to the movies, and a feeling like the breaking of a rule when Gaara said no.

"How come?" Naruto asked him.

"I don't like her."

"Really? I dunno. She's kind of cute."

Gaara suddenly wheeled around, his face twisted in rage. "Then you go out with her!" he yelled, stomping off to his father's car and leaving a very confused Naruto standing by the flagpole.

Eighth grade was definitely a lot of inexplicable fights that would bubble up and boil over at any time and for any reason. Typically, the reason was illogical, even when a harsh string of insults or an impromptu wrestling match seemed like the only logical reaction.

"Forget you!" Naruto had taken to saying whenever he could take no more of what he called Gaara's "sour attitude." Gaara's typical response was to glare at Naruto before running at him and pushing him to the ground, and arms would start flailing, sometimes smacking one or the other in the face, and knees would dive into stomachs, and war cries would ensue to the point that sometimes Kankurou and Temari would have to come outside and break them up.

"What on earth is with you two?" Temari said one evening, as she successfully locked Gaara's arms behind his back. "I thought you were friends."

"He started it," Naruto spat out, attempting to wriggle out of Kankurou's grip.

"Shut up, Naruto," said Gaara, licking his lip and tasting blood.

"Guys, seriously, I have shit to do." Slightly, Kankurou loosened his grasp on Naruto. "Are you two done now?"

And both boys would grumble something to the effect of "yes," and if it was satisfactory enough, the older siblings would tentatively head back to the house. Usually, after such outbursts, they were fine. It was a case of getting it out of their system, releasing some of that perpetually pent-up tension of their bodies somehow. As long as there was some sort of referee there to break them up, they would be fine.

So when Naruto came over one evening only to find that Gaara was the only one at home, it spelled out potential disaster. In fact, it was only a matter of minutes before they were on the ground out back, kneeing, slapping, and punching one another—all because Naruto wanted Gaara's opinion on some pink-haired girl he wanted to ask out.

With no one there to intervene, there were grass stains, skinned knees, and raw knuckles abound. The only choice they had was to fight until they had completely exhausted themselves, their bodies collapsing in a heap as they both struggled to catch their breath.

"Christ," Naruto panted out. "This is a new school uniform. Iruka won't be happy."

"Yeah, well, neither will my parents," Gaara said. They were laying side-by-side, arms and legs stretched out and very nearly touching, only that it seemed wrong to touch now. Naruto's laughter was suddenly spilling into the air.

"We seriously need to stop doing this."

"Then stop being stupid."

"Me?...Ah, never mind. I'm done for today. I can barely move as it is."

They lay like that for a while, staring up at the sky and the clouds which took on a purplish hue as the sun began to set. When his arm began to cramp, Naruto stretched it out further, surprised when his fingertips brushed against Gaara's. When Gaara didn't move his hand, Naruto didn't either, and their fingers glanced over each other, settling, finally, when they had intertwined.

"Maybe I won't go out with Sakura," Naruto said, breaking the silence. When Gaara didn't say anything, Naruto turned toward him, worry deepening the indent on his forehead, the scar they both shared. "What's wrong?"

It took Gaara a while to reply, to find the words to say, "I'm going to boarding school next year." His free arm came up to rest across his eyes.

"What?...Boarding school?" Something like panic was in Naruto's voice. "But why?" He could see Gaara's teeth clench, and he felt the grip on his hand tighten.

"My father wants me to."

"…Oh." It was quiet for a while before Naruto's nervous laughter erupted. "Well, it'll be okay."

"It won't."

"Yeah, it will. We'll call each other and write to each other all the time. It'll just be like we're in different classrooms is all. Really, Gaara, it'll be okay. Okay?"

When Gaara didn't answer, Naruto threw his right leg over Gaara's left leg. He succeeded in at least getting Gaara to move his arm from his face.

"What?" Gaara said impassively, his face tilted toward Naruto.

"It'll be okay."


Casting a suspicious glance in the blond's direction, Gaara watched as Naruto turned his body, throwing his left arm over Gaara's chest and pulling closer to him so that their bodies were tangled like they sometimes were in the bathroom stall. Naruto grinned at him, and Gaara turned his face away, his pulse quickening as Naruto raised up on his arms so that his face was above Gaara's face and the redhead had no choice but to look up at him.

