Author: Annie Sparklecakes PM
AU. She had been a 5 on the scale for too long: not pretty, not ugly, just Sakura. That was, until Kiba strolled into her life and proclaimed her a 10. But what’s the price to pay for beauty, and is it worth it? Sakura's not so sure.Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama - Sakura H. & Kiba I. - Chapters: 8 - Words: 27,755 - Reviews: 313 - Favs: 263 - Follows: 136 - Updated: 04-27-09 - Published: 01-05-09 - Status: Complete - id: 4772102
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
So, the last chapter! I really enjoyed writing this chapter, actually. See if you can catch all the parallels between this and the first :D As always, because this is the last chapter, please tell me what you liked or didn't, what worked, what didn't. I'd love comments on the pacing and the writing style – I've never written such little humor ;) Thank you to all who read and reviewed! You guys are amazing.
This chapter's for illusioned, who's sixteen today, and was actually a good reviewer when it came to this fic. I'm very proud of her.
One Month Later
It was warm out. The sun was beating down on Sakura's bare arms and legs as she trotted down the steps of the North Building.
It was Thursday, and she had Organic Chemistry in a few minutes, all the way at the other end of the campus, in Sarutobi Hall. She was going to be late. Sakura was never late.
Even so, she slowed when she saw the three boys – she vaguely recognized them from her Psychology labs – lounging on one of the low stone benches lining the sidewalk, only half-heartedly pretending to read their textbooks. They looked up as Sakura passed, and she held her breath.
For a moment they stared at her, not speaking. Then, they turned back to their textbooks without a word. Sakura passed them stiffly and when she rounded the corner, she felt herself smile.
"You're in a good mood," Ino observed when Sakura slid into the booth at the pizzeria. The plain cheese pie was hot and waiting, and Sakura reached for a slice eagerly.
"I am, I suppose," Sakura said around a mouthful of sauce and dough. Ino made a face at the sight.
"Nothing," Sakura said honestly. Ino rolled her eyes at her, not understanding, and exhaled gustily.
These things didn't change overnight, Sakura knew. But she, Ino, and a lot of other girls had started it by going around campus and rating raters. Embarrassed, all those people who had once rated for fun were beginning to stop. True, Sakura still sometimes got her fives – even, on occasion, a six – but it didn't bother her as much as it once did. Nothing made her happier than no rating, though.
"Fine, don't tell me." Ino took a thoughtful sip of her Coke. "Naruto and Sasuke haven't been joining us lately," she observed, eyes boring into Sakura's. "Do you know why?"
This, too, Sakura could answer truthfully, to – at least more or less. "Sasuke hasn't been in school much. I guess Naruto's been hanging around with his other friends."
"Maybe," Ino said with a shrug. "I kinda thought maybe you were going out with him secretly."
Sakura kept her expression carefully neutral. "Naruto? Nah. Blondes are too high-maintenance for me."
In response, Ino flicked her straw wrapper at her, and Sakura laughed. "No, smartass," she said, "I meant you and Sasuke. You were always together."
"We've been over this, Ino," Sakura said tiredly. Ino was never one to let things go; she seemed to be hoping that Sakura would eventually give her a different reply. "He just wasn't my type."
Ino frowned. She was, Sakura knew, always looking for happily-ever-afters. That was how Ino worked. Sakura stared across the parlor at the table Sasuke had sat at with his friends the first day they bumped into each other there. It was strange how the same setting, the same situation, could change so dramatically over a period of time. Sakura wasn't the only one that was different.
"You made such a pretty couple, though." She sighed. "That really sucks."
Sakura didn't answer. She had nothing to say.
It wasn't like Sakura hadn't tried to speak to Sasuke. She hadn't been able to reach him for a week following Danzo's arrest, during which he got out on bail and refused to speak to the press. Sakura wondered if Sasuke was upset by the news, but when she finally met up with him, he didn't seem affected by it.
"Where have you been?" she had asked as they walked, slowly, to class. She was watching him closely, but Sasuke stared straight ahead, expression blank.
"Looking for my brother," Sasuke said. His shoulders sank in a heavy sigh, and he suddenly looked very tired. "I can't find him anywhere."
