Dedicated, with much love, to almondoil who is going through a rough patch, ship-wise. Have faith, you.
This is an AU-fic. I hope that the characters are - um - in character; Sasuke, in particular, because he seems to get more and more ooc the more I write him.
Written for the june 19 prompt at 31days on lj - frozen watermelons. Reviews, as always, would be love.
This is how it begins:
i. "And they live happily ever after."
The boy looked at her curiously from the corner of his eyes. "How do you know?" he asked. His voice was very quiet, though not out of meekness or shyness or nervousness. Uchiha Sasuke disliked speaking loudly on principle. It was, he believed, impolite and called unwanted attention to oneself. People who had really important things to say never needed to speak loudly. Nii-san's voice barely rose above a mumur on some days.
Haruno Sakura sat on a seesaw with him, on the opposite end. They were stationary: she half in the air and he half-squatting. "How do I know?" she echoed, blinking. "That's silly, Sasuke-kun. Things always end happily-ever-after in fairy tales. The prince saves the day, rides with the princess off into the sunset, and they live happily-ever-after. It's - it's formulaic," she pronounced carefully, proudly, and looked to him for approval.
Expression pensive, he would not meet her eyes. "Hn," he said, and then, "That's boring."
"I like it," she defended, but voice quavering a little.
"Hn," he said again, disinterested, looking up at the sun speculatively. "I don't believe in happily ever after. Or fairy tales."
"Oh," said Sakura, eyes downcast. This was a blow to her own faith; she liked fairy tales but she liked Sasuke-kun too. She thought it depressing that they could not be reconciled.
"But," he continued, voice light, boyish, "girls are weird so I guess it's okay for you." Sasuke smiled, then, small, sweet, the half-bashful smile of a boy teasing a girl, a familiar taunt that didn't so much sting as tickle. She giggled, happy.
The playground was mostly empty, but a figure was approaching them from across the soccer field. The face was still indistuguishable, but there was something familiar in that steady, unhurried stride. Sasuke gave a sudden start. "Oh! I have to go, Sakura. I'll see you tomorrow. Kakashi's taking me to see nii-san today and nii-san promised to teach me how to play Go Fish! I'll show you later." He jumped off the seesaw, waved, and trotted off. Sakura landed from her height with a loud oomph.
ii. "He dies. She dies. They all die," she nodded knowingly. "I've see the play a million times."
"Really?" he said, half-rhetorically, but there was nothing mocking in his eyes. Uchiha Sasuke, despite all appearances, cold calculating personality and dry caustic wit, did not actually like mind games. They were rude, he thought, forcing people to think this and think that, manipulation and deception, half-truths and whole lies. Uchiha Sasuke believed in honesty almost as much as he believed in honor and power (and vengeance.)
"Yup," Sakura nodded, and then tossed her long hair over one shoulder, proudly. "My aunt takes me every summer. She loves Shakespeare. Would you like to come with us sometime, Sasuke-kun? It's Romeo and Juliet this year but, um - next year is - er, King Lear, I think. King Lear? Maybe Julius Caesar."
"No, thank you," he replied, detachedly. "I don't care much for that kind of entertainment." He paused at the corner sidewalk, a clear dismissal, expecting her to cross the street. She lived that way, after all.
"Why not?" she asked instead, tilting her head, pink hair tumbling off her shoulder in a massive glimmering wave. It swung a little, catching the sun in that perfect, glinting way she sometimes saw on TV. Pantene commercials. She kind of liked those. "Oh - oh, no. I'll walk with you a bit further, Sasuke-kun. I wanted to stop by the library anyway."
He shrugged, because it was none of his business. She was the one doing the extra walking. Sakura wasn't necessarily unpleasant, in any case; talked too much, was annoying a lot of the time, but they'd been kind-of-friends since kids and she'd never been easy to brush off.