"What are you doing?" Gaara asked, finding that his voice had become quiet, like a whisper. Naruto's chest was pressed against his own, so that it seemed as if he had not one but two hearts beating wildly against his ribcage as Naruto said, "It'll be okay," once more, his smile fading as his lips pressed softly to the boy's mouth beneath him, eyes closing as his fingertips ghosted across Gaara's cheek and onto his scalp. It should've been like any other kiss, the parting for breath and the tilting of faces—the sound like a sigh as Naruto parted Gaara's lips with his tongue, and the battle for some kind of dominance, some kind of control—except that the feeling was much different than it ever had been in the bathroom, which would be a little scary later, in retrospect, but which, for now, didn't matter at all.

They both make it to their tests and complete them with an outstanding degree of confidence, and Gaara thinks that maybe it wasn't such a bad idea to have let Naruto in—that is, until Naruto stops by no less than two weeks later. Then he knows he has made a mistake.

"Hi," Naruto says when Gaara opens the door, nervous laugh included. "I'm really sorry to bother you, but you're my last resort. Is there any way I could study for my midterms here tonight? Kiba's making out with his girlfriend again. I swear…You won't even hear me. Seriously. But I really need to study, and I can't do it in my dorm room."

Gaara's expression is flat and limp as he listens, unblinking, to Naruto's plea for help. "That's not possible," he says eventually. "Neji is having family over tonight. Moreover, I won't be here."

And then Naruto notices that Gaara is wearing a jacket and his book-bag, and Gaara can see this realization in the blond's face, so that he cannot help but mentally berate himself for being so careless, as he always seems to be, around Naruto, who asks, "Where are you headed?"

"To study."

"Really? Where?"

"The Student Union," Gaara says, wishing Naruto would take a hint but knowing this will never happen. Because he knows what Naruto is going to say next, almost as surely as he knows that he will not be able to talk his way out of it.

"Well," Naruto taps his lip, "we could go together? I mean, we both have midterms, and we seem to work well with each other and all…"

"…I suppose."

Outside, it is unusually quiet. The students that habitually crowd the streets of the campus neighborhood have divided into study groups and working spaces so that the sounds in the air are not that of fifteen different musical beats but wayward breezes and nightingales.

Gaara is waiting. He knows that, any minute now, Naruto will say something, because there's something about silence that he doesn't like. He always has to disturb it; he can never let it be.

On cue, Naruto says, "So, what have you been up to?"

"Not much." Gaara knows it is not a good sign when he hears a soft laugh beside him.

"I was surprised to find out you went here…I wasn't sure you would end up going here or not."

"Neither was I."

They both know they are treading on thin ice, but Naruto doesn't seem to care. "I missed you," he says quietly, and Gaara wants to ignore him and keep on walking, only his feet have already stopped moving.

"Naruto, don't."

"Don't what?" Naruto has also stopped and is facing Gaara with an expression he has worn many times—an expression that loiters on the edge between anger and mischief. "I'm not allowed to miss my best friend?—excuse me—former best friend? Especially after he just up and disappears?"

"And why did I do that, Naruto?" asks Gaara, raising his voice for the first time in almost two years. Taking a deep breath, he is able to calm himself, shaking his head and glancing away. It is impressive, how quickly he resets himself. "No, I'm not even going to get into it…Maybe we should head back. This is a bad idea…"

"No…You're right." Releasing an exaggerated sigh, Naruto throws his arms in the air before dropping them to his sides. "As always, you're the voice of reason. I won't say anything else." When he starts walking, Gaara hesitantly follows, surprised to find how strongly his fists are clenched and how firmly they tighten when Naruto says, very seriously: "Can I ask you just one thing?"

Gaara knows that the question, whatever it is, is going to hurt, just as he knows that he is going to wish he had not answered it. But he also knows that if he does not comply with Naruto's request, he is always going to be wondering just what it is that the blond wanted to know.

"When we're finished with midterms," he replies.

"…That's fair."

Naruto and Gaara did not meet again until their sophomore year of high school.

