go the converse

i. the sunned mother-of-pearl

Sakura, like everyone else at school, has heard much of Uchiha Sasuke long before she actually meets him. Uchiha Sasuke's the type of boy who inspires gossip in perfect strangers. Everyone has something to say about him: how very handsome and very smart and very good at sports he is; top of his class and captain of the kendo team and the guy who always gets the most number of chocolates on Valentine's Day. Things are always 'very' when it comes to Uchiha Sasuke. Everything about him is ridiculously superlative: an impossibly romantic figure, like a Hikaru Genji stepped out from dusty classics, like he could not possibly exist in real life.

The negative space constructed from the rumors is like this: Uchiha Sasuke is never called 'kind'; and no one has ever seen him smile; and he never replies 'Good morning' to anyone; and he has no friends who are not in semi-religious awe of him. Still, thinks Sakura, absence of evidence does not mean evidence of absence; just because no one heard the tree falling does not mean it made no sound.

Sakura has an appreciative affection for Uchiha Sasuke, in that vague distant way one does with celebrities. She likes the fact that someone as handsome and smart and good at sports as he is exists. Sakura does not necessarily think herself ill-looking or stupid or entirely incapable at athletics; still, Sakura's existence is not an exercise in superlatives, the way Uchiha Sasuke's is. It makes her a little wistful. Sakura has always struggled for everything she is: poring over style magazines to determine the most flattering haircut for her facial structure; getting up early each morning to go running so that she does not place last during gym class track and field exercises; spending countless, countless hours in the library with textbooks and practice exams and study guides. Things do not come naturally to Sakura—not as they must for Uchiha Sasuke. Had Sakura been less cheerful a person or possessed a more impractical heart, she might have resented Uchiha Sasuke; as it is, Sakura only admires. How much easier, she marvels, must everything be for Sasuke-kun; how much happier.

Sasuke does not remember Haruno Sakura's name the first time they meet: in an introductory computer science class, seated next to each other during lab session. He does not remember it the second time either, nor the third. In fact, he gets by for a month and a half calling her variations on a theme of "Hey", or "You", or "Hey, you."

Partly, this is due to a lack of necessity: they do not see each other outside of class, and there is little reason to call her by name in class, where they do not speak to anyone else but each other. They've been assigned to be lab partners, after all.

Partly, too, this is out of disinterest: there is nothing particularly eye-catching about Sakura, beside the pale ruddiness of her hair. She talks too much—but most girls do, in Sasuke's experience. She is not so off-putting that Sasuke would make an effort to avoid her outside of class, but neither is she anything that would make him seek her out. (It is no reflection on her. It has been a very long time since Sasuke has sought anyone out.)

And yet: she is not a computer science major—Sasuke doesn't know what she is; she'd said something about commerce or management when she'd introduced herself, but he hadn't paid any attention—nor is she particularly good at the subject, but she's diligent and she pays attention. For all her overly-determined cheerfulness, she is not the unintelligent sort; and for all her romantic notions about whatever "handsome oppa" in the latest Korean drama she's watching, she is an academic at heart. Sasuke can deal with academic types. Usually, they turn out to be huge nerds, not so much interested in his personal life as in the difference between i++ and ++i compile processes.

So, a month and a half into their acquaintance, when she begins badgering him to exchange phone numbers with her, Sasuke puts up some minimal token resistance, grumbling about how "troublesome" and "annoying" it all is, but eventually relents. She has a point, after all, about being lab partners and possibly needing to meet up for the final project. They exchange phones: he puts in his name and phone number; she puts in her name and phone number and email address and birth date and a

ー( ´ ▽ ` )ノ

in the Notes section. They return phones: Sasuke scowls at her and she beams back.

"Annoying," he says.

Nevertheless, he looks down at the waving, happy smiling face, and remembers 'Haruno Sakura'.

Sakura's favorite rumors about Sasuke-kun are: his family descended from an old samurai line but is now steeped in yakuza alliances; he can never step foot in Shibuya without being swarmed by talent agency scouts; he'd bullied his way into graduate classes as a freshman, or perhaps it had been that he'd taught the graduate classes.

"I can't remember," she says, apologetically.

"Why the fuck," he replies, "do you even have favorite rumors?" Sasuke leans back in his chair and slants a withering look in her direction.

Sakura shrugs. She's not really sure why she'd started on the subject in the first place: only that it's terribly awkward to sit in silence while waiting for the code to compile, when they have been classmates for so many months; and there aren't many subjects Sasuke is willing to talk about. To most forms of popular culture, Sasuke demonstrates such abject indifference it borders on ignorance, as if he's never seen a television show or watched a movie or listened to any music ever in his life. Gossip about other people hold little interest for Sasuke, too: he's terrible at learning names, Sakura has discovered. (Not terrible, Sasuke denied: just unwilling. Whatever, thought Sakura: you still don't know anyone's name.) Gossip about himself seems their only common ground, and even then, Sasuke's interest is anemic at best. Probably, suspects Sakura, it's not so much interest as it is horror.

She says, "How do you not have a favorite? They're hilarious. They make you sound like something out of a shoujo manga."

"Hm," says Sasuke.

"Not," continues Sakura, "that you have ever read a single shoujo manga in your life."

"Hm," says Sasuke, again.

This is pretty much how talking to Sasuke goes. Sakura's not particularly bothered by it: 'Hm' is still acknowledgement, and more than he gives most people at that. 'Hm' is ambiguous enough that it might mean Shut up; you're annoying or it might mean I suppose you're right. Sakura, optimistic, usually takes it for agreement. Sasuke's never gone out of his way to disabuse her of the idea, in any case.