"Ancient Greeks loved tragedies," she was saying. He tried to focus on the words; it was hard. He tried again. Her voice was lilting, dreamy, soft with the vowels and bright with the consonants. Strange girl. "Catharsis, they called it - that emotional release after a good cry." She exhaled deeply from her lungs, cleansing, demonstrative. "You know what I'm talking about?"
"No," he said, flat.
"That's a pity. I love tragedies. Doomed romances are - are sad but - I dunno. Romantic. Very romantic." She sighed contentment, and peeked at him from the corner of her eyes. He wasn't looking at her, and his profile, young as it was, seemed clean-cut and very proud. Sasuke was a good-looking boy, pale-skinned and dark-haired, fine-boned in an aristocratic sort of way. But he wasn't looking at her and gave no indication of having been listening. Sakura didn't understand him a lot of the time, and felt frustrated because of it.
"Sasuke-kun?" she probed, tentatively.
"Hn?" He walked with a long-legged stride, leaves crunching under his shoes on the sidewalk. Sasuke didn't so much walk as he strolled, or slouched, or ambled - his hands were always stuck in his pockets, and he walked lightly, a breezy confidence in his steps, a coiled power in his shoulders, head almost nodding to the lethargic rhythm of his footsteps. Sakura liked watching Sasuke walk - had tried, on occasion, to imitate but her movements were always too stilted, lacking that fluid grace he seemed to leak from every pore of his body.
They rounded another corner and came onto his street, a long wide avenue. She scuffed her sneakers against the sidewalk. The autumn sunshine was dappled by the overhanging tree branches. The leaves were turning russet. Sasuke turned to look at her.
Sakura twirled a stray lock of hair around a finger. "What - um - do you think? About tragedies."
"They're pointless," he replied, firmly, decisively. Sasuke knew what he believed in and he believed in them with great conviction.
"You don't think the tragic ending somehow gives greater meaning to the interim? That it was sweeter for having been so fleeting? That somehow, the characters' efforts were all the more heroic, simply because of the inevitability of defeat?"
His eyes flickered to her again. "No."
"It squanders emotional energy."
"Pffffsssh," she sighed, and laughed a little. They walked a block in silence, feet shuffling through autumn leaves. As they passed under a particularly crimson maple, she bent down and scooped up an armful of leaves and then tossed them in the air, giggling as they fell in a drifting shower. She titled her face up, smiling.
Sasuke stopped walking, gingerly picked leaves out of his hair. He regarded her patiently. "Are you finished?"
Her eyes sparkled merrily as she turned to face him. "Yeah," she said. "Yeah. I think so."
Another block in silence. She was looking at a dog and a fire hyrant when he abruptly said, "I don't believe in tragedies."
"Of course you don't," she replied. "You'd never embark on a doomed romance because you're too practical."
"No," he said, frowning a little. "I - I don't believe in tragedies." They stopped in front of his apartment building. He gave her one last, inscrutable look, and then turned away.
"Ne, Sasuke-kun!" she called after him. "I'll see you in class tomorrow, Sasuke-kun!"
He lifted a hand in waving. It was really little more than a sharp jerk of the wrist and he didn't turn around, didn't stop, kept on walking - opened a door, disappeared inside. Sakura stood there a long moment, rocked back on her heels, thoughtful. A light breeze swept at the orange leaves, shuffling sounds of dry stalks against sidewalk concrete. She shouldered her backpack, hooking her thumbs under the straps, and headed to the library.
iii. " - they're full of big-bosomed women in fluffy, frilly, poofy dresses that expose massive amounts of cleavage. The men all have forty-two packs on their abdominals - centipede-like - and usually take their shirt off every five pages or so. And everyone has beautiful sex two thirds of the way through the book. In a forest, if manageable. It's more beautiful that way." Sakura grinned. "Romance books are silly like that."
He looked at her, upper lip curling but eyes large. A little disdainful, but also a little curious. Oh really, the arch of his left eyebrow asked. Sasuke picked her book up gingerly between thumb and forefinger and let it dangle by its coverpage. "This," he said, still glancing askance at her, "is what you read?"