Their attempts at correspondence worked out in the beginning, with each slipping a letter into a blue mailbox once a week or picking up the phone to call, but life gradually got in the way. When it came to replying to a letter or completing an assignment, it was much easier to put the letter off, and trying to catch one another at home via telephone turned out to be anything but easy. At some point, the letters and the phone calls stopped, both boys telling themselves they would get to it eventually, even though they knew that they would probably never get to it.

When Naruto heard that Gaara would be attending Konoha High, he was at once both excited and nervous. Of course, he missed him, but he wondered if they hadn't missed one another somewhere along the way. Because Gaara, when Naruto spotted him in the hallway and waved him over, was different.

It was just barely perceptible, but he didn't seem so very…extreme anymore, not so prone to random bouts of anger—to the point that their first meeting was uncomfortable at best, because it almost felt as if Naruto was meeting another person entirely.

"So…you're back?" he asked. "For good?"

"Yes," Gaara replied.

"Well, great! We can hang out again and catch up. Since you're new, you probably don't know very many people here. I mean, some people came over from our elementary school, but there's a lot of new kids."

When Gaara didn't show any type of enthusiasm whatsoever, Naruto began to wonder if that year apart had really made them too different after all. But as time passed, and as they both re-acclimated to one another, they steadily mended the fracture that had made its way into their bond. This did not mean that things were precisely as they once were, because they really had grown into slightly different versions of themselves.

Naruto was actually popular, gaining the favor his fellow classmates with his clownish ways. He was always getting into some sort of trouble and being sent to the principal's office one way or another. Gaara was his exact opposite, a quiet student who dressed in dark clothes and sometimes painted his fingernails black. He did not like Naruto's friends and expressed such sentiments openly. In a world of cliques and social hierarchies, they should not have gotten along. But, like during their childhood, it may have been the fact that everyone around them was telling them they were from two different worlds that made them want to prove them all wrong.

It took a few weeks to dispel the general peculiarity between them, but this itself was a challenge—one they addressed by spending time at each other's house (again, to their families' slight dismay). Naruto found that he rather liked Gaara's quiet demeanor, because it made him an excellent listener, and Gaara could not deny that the blond was anything less than amusing, to say the least—a fact which he kept to himself. They experimented together, choking on cigarette smoke in Gaara's bathroom or waking up to terrible headaches after a night of drinking, but for all the trouble these activities caused, they found that they much more preferred just spending time together, even when an unspoken question would at times arise in their minds, a question of what they were or could be.

They never brought up that particular element of their past; it seemed a taboo subject that could shatter the perfection they were steadily achieving. Besides, there were words like "phases"—cold words—and the issue of growing out of something while the other person does not.

Sophomore year was the overwhelming question of what the world might think.

It was Naruto's mild preoccupation with curse words, and sparkling, themed dances. It was the sudden death of a student at the end of the year that, for some reason, really seemed to weigh heavily on Naruto's mind.

The cause was a boating accident, and students were let out early so that they had the opportunity to attend the funeral. Naruto just wanted to go home, so Gaara suggested that they spend time at his house. They ended up doing homework instead, and Naruto didn't say a word that entire afternoon.

"Did you know her?" Gaara asked, switching off the lamp by his bed as Naruto pulled his pants off and slid under the covers.



"I mean…I had seen her around and stuff, but I didn't know her." Folding his arms behind his head, Naruto smiled sadly up at the ceiling. "I don't know, I just…It just got me thinking is all. About death and stuff, and about my parents. Death is stupid."

Gaara looked at Naruto and then away. "Yes."

"Hey, Gaara?"


"Don't you dare die on me." Gaara turned his face toward him, and Naruto met his eyes. In the dark, it was difficult to tell if the faint shimmer on the blond's cheek was actually tears. "I'm serious, you better live forever."


"Nope, goodnight." Grabbing his pillow under his ear, Naruto turned, clearing his throat and leaving Gaara to stare at his back for a while. He had a feeling there was something he should have said, but he didn't quite know how to say it.