Frustration was radiating off him in waves, and Sakura suddenly felt – irrationally, she knew – guilty, for having met with his brother when Sasuke himself couldn't. Maybe she could have done something to help them meet.
"I'm sorry," she said. Then, after a moment's hesitation, she added, "Can I help?"
"You can take notes for me in Sociology," he said. "I'm going to be missing a lot of lectures."
"Looking for Itachi?"
They fell silent then, drawing ever nearer to the classroom. Sakura still hadn't said any of the things she had been wanting to.
"Sasuke, I—" Sakura broke off, unsure of how to continue. Sasuke glanced at her, one eyebrow cocked, and she licked her lips, measuring out her words carefully. "I used to like you."
Sasuke paused, then slowly turned to look at her. He looked bemused. Well, Sakura thought, it was a very sudden, very odd proclamation. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment, but she continued:
"I know, I know. This is random and dumb and why would you care, right? But, I don't know, I thought I'd say it anyway. Just – I did all that stuff for you – at least at the beginning. Even Kiba realized it. And I – I wanted to tell you so long ago, how I felt, but we didn't know each other and—"
Sakura took a breath. Sasuke continued to stare at her, and she deflated. This wasn't going at all the way she had imagined it. She wanted to tell Sasuke how he had hurt her, and how she had been at fault, too.
Sakura had realized, sometime while she was out rating guys in rebellion with a small army of friends, that they weren't the only ones in the wrong. Yes, rating was more common around the male half of Konoha U, but girls did it, too. Girls like Sakura herself.
After all, she had barely known Sasuke before – she had even admitted it to him. Yet she had fallen for him, and why? Because he was gorgeous. Sakura had always, privately, considered Sasuke a perfect ten, even while she regarded ratings with such disdain. She had been such a hypocrite.
But no more. Sasuke was still good-looking, but Sakura knew him better, now. And while he did sweet things for her, he didn't hold that same appeal he once had.
Sakura blinked. "Huh?"
"I knew," Sasuke repeated. "About your feelings for me."
"…Oh." Sakura suddenly felt very small. "Well, then—"
She cut off, suddenly remembering the ways that Sasuke had twisted her feelings so she would do as they asked. She suddenly felt very used, and she stepped back, eyes widening.
"Sasuke," she said, swallowing. "If I hadn't had any feelings for you in the beginning, would you still have done all that?"
"Yes," he said immediately. Her expression didn't change, and he added, "I wasn't manipulating you, Sakura. I didn't want you hurt."
She didn't know if she believed that.
Sakura looked away. "We're going to be late," she said, hurrying her pace and leaving him behind, watching her.
But that had been a while ago, and Sakura didn't want to dwell on it now. She had more pressing things to attend to. Such as final exams.
Her Psychology professor had a study guide in the bookstore for their upcoming exam. "It's only necessary if you want to pass," he had said, so Sakura headed for the bookstore during her break.
The guides were thin, bound packages with green covers, and stacked on the top shelf near one corner of the room. Sakura was exasperated. Why were all the books she needed always so high up?
She rose up on the tips of her toes to get the book. Luckily, it was already half-gone, and she was able to reach the top booklet if she strained. Her fingers closed around the spine—
A large, tanned hand Sakura knew all too well snatched the guide from Sakura's grip, barely brushing her fingertips as it did. The feather-light touch sent an unpleasant jolt through her, and she jerked away, bringing down her arm and spinning around to face Kiba.
He was smiling at her, in that way she had become so familiar with when they had worked together a month ago. She didn't return the grin.
"Are you still following me?"
"Don't flatter yourself," he said, though his tone was light and teasing. "Are you busy?"
This situation was all too familiar, but Sakura wasn't about to repeat her mistakes. "Yeah," she lied. "I have a tutorial."
"Great! Skip it."
Sakura pursed her lips as she passed through the aisles, headed for the register. Kiba followed close at her heels, and she noticed a few people watching them, some pausing to greet Kiba.
"I'm not skipping my class for you," Sakura snapped, even though she didn't actually have a class.
"It's okay," Kiba said easily, "Everyone skips tutorials."
"Not me," she said tightly.