"On occassion," she nodded, ready for his scathing scorn. She braced herself, but still dread, still winced. It mattered what Sasuke-kun thought - it had always mattered and it probably always would, just a little.
He sighed. "It's almost as bad as Kakashi's porn," he muttered. Muttered, and she was surprised. Sasuke never muttered - if he had something to say, then it was important, and if it was important, then it needed to be clear. Muttering, he always told her, was a sign of ill-breeding, crass manners. Sasuke had always pronounced his words with careful precision, even as a child; the month his two front teeth fell out had been horrible, lisping and awkward, and Sasuke had almost sworn a vow of silence. She smiled a little at the memory. It made her feel a little braver.
(He taught her courage, in small ways.)
"Well," she said, gathering up that tentative valor, "It's really not that bad, you know." She traced invisible patterns on the tabletop and laughed a little, breathy and light and fake. He squinted at her. "I mean," Sakura continued, shrugging, not meeting his eyes, "I-It's just for fun. It doesn't mean anything. I don't take it seriously. But you can't expect it to be Dickens or Hemmingway or - " peering up at him - "Clemens von Metternich." A pause. She frowned thoughtfully. "That is who you read all the time, right? The realpolitik guy?"
"Bismark," he replied.
"Give or take a century," he smiled very faintly. She blinked, then ducked her head, blushing.
"I - Well - Romance novels - they're bombastic and silly and - and frou-frou. You don't take them seriously. You can't take them seriously. But it's fun. It's fun and - it's ridiculous and girly, yes, but - I don't know. Puts things in perspective. Something to giggle at. Does that make any sense?"
"Not to me," he answered bluntly, handing the book back to her. She took it, diffident, and expected him to walk away now, like he always did, always would. But he stayed, standing by her table, where she sat with green tea Pocky and hot cocoa and her romance novels, the titles emblazoned across the cover in loopy cursive script. Sasuke looked at them a long moment. There was something like hesitation in his eyes, but it was gone very quickly, like it had never been there in the first place.
He sat down.
"Sasuke-kun?" she asked, tilting her head, puzzled, flattered.
"Is this - what you want?" he asked, tapping a book with his index finger. "Convoluted love stories and intrigues and forbidden romance and moonlit kisses?"
"I don't understand how you know all this," she said. "How do you know all this, Sasuke-kun? Convoluted love stories and etcetera?"
"I know everything," he said, very seriously, and then, for a heartbreaking moment, grinned - sharp and bright and boyish. Brief and cutting, a tiny crack in his perfect composure, but how young he looked, she thought. How young he looked and how young he is and he's still a boy, isn't he? A boy.
She forgot that sometimes. (He did too.)
"Sometimes, yes," she said, in answer to his question, slow and thoughtful, truth in her words. Sasuke always knew when she lied, and she wanted to think that meant something. Wanted to think that counted for something. "I want - want to be most precious in someone's heart."
"Hn," he said.
"True love," she continued, dreamy and distant. "Happily ever after, however unrealistic and boring that must be. Soulmates. I like the idea of a soulmate. A right fit. And the whole love conquers all thing?" She laughed, bright and tickling, no longer forced, no longer fake. The pale winter sunshine streaming through the large library windows seemed to melt gold on her features. Her laughter faded under his serious gaze, but the smile remained. "I like that too. I like all romantic clichés. They make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. True love and first kisses and roses. All of that."
"Hn," he said, quietly, somber. There was a long pause.
"You don't agree with me," she supplied, in a soft voice. Accepting. "That's all right. Sasuke-kun's a boy. It's only to be expected, isn't it?" She smiled, and hoped he wouldn't notice the way the corners of her lips did not quite lift.
"Soulmates," he mused, looking at some vague spot past her left shoulder. "Right fit? There would be no - how do you say it? - wooing, would there? No effort? No choice. There's nothing, then, really." Something darkened his brow for a moment. "I abhor complacency."
"I know, Sasuke-kun," she replied, smiling gently.