When Naruto opened his eyes, it took him a moment to realize that he had been asleep, though he was unsure just how long had passed—an hour or only a few minutes? Rolling over activated the springs in the bed so that they sounded like gentle plucks on the strings of a guitar, but Gaara seemed undisturbed, his side rising and falling with the rhythmic motions of sleep. Gaara's back was to him, but, then again, they always slept with their backs to one another, as if anything else would have been wrong. His shoulder blade just barely poked through the white fabric of his shirt, and his pale neck seemed to glow. And maybe they had been on to something, because Naruto couldn't quite stop himself when he raised his hand, his fingers lighting softly on Gaara's shoulder and tracing his arm down to his elbow in an unbroken motion.

"Naruto, what are you doing?" Gaara asked, his voice flat and unreadable. And though Naruto should have felt extremely embarrassed, he did not.

He felt mysteriously…calm, as he turned so that their backs were where they should be, uttering a diffident, "Nothing," so that it was Gaara who broke the rule and turned toward Naruto's back with an inscrutable expression, and Gaara who pulled on Naruto's shoulder so that they were again facing one another, and it was Gaara who leaned down and initiated the kiss even when Naruto was already pressing up to meet him. And it was Gaara who held Naruto's face with both hands, kissing the boy beneath him until they were both breathing heavily and moving against one another, Naruto's fingers digging into Gaara's hips as Gaara's hands began to tremble. Because it was Gaara in the end who unfastened the button on Naruto's shorts, and Gaara who slid his hand into them as Naruto threw an arm over his eyes, arching up and into that hand until he came.

And it was Gaara who the next morning said only, "Please don't hate me," before the tears began streaming endlessly down to his chin, regardless of Naruto's attempts to console him.

The two weeks of intense studying in the Student Union go by much more smoothly and much more quickly than either anticipates. Because they are there so often, no one else ever takes the pair of chairs situated in the corner by the reference desk. And there's something more, something unexpected. They find they share a class—Macroeconomics—and so they can help one another even if they are in different sections of the course.

And occasionally, when one of them can't keep their eyes open, they are content to take a nap, because they know they will be woken up in precisely forty minutes. Gaara can sleep sitting up in his chair, his face tilted back slightly, but Naruto is a little different. Gaara has to be careful, because Naruto's head has a habit of sliding inch by inch off the chair as he dozes, until it comes to rest on Gaara's shoulder and Gaara has to push him away.

Every night, Naruto comes to pick Gaara up, and in the wee hours of the morning when they part, there is always a moment of uncertainty, as if someone is holding down a key on a piano rather than finishing the song.

On the night before their exams, when they have both gathered their belongings and have exited the Student Union, Gaara turns toward Naruto with an expression that is not as blank as it usually is. "Good luck," he says.

"You too," says Naruto, smiling.

Several hours later, they tackle each exam with confidence that would have been a little more solid were they to have been sitting side-by-side, like they have done every night for the past two weeks. And while he doesn't want to admit it, Gaara is a little bit relieved when Naruto shows up at his door later that night, just as he is also a little bit troubled. Naruto doesn't have any books with him; he's only wearing a jacket, and he laughs nervously when Gaara opens the door. "Can we talk?" he asks.

Outside, the humdrum rivalry of musical beats has resumed as students celebrate their momentary freedom from exams.

"It does feel good to be done," Naruto says, sitting down on a curb.

Gaara remains standing, saying, "For now." He puts his hands in the pockets of his coat and kicks a small rock by the sole of his shoe. "You were going to ask me something?"

"Yeah…" Naruto is playing with one of the drawstrings for his hood. "…Did you mean what you said…Before you left?"

"I'm not answering that."

Naruto drops the frayed thread and looks up at Gaara. "Fine. Then…did you miss me when you left?" And suddenly he can't seem to meet those impassive eyes. "…Even a little?"


"You said you'd answer."

"You have to ask?" Gaara says, the tone of his voice meandering somewhere in the realm of repressed aggravation. Sighing, he finally sits beside Naruto. "Yes. I missed you."

"Oh yeah?" Suddenly, Naruto can't help but smile. "Huh…Well, maybe we can be friends this time."


When Naruto's hands come to rest beside him on the curb, the fingers of his right hand dip into all the little spaces of Gaara's left hand, and while it is purely coincidental, Gaara still withdraws both of his hands to his pockets. "What's wrong?" Naruto asks.

"I'm just waiting for it."


