Sasuke kept his face expressionless, but his heart hammered thunderously, traitorously in his chest. He knew his close proximity to Sakura would give him away instantly, and that it already had, if the knowing gleam in her expressive green eyes was any indication. She looked up at him with a gaze that managed to combine incredulity with innocence, passion with fear, excitement with naivete.

This seemed to be the moment, then. Sasuke, if he had to be honest with himself, knew that it was a long time coming. It would be a surprise to no one except perhaps Sakura, what was about to transpire between the two of them. It also seemed fitting, that they would stand before one another in these precious first minutes after graduation, celebrating the end of an era as just friends, and beginning their future as something more.

She was stunning in her white cap and gown, long pink hair loose and curling slightly at the ends, her bangs pulled back to hide nothing of her flawless face. Green eyes framed by long, black eyelashes that tangled at the corners, a delicate nose and two pink lips, the bottom one marginally fuller than the top, her skin pale and almost luminescent in the early evening light. She looked up at him with those shimmering eyes that could hide nothing, and he was powerless to stop his hands, rising slowly towards her slim hips, as he took a step towards her...

"OI! TEME!" A jubilant, ear-shattering shout broke the moment. Before Sasuke's eyes, the wonder in Sakura's expression vanished, replaced effortlessly and immediately by irritation and amusement, an expression she reserved for...

"Naruto you jackass," Sasuke snapped, with much more venom than the situation called for, considering his dimwitted best friend's ignorance as to what he had just heinously interrupted.

"WE GRADUATED!" Naruto bellowed, as though it were news to Sasuke. All around them their friends chuckled and rolled their eyes; Naruto's antics were nothing new, and if anything, his childish excitement only made him more endearing. He slung an arm around Sasuke's shoulder and was promptly rebuffed, only to redirect his attention to the pink-haired valedictorian standing strangely close to Sasuke.

"Sakura-chan you were great!" Naruto crowed. He seized her, lifting her clean off her feet, and spun her around in a circle while she giggled and protested halfheartedly. "We all knew you'd be valedictorian! Congratulations, I'm so proud of you!"

Now firmly on her feet again, Sakura smiled. "Thanks, Naruto. But it would've been Shikamaru, if he had actually applied himself." Here she spared Shikamaru a teasing wink, and he sighed.

"Troublesome woman, you deserved it."

Beside Shikamaru was a glowing Ino, holding her honors diploma with her eyes full of tears.

"I can't believe it's...over," she sighed dramatically.

"Hardly," Kiba snorted. "Most of us are going to Konoha U, right? We're stuck together for the next four years!"

"That's not the point, dogbreath!" Ino's voice had lost its dreamy quality and was now injected with all the heat and venom she could produce. Sakura giggled at her best friend and quickly hugged her.

"I know what you mean, Ino-pig," she said. "But we still have the summer, right? Plenty of time, plenty of opportunities, and we can't let them go to waste."

Over Ino's shoulder, Sakura's eyes flickered up to lock with Sasuke's. He felt a shiver rocket through his spine at the double meaning behind her words. Scoffing slightly, at what he did not know, he shoved his hands into his pockets, badtempered and frustrated over things he could not possibly understand.

"Ex-Excuse me," Hinata piped up, and she promptly blushed when everyone looked at her. "B-But Sarutobi-sensei n-needs our g-graduation caps and g-g-gowns back n-now."

"Hinata-chan!" Naruto shouted. He swept her up in a one-armed hug that made her pink cheeks flush scarlet. "We did it, Hinata-chan! We graduated! Can you believe it?"

"She's gonna faint, Naruto," Kiba muttered.

"No she's not, she's...Hinata-chan? HINATA-CHAN!"

Sakura rolled her eyes as she stripped off her cap and gown, revealing a white cotton dress beneath it. Sasuke fought very hard against the sight of such an innocent-looking garment, and how very impossibly cute he found Sakura to be wearing it. She gave her long pink hair a shake, bangs falling back into place on the forehead she had long since grown into and she smiled a mile wide.

"Ino-pig," she said suddenly, the smile turning suddenly mischievous. "Why don't we take a road trip?"

"Eh?" Ino asked, attention caught at the promise of a pointless adventure. "Road trip? Road trip where?"

"Anywhere," Sakura replied breathlessly. "Let's just...let's just go."

"Sweet!" Kiba shouted. He wrapped an arm around Sakura's shoulders that Sasuke suddenly wanted to snap off. "When do we leave?"

Ino stared hard into Sakura's eyes and was able to read something in there that Sasuke simply could not grasp. The two best friends shared a connection that he almost envied. There was so much about Sakura that Sasuke did not know, and so much that Ino knew without even trying.

"You're not leaving anywhere," Ino said rudely to Kiba. She primped the less-sweet, more-revealing white dress she had been wearing beneath her gown. "We're leaving tonight. You, too, Hinata-chan," she added quickly to the girl now stirring in Naruto's arms.

"W-What?" Hinata stammered in surprise.

"We're going on a road trip. Girls only." Ino's blue eyes now reflected the same dreaminess and mischief that glowed in Sakura's. "Now let's take these stupid pictures for our families, get our shit packed up, and get the hell out of here!"

Sasuke did not like the idea of Sakura leaving on a road trip by herself.

He told her so.

"I'm not gonna be by myself, Sasuke-kun," she replied, and she smiled winningly at the flashing cameras of her friends' parents. "Ino-pig and Hinata-chan are coming, too."

"Tch," he scoffed. He would not pose for this pointless photo shoot, but he didn't move away from the group all the same, something he considered a compromise. "Even less comforting."

The more he thought about it, the more the concept offended him. He could just picture it. Sakura, breathtakingly beautiful and frustratingly naive, suckered into one of Yamanaka's half-cocked manhunts while the Hyuuga oddity stuttered and fainted in the background. Who the hell was supposed to keep an eye on her?

"Don't go," Sasuke said.

Sakura looked up at him and he for the life of him could not read the emotion on her face.

"Why?" she asked finally.

Because it's too dangerous.

Because you're too naive.

Because I'd miss you.

Because I like you.

Because I...

"Because you're annoying."

Sakura sighed, then smiled, then stood on tiptoe to kiss Sasuke on the cheek. He froze at the contact, semiaware that Naruto's uncle Jiraiya had managed a snapshot of the moment, and promptly forgot about that when Sakura breathed her next words into his ear.

"Then come and find me, Sasuke-kun."

Her voice was warm, sweet honey and it electrified every nerve and neuron in his body. He turned to face her, and caught only a private, knowing smile on her face before, with a flip of her thick pink hair, she disappeared into the crowd of celebrating students.