"Things are valuable," he continued, didactically, "in direct proportion to the amount of effort invested."
"I see," she said, and set the books aside, out of arms reach.
He looked at her a few moments longer, eyes dark and perspicacious. "Sakura," he said, and that was rare.
Sasuke was not smiling, but there seemed to be an impression of it in his eyes - very faint, but for her. "You did well on midterms," he told her. "Second place."
She blinked, startled. Could not even blush at the crooked, half-wry smile that very slowly spread across his lips. "What? How do you - Results haven't been posted yet." Sakura squinted at him. "Sasuke-kun..."
"You did well," he repeated, leaning over to rummage through his bookbag. "Here." He slid a book across the table to her, a thick hardcovered tome - textbook, she noted.
"Biochemistry?" she raised an eyebrow.
"Some light reading," he said. Sakura tried not to snicker at that. "You'll do well on the college entrance exams, of course." She marveled at the 'of course.' He sounded confident, certain. "And - " there was that half-bashful, half-wry smile from their childhood days - "Tsunade-sama wanted me to talk to you about considering med school. The book's from her."
"Mr. Class President," she teased lightly. (1)
He waved that aside, dismissive, and then stood, hefting his backpack onto a thin shoulder. "You - you're clever, you know," he told her, very detached, very clinical. "You just - misplace you attentions. Anyway, think about it."
"All right," she answered. "Thanks, Sasuke-kun."
He walked away, not looking back.
She glanced at the novels at the far end of the table, well worn and dog-eared, then at the textbook in front of her. Sasuke-kun had sat through an entire conversation about romance, she thought, a large silly grin blossoming, just to tell me to read biochemistry. That was funny, so she laughed a bit. Socially inept, she thought, fond, recalling the proud set of his jaw and the arrogant tilt of his chin. Something warm bubbled in her heart. She opened the textbook, and breathed in the smell of fresh ink on paper.
iv. "Misunderstanding, awkward situations, witty dialogue, and an evil father-in-law," Sakura listed, ticking each item off on her fingers. "It's got all the requisites of a good romantic comedy. And - Ino, of course. The pretty, domineering yet well-intentioned girlfriend."
Sasuke looked at her blankly, calmly peeling a banana. Every morning, waiting for the 6:28 train, Sasuke ate a banana. Sometimes they were still tinged green at the tips; other times, mushy and sticky inside, blackening in ripe old age. Today, it was yellow. A good banana. Perhaps a good day, too.
"Hn," said he, chewing steadily, not really paying attention to her words. Sasuke, she noticed, was an attentive eater; he chewed meditatively, thoughtfully, as if mentally evalutating the taste and texture and consistency and whatever was in his mouth.
"Hey," she said, abruptly. "Are you coming to the film festival? You should. Shikamaru's outdid himself this year. He's brilliant; he really is. You wouldn't think so with his work habits but Ino says he's really different when he's directing. She says he's actually awake five percent of the time." She giggled; he lifted his hand and took another delicate nibble at the banana, stared at her with calm, passive eyes. "And Hinata's script - have you ever read any of them? That girl is repressed. She's so well behaved and polite and demure and then you read her scripts and that girl has been so badly influenced by Naruto. The pervert. I can't understand it. I thought she would have a positive influence on him, but really. He's incorrigible."
"Aa," agreed Sasuke. He threw the banana peel in a trash bin. There was a moment of silence during which she stared expectantly at him. He stared back, and realized that she was waiting for him to say something more. Answer her question, perhaps. "No. I am not going."
"I'm not," he said, composedly. The train screeched to a halt in front of them, and they boarded in a jostling wave of crushed bodies. Sakura hated subways. Sasuke hated them more.
"Maybe you'll like it," Sakura suggested, once the train started again. The familiar clack-clack of its wheels echoed hollowly underground. Above, outside, it was still dark, early morning gloom broken only by a pale rosy streak on the horizon. In the train, though, the pale fluorescence of the lights was unrelenting and bathed everything in bleached white. Sasuke's skin looked almost translucent in its paleness, a stark contrast against his dark eyes and hair. It's unnatural, thought Sakura, for a boy to be so pretty. It should be illegal.