Gaara is looking up toward the stars. "The moment when everything goes wrong."

"Maybe it won't."


"Maybe it'll all be okay."

"Yeah. I've heard that before."

The summer between sophomore and junior year consisted of some of the highest temperatures that Konoha had ever experienced. As a result, there was a significant increase in road trips to the beach, hearts and hormones buzzing.

The only discussion that ever took place in regard to what had happened in Gaara's bed was a short, offhanded comment courtesy of Naruto that attributed it to self-gratification, and it was probably the blond's blasé attitude about the whole thing that kept it going. Only if he were to have examined the situation a little more closely and a little more honestly, he would have been able to see that there was a lot more going on than just "self-gratification." Nonetheless, it became something they did every so often, something that just seemed to happen, and to keep happening.

Gaara's insomnia also began that summer, and no amount of medication or relaxation techniques seemed to work.

"The doctor told me that there must be something weighing on my mind," Gaara said, when Naruto asked how things were going.

"What could be weighing on your mind?"

That summer also bore witness to the introduction of two unexpected elements: Konohamaru and Sasuke. While Sasuke would really only become a significant problem later, Konohamaru was trouble right off the bat.

There was a period of about three weeks when Konohamaru came to visit, and for all of Naruto's hyperactivity, Konohamaru had three times as much. It would not have been so much of a problem if the boy didn't have so much of a problem with Gaara.

"Why do we have to go over there again?" he would whine, whenever Naruto said they were going to drop by Gaara's house for a moment, and, "Don't tell me he's—oh no, Naruto, is he coming over again?" whenever Naruto informed him that it would be Gaara stopping by.

"Weirdo," Konohamaru mumbled under his breath as he was forced to open the door once Gaara had arrived.

However, Gaara never said anything mean back, or at least not directly. Each time he would open the door to one of Konohamaru's quiet insults, he would look at Naruto and ask, "How much longer is he going to be here?" in that tone which Konohamaru hated because the monotone still perfectly conveyed his sentiments.

But what really bothered him was the night before he had to leave, when he and Naruto sat watching T.V., and the phone rang, and who else could it have been but Gaara, especially considering how fast Naruto jumped up to grab it.

"You're really friends with that guy?" Konohamaru asked when Naruto returned, digging his hand into the popcorn bowl.

"Yeah," Naruto laughed. "He's my best friend."

"I thought I was your best friend!"

"You're my really-really-good friend. Besides, I've known him longer."

"That's stupid," said Konohamaru, crossing his arms and slamming his back, purposefully, against the back of the couch. "He's weird. I think he likes you or something."

When silence persisted, Konohamaru realized that Naruto was staring at him indecipherably, as if in deep thought, but just what about that comment required deep thought?

Needless to say, Gaara was more than relieved when it was Naruto who opened the door next time he came by.

That summer was also Naruto's harebrained idea that they try something different, only it was Gaara's turn to very nearly release a nervous chuckle as he listened to the blond's description of how sex between two males worked. "I read about it in great detail, and it didn't really seem too complicated."

Gaara's face had completely deadpanned. "You read about it."

"Yeah. Online."

"And one of us is supposed to put…that…there…"


"I don't think so."

"Why not?" Naruto asked, hitching his shoulders up a fraction. "We've pretty much done everything else."

"Naruto," Gaara had yet to blink, "there is a big difference between a hand in someone's pants, and…no. Just no." And that was the first time Naruto had ever seen Gaara so…ruffled. "Self-gratification is one thing, but…no."

But less than a week later when Naruto spent the night at Gaara's house, they tried it.

To say their attempts were a total failure would be a gross understatement. They took turns being the one "on top," and it just didn't work. It was way too awkward, and way too painful, and there was way too much slipping off of one another and trying to figure out who and what should go where so that they made the collective decision to stop.

"…Yeah," Naruto said afterward, staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling—a rare testament to Gaara's childhood. "About that…"

"I knew it was a bad idea."

"Well, it wasn't really that bad—"

"Naruto, there is no way I'm going to let you do that to me again."

Naruto started laughing then—so hard that tears collected in his eyes. "That was seriously weird," he said as he laughed. "Talk about a bad idea." And he continued to laugh until someone—probably Kankurou—banged a fist on the wall upstairs. "Whoops…Well, I guess we better get some sleep."


