I repeat: I am a sucker for birthdays, especially my own. Yay for me!
Last chapter, so please take the time to review about what I've done that you liked, what you didn't like, what you might like to see again. Thanks.
And this isn't the last you'll see of this universe. I love it, so much is coming up – in my writing journal. An epilogue, a few prologues and side-stories. So check those out, please?
Since I was just getting used to the fact that girls didn't have cooties, since I was too young to walk to school alone, girls have been chasing me. I grew up with one girl or another latched on to my arm, batting her eyelashes at me and trying to get a kiss. I've heard more pick-up lines than I new existed, I've had fanclubs in every school I went to, and I don't have the patience to count the number of times a girl – or guy – said, "I love you."
That was why I walked away from Sakura. I doubt it would make any sense to her, or anyone else but me, for that matter, but it's the truth. It's why I can't bring myself to give her a real answer.
When I think back on our first meeting, it seems ridiculous. I only met her two months ago; I thought she was pretty, hired her on the spot, and took her hand, never thinking that one day I could feel this way about a girl, never mind a girl who said stupid things and went around blushing all the time and always looked dead on her feet.
But when I glanced at her when she walked in, in her white cocktail dress and smile braver than any she had worn before, a smile that said she was going to do something, I could believe it.
And even after I walk away, get ready to make my speech, shake Jiraiya's hand in front of so many people, I think that she might just be amazing.
Because unlike all those cheap plastic blurs that stuck to me over the years, Sakura didn't say she loved me.
She said she was in love with me.
He said, "A picture says a thousand words. Here are three."
"Sakura's friend is so hot," Naruto says by way of greeting. He's looking dreamily at the blonde one, Ino, as he says it, but I just shrug. She's definitely not ugly, but I've been a little too preoccupied to judge.
Naruto's as oblivious as it gets, but he's still my best friend, and he immediately zeroes in on my discomfort and demands I spill all. I'm not a whiner, but I've learned that the best way to shut him up is to tell him what he needs to know, but even after I tell him, he won't stop talking; he shoves me, insults me, swears up a storm, and it's a good thing that there aren't yet many people here, because it's embarrassing. He tells me that I don't get girls, that I'm the biggest moron on the face of the planet, that I'm lucky I'm so cute, which disturbs me enough to reply. Finally, he demands that I go tell Sakura that I want her to have my babies, and I roll my eyes at his wording. If I get my romantic advice from him, there's no hope for me.
Finally, I get away from him, but that's only because he goes off to stalk Sakura's blonde friend and my parents have arrived. Mom greets me with a hug, bright smile, and a neatly wrapped gift, Itachi comments idly on my pictures and pokes me in the forehead, which is annoying as hell, and I don't know what my father thinks, because he's looking at some of the pictures by himself.
I thank my mom, frown at Itachi and warn him not to go near my model, employees, or anyone who matters, and make my way over to the man who scares me more than anyone else.
He's looking at the first picture I took of Sakura, in her jeans, with her bare ankle. Even though she looks a little stiff, a little awkward, a little unsure, I think it might be one of my best pictures of her.
"These are very good, Sasuke," he murmurs, and this might just be my first real compliment from my father, so I thank him, but it comes out in a rush, like I'm not sure if he means it, but I think he does, because he moves on to the next picture, which is of Sakura and Itachi, and I wince a bit, but he doesn't bring up my brother.
"She must not have been comfortable with this picture," is what he says instead. I shrug, and he says, "But she did it anyways." He's looking at me now, and even though I remind him that It's her job, I know what he's trying to get at, but he drops the subject, and we go through some more pictures, until we stop at the end and he congratulates me, commends me on my success, and walks away, leaving me to wonder what just happened, if my impassive, intimidating father is actually proud of me, when I look up at the picture in front of me.
It's the one I wasn't going to add, the blurry one Kakashi suggested, and I can see how Sakura is the only thing in focus, how she looks happy and free and not-tired, and I finally understand why Kakashi told me to add it, because the truth is that she looks beautiful.
But just as soon as I see it, see her, and think that maybe I should find her and explain, I hear my name, and see everyone crowding around the small, raised podium in the center of the hall, with Jiraiya and Kakashi at the mike, looking over at me. It's time for my speech.
I walk over, beckoning Sakura as I pass, and she comes to the side of the stage as I step up onto it.