"Like what?" asked Sasuke. "Misunderstandings and awkward situations, witty dialogue and evil fathers-in-law?" He turned, head tilting slightly, to look at her, eyes cold and contemptuous, eyebrows slanted. Sakura thought Sasuke might possibly have the most expressive eyebrows, ever.
She shrugged, casually, his disapproval rolling down her back like water off a duck. It would never not matter, but she had learned the virtues of 'mope later, converse now.' "Well, I don't know, do I?" she responded patiently. "You never agree to go to the movies with me. Maybe you're secretly a big gooey ball of mush inside. Maybe you really do like romantic comedies instead of gory bloodchilling horror films." She made of face, canines bared and tongue lolling out of her mouth. She spread her her fingers like claws, imitating perhaps a ghoul.
"Stop that," he said irritably, still frowning. "People are staring."
"I know," she said, unrepentantly, but retracted her tongue. It was difficult, in any case, to speak with a lolling tongue. "It's because they think I'm weird."
"No," said Sasuke, dripping sarcasm, but his lips twitched a little before he clamped them tightly together. "Stop causing a scene. It's undignified."
"Dignity at the cost of fun is overrated," she retorted, and then clung a little tighter to the metal bar as the train rolled to a stop. There was the usual jostling of boarders and people getting off, in grand uneconomical commotion, bumping and shoving. She scooted a little closer to Sasuke. He, despite his slimness of build, always stood tall, and never stumbled no matter how people shoved.
"I am not your human shield," he told her when he noticed what she was doing. Nevertheless, Sasuke did not move away until the train started began moving again.
"Aa." He had one hand fishing in his bookbag, and lifted out a pair of headphones, which he settled around his neck, before turning his attention to unraveling the strings. They were hopelessly tangled.
"What do you watch, really?" She leaned against the metal railing, cheek against the biting coldness. Her eyes were frank and curious as she regarded him. "Horror movies or what?"
"The Charlie Brown Christmas Special."
"No," he grunted. Sakura squinted at him, thought he was probably lying. "Documentaries. I don't know."
"Documentaries?" She blinked, stood up straight. "For real? Oh, Sasuke-kun. Bo-oooring," she bleated, and poked him in the arm.
He batted her hand away. "They're informative," Sasuke replied, haughty. She laughed at little at his Snobby Act, which might not have been an act at all. Sakura kept forgetting (and subsequently having to remind herself) that Sasuke had been born and bred an Uchiha - old family, deep roots, aristocratic, wealthy, powerful.
"No they're not," she laughed at him and he let her. "Documentaries are boring. You know it's true, Sasuke-kun."
"The hell are you talking about?" he griped. "At least they're not easily predictable like your horror films and romantic comedies and shit." Sasuke had an ability, rather covetable, Sakura reflected, to pronounce words with such contempt that they immediately assumed the vulgarity and insult of the most debasing jeer.
"No. No, I'm not talking about the cheesy, corny stuff - "
"They're all the same," sneered Sasuke. It was a very impressive sneer. Sakura thought he probably practiced in the mirror. "The guy gets the girl, some token jokes and slapstick humor occur, there is a wedding at the end and an old man stands on his head in the punch bowl. Sappy, unimaginative music plays through the end credits."
"You oversimplify everything," Sakura sighed. "I really don't know what I'm going to do with you, Sasuke-kun. It's the journey that counts. It's the process, not the end. Shall I spew more clichés for you? Remember Kakashi-sensei? It's all about the road of life. We must try to get lost on it more often, instead of hurrying to the destination. Because that's death, and - "
"Fuck your road," Sasuke growled brusquely. He didn't like talking about Kakashi.
"That was rude," she told him.
"Aa," he agreed, which was not quite a 'sorry' but his quiet voice was kind. She took a deep breath, and forgave him.