"Stop being such a good girl for once," Kiba said with a laugh. Sakura wondered if he realized the irony in his words. "Come get a coffee for me. My treat," he added.
Sakura just looked at him. If he thought he was going to bribe her with coffee again, he was sorely mistaken. But then she saw the look in his eyes, and she faltered. She remembered the day he took the genjutsu off her. No fuss, no drama, nothing. He had simply made a few hand seals, smiled, and nodded, and she walked away from him, back to normal, as if nothing had ever occurred between them.
But they had their history, and a lot of it. A part of Sakura hated Kiba, but another part of her didn't – because, when everything was over, he had kept his part of the deal, and he had even been somewhat nice about it.
She exhaled. "One coffee," she said, hoping she wouldn't regret it.
Kiba's smile broadened. "One coffee," he affirmed. "That works."
This time when they went down to the main floor, the elevator was crowded, and Sakura was forced closer to Kiba than she would have liked. He stared up at the numbers flashing by above the door as the elevator went down, and she watched him, wondering what he wanted.
When they got out, Kiba paid for their drinks, and she let him. He didn't even ask for her order, just bought the White Mocha she preferred, and they each carried their own drinks to a table at the end. And then they were silent.
Kiba drummed his fingers on the table between them, watching her. "How've you been doing?" he asked.
"Better," she said dryly, and he bobbed his head in recognition, lips twisted in a sardonic half-smile. Then, to be polite, she asked, "You?"
Kiba took a long, slow sip of his coffee, rolling his eyes up to the ceiling thoughtfully as he did so. "I'm good," he said finally, lowering his cup. "I'm graduating, actually."
Sakura blinked. "What?" Wasn't he a year early?
As if he could hear her thoughts, Kiba said, "Yeah, I'm graduating early. I've been taking extra courses since first year." Catching sight of her doubtful expression, he added, "I know you don't believe me, but I do go to class."
"Well, you can't blame me for being skeptical, can you?" she shot back. "I always saw you lounging around."
"I could say the same about you," he said. "Stop eating so much pizza."
Sakura stuck her tongue out at him in lieu of a better comeback, and he laughed, and it felt like their first meeting all over again, when Kiba was still charming and funny and maybe a little sweet. Before she knew what he was really like.
But she knew better now. She knew that he was manipulative and self-centered and a little twisted. She thought of Akamaru and conceded that, even so, there were some good dimensions to Kiba's personality. And when she thought that, she thought of Kiba's words to her that day, before she went to meet Danzo:
"Sakura. Don't let him touch you."
Sakura looked at Kiba now and considered the way he had looked that day. His expression had been open but at the same time, his eyes were tight with an emotion she hadn't been able to read.
She cleared her throat, shaking off her thoughts. "So, what are you going to do after you graduate?" she asked, fiddling with her empty coffee cup. Kiba still had half his drink, she couldn't help noticing with a touch of embarrassment.
"Law school," he said. "I'm leaving Japan, though."
Kiba shrugged, looking around the hall, gaze distant. "I got the chance. I took it. I want a change." He glanced at her. "I've been hanging around this city so long. I hated it here."
Sakura lowered her gaze and felt a stab of pity she wouldn't admit to. "Well…" She coughed. "Uh, don't pick on any more girls."
"I'm not going through that again," he agreed.
Sakura scoffed. "Yeah, you went through a lot of hell, huh?"
"I did." He was suddenly serious, and Sakura was taken aback by the abrupt change in mood. "And so did Sasuke," he added, and Sakura stiffened even before Sasuke dropped into the seat beside her. He was holding out a paper bag from the coffeeshop.
"For you," he said quietly. "It's a muffin."
Sakura reached out automatically to take it, then set it down on the table. She glared at Kiba, feeling betrayed. He leaned back in his seat, throwing an arm across the back of his chair.
"Sasuke wanted to talk to you, too," Kiba said. "I thought he was the lesser of two evils."
Sakura wouldn't look at Sasuke, and wouldn't answer Kiba. She didn't really have anything to say.
"I'm going to get another drink," Kiba said, pushing out of his seat and glancing at Sasuke. "You have five minutes. Then I need her back."
Sasuke nodded, and Sakura sputtered. She wasn't an object to be passed back and forth!