"Hey, Gaara?"

"I'm trying to sleep, Naruto."

"I know, I know, but I just have a quick question."


"What do you think love is?"

Gaara opened his eyes. "…What?"

"I mean, what's your concept of it? Do you even think it exists?"

Gaara thought for a moment, and then said, "Yes…Why? What do you think it is?"

"Well," Naruto raised his eyebrows, crossing his arms over his chest, "I think it's when you're with someone, and everything is just…perfect, you know? Everything works itself out, and there are no arguments, and you would do anything for the other person—to make them happy…No questions about it. It's like you're not a whole person without that person…What about you?"

Lying silently for a moment, Gaara closed his eyes. "I think love is a lot of pain and suffering and getting your heart broken. And don't forget about arguments. It's plenty of those, too."

"Well, that's morbid."

"In your opinion."

"We disagree."

"What's new?"

The very next day, Naruto looked at Gaara very seriously and told him that he was thinking of asking Sakura out. When he described her as someone he could fall in love with, listing all of her great qualities, Gaara punched him. Hard. But as Naruto rubbed his reddening cheek and looked at the redhead whose fist still shook by his side, it was almost as if he expected the outburst, because he did not get angry like he used to. He just stared at Gaara, who was now a trembling mass as he stared back and tried to maintain some resemblance of a glare.

"I hate you," Gaara said.

Naruto smiled sadly. "I wish you really did."

Gaara is in his room trying to find his headphones when there is a knock at the front door. Because Naruto is in the kitchen and thus closer, he goes to see who it is.

"Ano…" Lilac eyes struggle to meet his as Naruto looks down at Hinata, a girl he has always been in school with, only her hair is no longer short. The wispy black strands fall down to her shoulders, framing her flushed face. "Na-Naruto! It's good to…to see you. Gaara said you might—might be here." She lifts her hands, and resting on her palms is a plate of chocolate chip cookies protected beneath a thin layer of red plastic wrap. "Could…could you please give these to him? I—I made extra so…thank you!"

And then she's gone, like a ninja or something, and Naruto is holding the plate of cookies with a puzzled expression on his face. He is like that when Gaara comes back with his headphones, when Gaara asks, "Who was it?"


They stand there staring at one another, because there is something about the way Naruto has said her name that spells out a familiar probability of danger. Finally, Gaara says, "What did she want?"

"She made cookies." Naruto extends the plate. "These are the extras."

"I see." Taking the plate, Gaara sits it on the kitchen table.

"She's Neji's sister, isn't she?"

Gaara glances at Naruto and then begins shuffling through the mail on the counter, pulling out letters addressed to him. "You couldn't tell?"

"Are you two dating?"

"Please don't start, Naruto."

Naruto raises his hand in some sort of mock defense. "What?" He's closer to Gaara now, standing a few feet away so that his hip touches the edge of the table. "It's just a question."

"And what if I am?" Gaara asks, tiredly, pulling another letter out of the stack for himself. "I don't see how it's any of your concern…If anything, you should be happy," he says, looking up from the mail to match Naruto's cold blue eyes. And while Gaara knows that he really should stop, this knowledge alone is what prompts him to continue. "With her, I would never have to worry about fights or arguments. She could be my other half. Everything would be just…perfect." His eyes have narrowed, but Naruto's fuming demeanor is perfectly clear. "Such a face," Gaara continues in a patronizing tone. "Don't you think she's someone I could fall in love with?"

Naruto lurches forward, fingers twisting in Gaara's collar as he pushes him to the nearest wall. The envelopes glide to the floor. This is the angriest Gaara has ever seen him, a fact which is satisfyingly painful.

"You," Naruto grits out, and Gaara closes his eyes as he waits to be punched, wondering how much it's going to hurt. Only it does not hurt at all, because Naruto kisses him, and Gaara tries to stop Naruto at first, but it is only a half-hearted gesture. He does not want Naruto to stop.

It is a kiss that lingers on each of their lips as Naruto pulls away, letting go of Gaara's collar and taking a step back. "Sorry," he says quietly.