"And you're all tough guy macho, huh? Horror movies not scary enough for you?" She teased, leaning forward.
He leaned back. Sasuke had a very large personal bubble and he liked it that way. "No."
"Ooh. You're really brave then. Even Naruto whimpered when we went to see - "
"Don't," he hissed, "compare me to that retard." His withering glare apparently had no effect on her; she rolled her eyes. " - and have you met my brother?"
Sakura thought about that. Tall man, long hair, handsome in a sort of creep psychopathic I-kill-people-and-wash-my-hands-in-their-brains way. Fucking silent all the fucking time -
"Yeah," she drew out the vowels shakily. "Yeah."
He did not say anything, so they were silent the rest of the way. As the train clack-clacked to a halt, Sakura said, brightly because that was her way, "Oh. The invitation's still open, Sasuke-kun. If you want to come to the film festival. It'll be fun, I'm thinking. Ino and Shika and - well. Maybe you'll like the whole love-overcomes-all-obstacles sappiness. Lee will probably monologue you to death on that subject. You shouldn't miss it." She gathered her hair up in a messy ponytail, and stepped forward as the doors opened. Before she stepped out, though, Sakura glanced back.
Sasuke was looking at her, detached but patient.
"No," he said, like she'd expected.
"All right," she said, and stepped off the train. The doors closed behind her. He's wrong, she thought. He's wrong. Every sunrise is different. Every love story is not the same. The little things matter.
The end is not predetermined, she told herself. Today will be a good day. It will. I will make it.
v. "Sasuke-kun!" she called from the third story apartment window. Sasuke, on the sidewalk, looked up. "Wait a second. Are you going to the store? I'll come with you." She waved a little, and then her head disappeared, window slamming shut. For another few moments, Sasuke did not look away from that window, a half-wry, half-bemused expression in his eyes. Then he sighed, long self-mocking exhalation, and took a few steps to lean against a lamp post. Tilted his head back, hands stuck in pockets - counted the birds perched on the telephone lines. Closed his eyes and felt the sunlight spread thick and heavy and golden on his face. The air smelled like summer.
When Sakura finally hurried out of the apartment building, she was mildly surprised that Sasuke was still there, that he actually had waited. It was a strange feeling, for him to wait for her, instead of her hastening to catch up. Sakura thought she felt - perhaps, nostalgic. Peculiar, certainly. Almost - almost old, but that was ridiculous.
"Stop gawking," Sasuke snapped. "Let's go." And that was familiar.
"Yeah," agreed Sakura, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. It felt strange, disorienting for a moment, to walk with Sasuke-kun again - another school year spent apart, and the summer reaquaintance always felt awkward to her. His long strides outstripped hers, and she had to half-jog to keep up. For his part, Sasuke seemed to be trying to adjust - a hesitation before each step, a limp in his loping gait. It was probably uncomfortable for both of them. But he didn't complain, didn't chide her to walk faster and Sakura frankly didn't mind crutches or developing flat feet if it meant walking with Sasuke-kun.
"Dammit, this would be easier if I were taller."
He cast an amused glance at her. "Aa," in maybe-agreement.
Heartened by this, she continued, chattering brightly to fill up his silence, because that was their way. Sakura liked to make spontaneous small talk, perhaps not witty or sparkling like champagne, but fresh and merry - apple juice, or green Kool-Aid. She laughed sometimes, the happy gurgle of some bubbling clear brook. Her narratives - little anecdotes, really - were never of much importance, but she liked telling them. There was something terribly earnest about Sakura. Sasuke, in any case, did not seem to mind. Sasuke, actually, did not seem to listen.
"We ran out of tea so I'm going to pick some up. We were studying tea, actually, back in February. At school. It's restorative capacities are rather amazing, you know. We did this whole experiment with the liver, and man, it was - "
He walked along in silence, a very small and very secretive smile in his eyes. His pace was unhurried, a lazy stroll, and she could keep up now at a brisk walk. Sasuke's head was half-bowed, but otherwise he gave no indication of listening to her. That was all right.