"I'm not so great at the talking," I say, when I get to speak, "But I'd like to thank you all for coming to see my Femme Fatale series, which was inspired by a girl I know." I pause, not wanting to go any deeper; already, people are cooing and reporters are writing, but Sakura remains oblivious, so I plunge onwards. "A girl who can be everything all at once. This girl fainted the first time she saw me, crashed into my best friend the first time she met him, and threw a shirt at my brother the first time she met him." Realization is beginning to dawn, and a flush spreads over her cheeks, so I stop and say, "And that girl is my model, Sakura."
I look at her, and after a moment, she starts to weave through the crowd to wobble up the steps in her heels. Kakashi gives her a hand, which she takes reluctantly, immediately letting go when she's near me, and I put my hand on her back to support her while everyone else applauds.
She won't look at me and she's as stiff as she was when I first met her, and I don't want this, I want her back to normal and quirky and klutzy and purely Sakura, no pretenses needed.
I've never been really impulsive, everything I did was thought-out, carefully measured. I have always been a man of strategy, of rationalization, but sometimes you need to take the leap, I guess, Naruto taught me that, so I do it, as I feel Sakura start to pull away, I grab her by the elbow, close my eyes on her surprised expression, and kiss her.
The whole room has gone silent, and I know everyone's watching me. I can imagine Naruto pumping his fist, and Kakashi nodding as if he's taught me everything I know, and Karin sulking but trying to pretend she's not, but that's not important. What matters is that I can feel the soft silk of Sakura's dress, and the goosebumps rising along her arms, and I can smell the fresh-citrus scent in her hair, that long pink hair that spills over her shoulders and that I've always thought she should leave down but never thought to tell her to. I can hold her hand and angle her head and hear her breath hitch and when the flash goes off, I know that I'm finally in the picture with her.
When we pull away, there's a pause, and then Naruto begins to clap, and soon, everyone else follows.
"Congratulations," Sakura whispers, out of breath. I don't say anything, and she bites her lip beside me, ducks her head so I can't see her expression, but I know without looking that she's furrowing her eyebrows and scrunching up her nose. "So, I…" She trails off, at a loss for words, and even though I'm not a talker, I know what to say this time.
"I hope you're used to the public eye by now," I say. When she nods carefully, hesitantly, I say, "So you're used to getting your picture taken?"
"I should hope so," she says with a small smile. One of her half-smiles, with one corner of her mouth lifting higher than the other. "Why? You want a new model?"
"No, you're staying," I'm quick to tell her as we start to get off the podium. "But I was wondering if you like to eat?"
Sakura freezes, and I have to nudge her to keep moving. "I—" she looks at me, nearly stumbles, and I catch her. She swallows, pressed up against me. "I like anything with tomatoes in it."
I have to smile at that, and I hear Naruto call to us, so we look up, and he's waving his camera, and he zooms in on us, clumsily, I'm sure, and snaps the picture. And even though his camera is cheap and Naruto's hands shake and he doesn't know how to take a camera without catching part of his thumb, I think that this one might just be the perfect pose.
And when I look at Sakura, flushed with embarrassment, but smiling her first full smile, teeth glinting and both sides of her mouth quirked up, dimpling her cheeks, I think that maybe I might even love her.
And I might just tell her, but first I get my camera from the back room of the gallery, and when I come back, Jiraiya and Kakashi are talking to Sakura, and she looks to be a cross between embarrassed and exasperated, so I go to save her, but Jiraiya stops me to ask:
"So, how much would it take for you two to be the stars of my new series?"
Kakashi perks up at this, and that immediately puts me on alert, so I say, "No thanks, I'm not a model," and Sakura says at the same time, "No thanks, I only model for him."
And Jiraiya winks at us, and I roll my eyes when Kakashi looks disappointed, and then we both go outside.
"Just one more picture," I say as we pass through the gardens outside. Sakura smiles at me, tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, and stands, hands clasped before her, awaiting instructions, but all I can do is stare at her, because she's bathed in moonlight and her green eyes are dark, and her hair is ruffling in the barest breeze, and she looks happy, like she never really has before.
And when she tries to ask me why I'm not taking the picture, I don't let her, because all I can do is kiss her, again and again and again.
"Ever think you might switch models, Sasuke?"
"No. if I know anything, it's that you never give up the perfect Cover Girl."