"…It's okay," Gaara replies, straightening his shirt. "We're both to blame."

Naruto leans against the opposite wall, and when he looks at the ceiling, there is a part of him that wants to find plastic stars. "Why do we always do this to each other?"

Gaara is also looking at the ceiling. "I suppose…because if we didn't fight, we would do something else."

Sasuke proved to be somewhat of an issue during their junior year of high school, to put it mildly. His very existence put a wrench in Naruto's plans, because Sakura seemed to float around the new student as if he were some planet that she had no choice but to orbit.

That year, Gaara decided to get a tattoo. He wanted the symbol for "Love" imprinted on his forehead in black ink, describing it as something he had had on his mind for a while. Naruto was welcome to join him in the venture, if he wished. And though their relationship had not quite yet mended completely following their latest blowup, he wanted Naruto to be there with him when he got it. Gaara's father, not really caring too much what he did, allowed it.

"Yeah, I'll go," Naruto said. But after some consideration, he absolutely refused to get one as well. "It might be weird. Matching tattoos? Nah, I'll pass."

He couldn't quite explain why he burst into tears when Gaara actually got it—not to Gaara or himself at first. Gaara's attempts to find out were met with headshakes and silence.

It was Gaara who was responsible for introducing Sasuke into their group. With Naruto steadily pulling away from him, there was room for him to realize just how alike he and Sasuke were. And he had to admit—Sasuke's outright disparaging remarks to and about Naruto were a breath of fresh air. Of course, Naruto hated him, and that made Gaara all the more eager to invite Sasuke along when they went out.

With Naruto's new "fascination," as Gaara chose to call the girl with bubblegum hair, and the occasional addition of Sasuke to their extracurricular activities, there was no more fooling around with one another. That facet of their relationship just stopped. On occasion, one of them would very nearly initiate it, before banishing such thoughts and going to bed. It got to the point where they couldn't even spend the night at each other's house anymore.

The effect on their social life was apparent. They were extremely tense with one another and prone to mouthing off without warning. Whenever it even started to get heated, Sasuke would state, firmly, "Take it to another room"—five words which Naruto and Gaara would practically be able to predict by the end of the school year. And there was something else, a competition which began to manifest in the form of a rivalry for Sasuke's attention, because that was an indirect hit with its own sting, and it was easier to hurt each other than to admit they wanted to spend time together.

Sakura was another point of conflict. As the weeks went by, she started spending more and more time with Naruto so that he spent less and less time with Gaara, and while her sudden interest didn't make that much sense, Naruto surely wasn't going to question it. And suddenly it was Gaara who always had some kind of comment about her, and Naruto who chose to ignore him, until one night it was the wrong comment, the wrong face, the wrong tone of voice, the wrong everything, and one of them threw a punch, and it didn't matter who did it, because the other would have as well, and then there's a lot of grunting, a lot of body parts slamming into each other, and a lot of I hate yous, and they're just lucky it had to happen on the one night Iruka had gone out to dinner with his coworkers.

When Naruto finally had Gaara pinned to the ground with one arm—the other arm drawn back and ready to crash into Gaara's jaw and maybe even break it, that's how mad he was—he didn't know why, but he had the sudden urge to cry. Maybe it was something about the way Gaara was staring up at him, arms thrown out at his sides as if he was just asking him to do it, and now that Gaara wanted this, Naruto knew he couldn't do it.

"Well," he said, releasing his hand to the ground, "we know just how to hurt each other, don't we?"

Gaara closed his eyes, flinching when Naruto kissed him, a soft, languid gesture that was the antithesis of their scuffle, a gesture which Gaara increasingly reciprocated, and one that hearkened back to that day in Gaara's backyard. And for all of Naruto's talk of self-gratification, it never went there. It was enough to simply kiss, and to simply be there.

"I'm thinking of leaving," Gaara said when Naruto pulled back, and at first, the blond wasn't sure he had heard him correctly.

"What are you talking about?" he asked, sitting up.

Gaara remained on the ground, looking up toward the rough paint strokes on the ceiling. "I'm thinking of going back to boarding school."

"What?—No, you can't."


"Well, because…" Naruto laughed nervously. "We've always been together…All of us."

"All of us?"