"What are you going to the store for, anyway, Sasuke-kun?"
"I'm not," he replied, and at her startled look, added, "I was just out for a walk. I wasn't actually going to the store."
She blinked, flushed, bit her bottom lip. "Oh. Oh. Um. I - I'm - sorry, I - "
"It's fine," he grunted.
She winced. "But - "
"It's still a walk, if we're going to the store or not. It's fine," he told her, so it was.
"Well, if you're not busy," she offered quietly, tentatively. "You could have a bit of tea with me. This afternoon. I bought a watermelon yesterday. We - we could eat that."
"We could," he said, noncommitally. They rounded a corner, and then they were in front of the store. He opened the door, and the little brass bell jangled quaintly. She stepped inside first.
After the cashier rang up her purchases, and Sakura retraced her path home, Sasuke trailed after her, not so much a loyal puppy, but an entirely self-sufficient, aloof cat. When they reached the apartment building door, she turned to him and invited him up.
"All right," he replied.
She smiled at him, and they went in.
"It'll take a while for the water to boil," she said, bustling about in her little kitchen, rummaging in her cupboards and drawers. "But we can have the watermelon now if you want. Though that's a rather bad combination, now that I think about it: watermelons and tea. You don't mind?"
"Aa," he said, which didn't mean much at all, but she took it as agreement.
"Well - um - " and this was hard for her, playing hostess to Sasuke-kun. He turned to look at her, with those inscrutable eyes. "Would you like to sit?"
He sat at the breakfast table, elegant and poised, with a patient, silent grace. Sakura felt terribly gauche and clumsy. You're trying too hard, she thought, and perhaps that was true. So she left him at the table and went to cut the watermelon.
"I kept the watermelon in the freezer," she told him, over her shoulder. "Have you ever had frozen watermelons, Sasuke-kun? They're pretty good, if you don't keep them in the freezer too long. Otherwise, they dry up and it's the most disgusting thing ever." She laughed a little, and turned to look at him. He held her gaze for a moment, calm and patient, then turned and looked out the window.
"It's a nice view," he offered quietly, hesitant. Sakura stilled, heard the quasi-shyness in the voice, thought: He's unsure about this too. He's trying, too.
The thought was warming, sloshing around like liquid sunshine inside. "Yes," she said, smiling. "It is a good view."
They ate frozen watermelons and looked out the window for a while, quiet, before the tea kettle whistled and Sakura got up to make tea. Sasuke stood as well, and washed his hands. She brought the tea tray to the breakfast table again, and they took their seats.
"Maybe I should have rethought this," Sakura said, after her first sip of tea. "Hot tea and frozen watermelons. This is terrible for my stomach. It'll probably be cramping all sorts of horrible in a few hours. And my teeth - Do your teeth hurt? My teeth are aching - "
"No," said Sasuke. "I have very strong teeth."
"Figures," she muttered.
He turned to look at her, eyes glinting with something like teasing. "I don't eat sweets."
"Whatever," she gloomed. But it was easy to settle in their old pattern after that - she wasn't sure what it was they had, friendship or acquaintanceship or old neighborship, but it was easier to relax into their them-ness. "Show-off," she added, affectionately.
It was still startling when Sasuke smiled - very small, but very sweet. She sobered, said carefully - "Sasuke-kun."
"Next year - after this summer - it'll - it'll be your last year of college, won't it? And then - after that - "
"Aa," he said, quietly, looking at her.
"You genius," she said, trying to smile. "And I suppose - I suppose you'll get a job and - and grown up stuff? Right?"
He gazed at her for a very long moment before agreeing, "Aa."
"Have - " she swallowed, "Have you thought about where you're going to go?"
"Aa," he said, a fourth time, fourth like death. (2) Did not contribute anything further. Sakura didn't know what to say to that, so she didn't say anything. Sasuke was still looking at her with that black scrutiny, eyes clear and sharp. Abruptly, he said, "Don't worry."
"Eh?" Sakura blinked, confused, startled. "What?"