In the beginning, Sasuke remembers with something approaching wistfulness, Sakura was careful when she spoke to him. She kept conversation to class work; sometimes, she remarked on the weather. She was quiet. She called him "Uchiha-kun". She never pushed for a response. He never gave one.

Most people back off after a while. They learn that conversation with Sasuke isn't so much conversation as it is a monologue, that there's little difference between talking to Sasuke and talking to the wall. Except the wall doesn't call you 'stupid' every now and then.

Sakura, though—possibly Sakura goes home and talks to her walls, as a habit. Sasuke has never met anyone so perverse. A few months of steady disinterest has apparently assured Sakura that—that—Sasuke has no idea what Sakura has been assured of, but against all reason, she increasingly talks at him, without any need for input on his part.

One day, it's: "Oh, there's this really interesting article on pulsed terawatt lasers, about how it can channel light. Aren't you working in the robotics lab? I'll forward it to you."

Another day, it's: "This one time in middle school, I kind of went through a mecha phase. People are always surprised when I tell them. I think it's the hair."

Then it's: "I'm writing a paper on the comparative similarities between The Tales of Ise and The Tale of Genji—which, I know, is kind of simplistic once you trace them both back to Ariwara no Narihira—but I keep getting side-tracked by how totally bombastic the love affairs are. They're fantastic. It's like I'm watching one of Ino-chan's telenovelas."

Sasuke eyes her warily. He's never heard anyone compare The Tales of Ise to telenovelas: admittedly, he's never met anyone who has both read The Tales of Ise and also watches telenovelas. Vaguely, he feels like he should be offended on behalf of classical Japanese literature, but there had been nothing belittling in Sakura's voice. At a loss, Sasuke says, "...Stupid."

"Too simplistic?" asks Sakura, looking somewhat down-spirited. "I thought as much. It's not a very good subject for comparative analysis, is it?" She laughs a little at herself. There is something mundanely terrible about the laugh, like a papercut or tripping over shoelaces: Sasuke dislikes it.

It's none of his business, though. Her papers have nothing to do with him. He stares fixedly at the computer screen, watching output numbers scroll by in the terminal; he thinks about array indexing in heap sorting algorithms; he thinks about the syntax of memory allocation in basic C. It's no use. "Miyabi," he says.

"Eh?" blinks Sakura.

"Don't use Narihira as the connecting point," says Sasuke, somewhat resentfully. It's hateful, he thinks, that she has to be so demonstrably misguided about this, when she's usually so intelligent. What is Sasuke supposed to do but correct her? "Talk about the mutual demonstration of the miyabi aesthetic, in Ise and Genji."

"The miyabi aesthetic..." echoes Sakura, slowly, staring at him.

"Something like that," Sasuke scowls. There's an uncomfortable prickling along his neck. He's bothered with something he shouldn't have. "Whatever, it's not important. We're not done this code; focus on this first."

Sakura is still staring at him.

She says, "Thank you." And: "Sasuke-kun."

"No," he says. That is not okay. "No," he says again, and scowls harder at her, trying communicate in the expression everything unacceptable about her telenovelas and her bringing up Narihira and her calling him Sasuke-kun without invitation.

Sakura smiles at him. The most perverse girl in the world, Sasuke thinks.

She says, "I think we have an off by one error in the for loop." She says, "Sasuke-kun."

For all that Sasuke pretends like he has no interest outside of schoolwork, like his life is made of mathematics and algorithms and cognitive system designs, Sakura has seen the battered copy of Kokinshu he carries around with his textbooks, its spine cracked and the pages worn soft at the corners. "Who's your favorite poet?" she asks him, holding up the book. "In this?"

He refuses to answer, staring steadfastly at the computer screen though nothing is happening there.

"Ah," says Sakura, laughingly. "It's Komachi, isn't it? All the boys like Komachi—because she was crazy pretty—"

Sasuke eyes her balefully.

"—because she was an excellent poet," amends Sakura. She considers his glare, thinks for a moment, and says, "'Submit to you—could that be what you are saying?'"

He rolls his eyes (it's still a novelty, his obvious exasperation around her) and turns back to the computer screen. Sakura subsides, putting his book back in its pile. They are silent for a few moments, watching the cursor blink as they wait for the compile to finish. There's a fingerprint smudge in one corner of the computer screen. Sakura wonders whose it is; it looks too small to be Sasuke's, but too large to be hers. The cursor continues to blink, steady as a heart.

Sasuke says, suddenly, without looking at her, "'If only there were no such thing as cherry blossoms in this world—'" He stops, and gives a little huff of air, the whisper of a laugh. "'The spirit of spring may have been ever tranquil.'"

She stares at him, speechless for one long, breathless moment. (Possibly, this is what she likes best about him, more than his good-looks or intelligence or athleticism. Sasuke is not by any means a nice person, but he can be startling kind.) "Oh," breathes Sakura. "That's—that's. Is he your favorite, too?"

Sasuke says, bluntly as ever, "You're annoying."

"You said it prettier the first time," replies Sakura.

It is an almost imperceptible thing, like the first moments of dawn slowly unfurling; but Sakura, who has been watching Sasuke for a long time now, notices: his eyes curving and the corners of his mouth drawing up and something almost amused in the tilt of his eyebrows. It is not quite a smile, but it is very close to one. It is the loveliest thing Sakura has ever seen.

"Annoying," repeats Sasuke, not sounding annoyed at all.

notes: kokinshu, short for kokin wakashu, literally "collected japanese poems of ancient and modern times," is pretty much what it says on the tin, published in about 905. quotes are:

submit to you —
could that be what you are saying?
the way ripples on the water
submit to an idling wing?
-ono no komachi (tr. burton watson)


if only there were no such thing as cherry blossoms in this world
the spirit of spring may have been ever tranquil.
-ariwara no narihira