Kiba ignored her and walked away so she was left alone with Sasuke. It didn't occur to Sakura to just stand up and leave. She wanted to hear what Sasuke had to say.
"At the beginning," Sasuke said without preamble, "I told you about my brother. I thought that, if I used your conscience against you, you would do what we asked."
Sakura's stomach twisted, but Sasuke went on, oblivious:
"That didn't work." His eyes were dark, boring into her with such intensity Sakura had to look away. "You tried to help, but I know you weren't willing." He paused. "You're very hard to convince."
Sakura made a face. "You mean, I'm hard to manipulate," she corrected.
Sasuke's expression didn't change. "That day, after you met Naruto's dad… when we found you, you asked why you didn't have a choice. So I tried to give you one." He was looking at his hands now. "I was just betting on you making the right one."
Sakura's mouth was dry. She didn't whether to forgive Sasuke for his words… or hate him for them.
In the end, she took a breath. Grudges hurt people. She had seen that firsthand.
"Okay," she said. "Can you do me a favor?"
"Introduce me to Naruto's dad," she said. "I want to thank him – and apologize."
Sasuke looked at her for a long moment, then nodded. "Okay. We'll go see him this weekend.
"We?" She hadn't expected Sasuke to come along.
He tipped his head, and something like a smile barely fluttered at the corner of his lips. "I was wrong, too."
Sakura felt herself smile back, and then a shadow fell across her, and she turned.
"Time's up," Kiba said. "Let's go, Sakura."
Kiba pulled her up by the arm, ignoring her protests. She looked at Sasuke, but he only smirked, clearly amused. Before Kiba dragged her away, though, she grabbed the muffin, and she could've sworn she saw Sasuke smile.
"We were talking," she snapped as Kiba led her outside.
"So were we," he reminded her. "You'll have your time with your boyfriend later, but I'm leaving soon." He let go of her, and she fell into step beside him. "I wanted to talk to you."
"About?" she asked, narrowing her eyes at him. If Sakura wasn't mistaken, he looked a bit… embarrassed. She didn't know that was possible.
"To apologize," he said shortly. "Kurenai said I should."
Sakura smothered her small, confused grin when he turned to face her. "I wanted to give you something, too," he said, and when Sakura glanced down, she saw that he carried in his hands a dark blue scarf.
"I used this scarf to concentrate the genjutsu around you," he said.
Sakura stared at it. Kiba had given her that scarf to keep her warm, she had thought. But it was true that her life had changed as soon as she had worn it.
"It's harmless now," Kiba assured her. "I thought you might appreciate the symbolism." He held it out. "Wear it when you want to feel pretty."
"You have a very warped sense of humor," Sakura said as he stepped closer to her.
The first time they met, Kiba had smiled at her and Sakura had thought, naively, that he was very charming. Now, as he leaned toward her, she had the same thought, despite all that she had been through because of – and, she thought, for – him.
He wound the scarf around her neck, and even though the weather was too nice and warm for the heavy fabric, Sakura merely swept out the long pink hair caught under it. She touched the soft blue scarf and looked up at Kiba.
He was staring straight at her, and when their gazes locked, he smiled a little. "After everything that's happened, I know you might not believe anything I say," he said. "And you'll probably be really suspicious of me for saying this, but honestly?"
Sakura waited. Kiba stepped back, and she realized how close he had been standing. She hadn't even noticed.
"Even now – especially now," he said quietly so Sakura had to strain to hear him over all the mindless chatter, the beeping of phones and car horns, and sounds of spring around them. "You're still a—"
Suddenly, Sakura knew what he was going to say. She didn't know how she knew it, but she did. "I hate ratings."
"This is my personal opinion," Kiba said. "I thought you liked those."
Last time, he had said it in front of a crowd of his friends and the news had spread quickly around the gossiping students in school, such as Sakura's own best friend. This time, Kiba leaned closer, dipping his head down so only she could hear the word she had once yearned for.
Yes, a few things haven't been totally tied up, but I never wanted them to be. Sorry. And why hasn't the rating stopped entirely? Because I didn't want Sakura to have changed everything so easily. Then I would just be supporting the idea that beauty's all that counts, and I so don't. :D