He shrugged a little. "You looked sad."
"Y-you," she stammered, "You care."
But she was smiling some womanly wise smile. A voice inside (silent too long) told her not to push him, to let this go, so they lapsed back into silence. He relaxed a little.
A while later, as the shadows stretched long and thin across her kitchen floor, Sakura said, "Mm, Sasuke-kun."
"This is kind of nice, isn't it? Afternoon tea on a summer day, with you."
"Hmm," he murmured drowsily. His eyes were closed, but she could see the faint movement of his eyeballs beneath the diaphanous lids. A breeze swept through the open window, tousling Sasuke's hair. He didn't open his eyes. Outside, it was a late and hazy afternoon, terribly melancholy yet beautifully full.
She looked at him, frightened to disturb this languid peace. She could hear every breath he took, could see the expansion of his lungs, the contraction, the slight flaring of his nostrils, the pale delicate shadows his eyelashes cast on his cheeks. Everything was very still.
"I love you," she said, simple.
His eyes fluttered open. He looked at her for a few heartbeats. "I know," he said.
"Okay," she said. "And - you know - it's all right. You don't - I mean, I'm not asking for a happily-ever-after with you. Or even an unhappily-ever-after. Or beautiful sex in a forest. It's all right. You don't have to - You - I mean, I won't - I - I don't know. I don't know. I love you. I do."
"You and your love stories," he sighed, with long-suffering patience, and closed his eyes again. "I'll see what I can do."
"Huh?" she stared at him. "S-Sasuke-kun?"
"And stop acting like a martyr," he told her, a bit waspish.
"Does this mean," she asked slowly, "that I can set your cellphone ring tune to the Barney Song now?" (3)
"I'll kill you."
"Do I get a promise of eternal devotion?" she teased, though a bit wistfully.
"But afternoon teas," he added, "and watermelons in summer. With you. I can give you that."
Something rose in her chest, painful and tight, because it was too large, that emotion - her heart was only finite, but Sasuke-kun was everything, everything and eternal, and, oh, how her heart broke and broke and broke and it was beautiful, this aching, bleeding hope.
"Forever," she said, wanting to laugh, to tease, but her throat was too clogged, and her voice emerged as a hoarse whisper. She swallowed that, smiled, continued, "It'll have to be forever, of course." And she could laugh now - laugh and laugh and laugh and live.
He was still, looking at her with those deep black eyes, contemplative.
"Sasuke-kun?" she prodded; geniuses always needed prodding. "Sasuke-kun?"
"You and your forever business again," he groused, looking very put-upon. Then he said: "For a very long time then."
"All right," she smiled, because that meant the same thing anyway.
So, then, is this our happily-ever-after?
No. This is our once-upon-a-time.
But we'll have a happy ending, right?
I'm just saying -
This is real life. We won't have an ending.
...you really are a big ball of mush inside, aren't you, Sasuke-kun?
And I bet you cried your way through Bambi, too.
And you've been stealing my romance novels, right?
And I'm most precious in your heart because you love me, don't you?
...yes. (and yes. and yes. and yes.)
This is how it ends: Once upon a time -
(1) The "class president" in most Asian schools differ from its Western counterpart: more literally, it would perhaps be translated as "class leader." Usually, the student is not "elected" by the class, but rather chosen on account of superior grades, and will possess more executive power. S/He functions as sort of a go-between between students and the teacher. (I - I am not explaining this well at all. Suffice to say, stop giggling about the thought of lone-wolf Sasuke as student body president; different type of office here.)
(2) The number four in some languages is very phonetically similar to death. Hence, it is considered at bad luck number. (Random fact: Conversely, the good luck number eight is phonetically close to fortune.)
(3) To those poor, deprived yet unbelievably lucky few who do not know about The Purple Dinosaur, the first few verses of Barney goes: "I love you/ You love me/ We're one happy family..." And etcetera ad nauseam. (This is sekkritly the official sasusaku theme song.)
Reviews would be love.