"Well, yeah. You, me…Sasuke, and Sakura—"

"Sakura only hangs out with you to be closer with Sasuke."

"Maybe for now, but—"

"You don't get it, do you?" Gaara's voice was listless, lifeless, and it seemed wrong when he then said "I love you" with such a voice.

Naruto didn't respond, mostly, because he didn't know what to say, and he was afraid that if he said anything, it would be the wrong thing. When Gaara got up and left, he sat there for a while, thinking, going over their conversation and replaying those last three words, and each time, there was a mass that grew larger in his throat until he knew he would have to do something to take his mind off it all or he wasn't sure what he would do.

Grabbing the small plastic package off his dresser, he ripped off the top and spilled the glowing plastic stars on the floor. One by one, he selected them, pressing the mounting squares onto their backs before pushing them onto the ceiling, and by the time he was finished, he knew what he had to do.

Later he would hate himself for waiting until morning, because by then it would be too late. By then, Gaara would already be gone.

Naruto and Gaara sit in the pavilion outside the dorm complex. They occupy a wooden picnic table, which Naruto sits on top of, resting his feet on the seat as he nibbles on one of the cookies. Gaara sits beside him, but on the actual seat, and they are divided by several inches. Above, the clouds have begun fading into their customary lavender.

"I'm sorry," Naruto says, brushing his hands on his pants.

"I said I was fine."

"No, I mean…for all I've done to you. I've been a real ass."

"That's an understatement."

"Seriously, though. There's no excuse." Naruto frowns. "Everyone was always telling me to stay away from you, but maybe they had it backwards."

Their eyes meet for a moment, before Gaara looks back towards the concrete. "I forgive you," he says. "I'm sorry, too."

"What for? You didn't do anything."

Gaara splits apart a cookie, tossing a small crumb over to a foraging pigeon. "For breaking your arm."

Naruto laughs. "Yeah, why did you do that?"

"I was a violent child."

"That's an understatement."

Gaara gives him a sideways glace, tossing another piece of cookie to the bird. "Anyway, it's obviously been some time ago, but if I remember correctly, it was because you smiled at me."

"You broke my arm because I smiled at you?" Naruto asks in slight disbelief.

"Yes. I took it as a threat."

"Huh. Maybe you were on to something…" It's quiet again, for a minute or two. "Looking back now, do you hate the things we did?"

"…Not really," says Gaara, rubbing his hands to rid them of any leftover crumbs. "…You?"

"…Nah…Not really." Without explanation, Naruto jumps off the table, scaring the pigeons that have collected so that they flap their wings furiously but don't fly away. When he sits back down, he takes the open space next to Gaara, who, for once, doesn't seem to mind the closeness.

"Maybe you were right about love," Naruto says, tapping his fingers silently on the chipped paint of the seat. Gaara looks at him with unreadable eyes, and it's Naruto who won't meet his gaze. "Maybe it is a lot of pain and hurting each other—and arguments, plenty of arguments. Maybe…it's feeling lost for two years when your best friend goes off to boarding school…" Naruto's fingernails chip away at the paint until Gaara places a hand over his, stilling him. "Maybe your parents fought all the time because they were just trying to make things work. And that's not always easy, that's for sure—not with someone you really want to be with."

Naruto looks down at his hand, watching as Gaara's fingers slide into his palm, and, for just for a moment, he can't tell whose hand is whose.

"Maybe you're on to something," Gaara says.

As they sit in silence and the sky begins to deepen into a rich indigo, tiny stars beginning sprouting, one by one, as if someone is picking them up and placing them there, and for once, neither of them feels the need to say anything. It is enough to simply be there.

"Let's room together next year," Naruto says, a soft smile on his face and in his voice.

"All we'll do is fight."

"Well…that's love, isn't it?"

This really saddened me at some points, which I wasn't really expecting. In retrospect, I was trying to go for realism, and in real life, people hurt each other. Not the happiest ending, I suppose, but hopeful. I wasn't about to slap a happily-ever-after on it. The whole story idea came about after my roommate just kept making out with her girlfriend when I was trying to write a paper. I'm all about spreading love in the world, but…when I'm three feet away…eheh.

Thanks so much for reading.