Title: Carnation
Summary: AU. More than halfway through the painting, Sasori decided that she was beautiful. —Sasori/Sakura
Notes: So I only remembered on the fourth that Sasori's birthday was coming up, and then proceeded to write like a mad woman. I ended up finishing this on the sixth. That might not sound impressive to most people, considering this is only 3K words long, but for me, it was a miracle. So here's my tribute to celebrate my favorite puppet master's birthday (and also SasoSaku month, because that apparently exists).
Disclaimer: Naruto and all related characters are property of Masashi Kishimoto.

The first thing Sasori noticed about her was her hair.

Realistically speaking, her hair was probably the first part of her that everyone noticed. After all, a woman with hair that pink wasn't exactly a common sight in this part of the country.

But to Sasori, who was an artist, it was the shade of pink that had caught his eye. In all of his years of mixing paints and experimenting with new colors, he had never come across that particular hue. Granted, pink wasn't exactly one of his favorite colors, but he had to admit that he was intrigued by her hair.

Which was the exact reason why he decided to approach her.

She was standing in front of the deli section, her back turned toward him as she apparently scanned over the selection of meats. She was oblivious to his presence until he was a few feet away from her, calling out to her in his usual monotone.

"You there."

The young woman—she couldn't have been more than nineteen—turned to look at him, evidently startled at his sudden greeting. She blinked and looked around, as though she wasn't sure that it was her he was speaking to. Finally, she pointed to herself as if to ask, "Me?"

"Yes, you," Sasori replied patiently.

"Can I help you with something?" she asked, still looking a little unsure despite the polite smile she gave him.

"As a matter of fact, you can," he said, brown eyes scanning over her hair again. "I want to paint you."

"You want to...paint me?" she repeated, now looking more suspicious than confused. "And why would you want to do that?"

"I'm an artist," he answered simply, already growing tired of having to explain himself. "I saw you, and I decided I wanted to paint you. You can either accept or deny the offer."

She considered him for a moment, jade eyes searching his in search of an ulterior motive. Her eyes were an interesting shade too, he noted. He was already mentally mixing various shades of green in his head despite the fact that she hadn't agreed to be his model.

Apparently convinced that he wasn't some lecher, she nodded. "All right. But the clothes stay on, got it?"

Sasori's bland expression didn't change. "I wouldn't have expected otherwise."

She paid for her meats, and they left the supermarket.

"You can leave your bags in my refrigerator if they're perishable," Sasori told her, dropping his own groceries on the kitchen counter unceremoniously. He walked into the small living room of his apartment and immediately began setting up his easel and canvas while he allowed her to get situated.

"You know, it would've been easier if you had just let me drop these things off at my place first," she called. He could hear her rummaging through her bags, meaning she was most likely taking advantage of his offer.

"That would have taken too long," he explained when she tentatively stepped into the room a few moments later, "and I hate being kept waiting."

She didn't say anything after that. Though Sasori didn't look up from his work, he could see her shift her weight from one foot to the other in his peripheral vision. She was obviously still uneasy about the entire situation. Logically, Sasori knew she had every reason to be. She had been asked to be the subject of a complete stranger's painting, and this stranger happened to be a male who had taken her to his relatively suburban apartment building. Regardless, he didn't dwell on her feelings of discomfort for too long, as his muses were already painting this picture in his head. She would just have to get used to it.

It was only after he had gotten both his canvas and his paints set out did she speak up again.

"So, where do you want me to sit?" she asked, rocking back and forth on the heels of her feet.

Sasori looked around the room, trying to decide where he would get the best lighting. "Over there, by the window," he said, pointing to the large bay window behind his couch. It wasn't exactly the most ideal lighting at this time of day, but it would do.

"All right, then," the woman said, tucking a lock of short, carnation-colored hair behind her ear (Sasori would have to ask her to correct that later). She took a seat on the sofa, looking much less awkward than she had a few minutes ago. She looked up at him, green eyes studying him inquisitively. "Any particular way you want me to pose?"

"Just relax," Sasori told her. He had already begun to mix the paints on his palette and didn't bother looking up. "If you're too stiff, it will show in the portrait. Just find a comfortable position, and when you've found it, don't move. Got it?"

She responded by crossing her arms over her chest defiantly. "Would it kill you to say 'please'?"

Sasori could already tell that she was going to be difficult to work with.

"I'm Sakura, by the way. Sakura Haruno."

Sasori nodded in acknowledgment as he made a slow, expert stroke across the page. Sakura. So that was her name. He wasn't sure whether to grimace or smile wryly. Her parents obviously had awful taste if they had given a name like Sakura to a pink-haired child. It was the equivalent of naming a red-haired kid 'Ginger.' If he were the pitying type, he might have felt sorry for her.

"What's yours?" Sakura prompted when it had become obvious that he wasn't going to give his name in return.

"Sasori Akasuna. Now, stop moving your mouth, please." Remembering her earlier comment, he made sure to emphasize the last word. "If you keep changing your facial expression, I'll have to start over."

Sakura made a face at him in retaliation, then grudgingly relaxed her expression again.

Sasori sent her a warning look before turning back to the painting, his brush hovering over picture-Sakura's jawline. She was rather pale, so mixing the exact color of her skin tone hadn't been an issue for him. All it had taken were a few different shades of peaches and a lot of white paint.

He dipped his brush into the cream-colored paint and swept it across the canvas, making clean strokes as he began shaping her neck. Sakura was small-boned, but not particularly delicate; her slender frame was toned, and her hands showed signs of wear. Sasori vaguely wondered what her profession was, but he was too absorbed in his work to bother asking. Besides, he highly doubted he would see her again after this. She was just his latest muse, one whose face he would immortalize on his canvas. He found no need to get to know her.

Sakura, on the other hand, apparently felt differently about the matter.

"Have you been painting a long time?"

"I thought I'd said not to move your mouth."

"I'm barely moving it," she countered. "Besides, you're not working on my mouth right now."

"Really?" Sasori said wryly, raising an eyebrow. "And how can you possibly know that, considering you're on the other side of the canvas?"

"I can tell by the way you're moving your wrist," Sakura explained, a hint of pride in her voice. "I'm a medical student. I know my anatomy."

"So you do." Sasori was almost impressed. Out of all of the people he had painted—and he had painted quite a few people—she was probably the first one who was apparently studying him as much as he was studying her. Most of his subjects had simply sat in their places, looking bored as they waited however long it took for him to finish. A few had tried striking up conversations with him but were easily discouraged at his lack of interest in engaging with them.

Sakura was different. She was determined. He could see it in her eyes.

Sasori wasn't sure whether that irked him or intrigued him.

"What about you? Do you make a living off of your art?"

"Partly," he answered after a moment's hesitation. He didn't want to encourage more conversation, but he also didn't want her to get up and leave before he had a chance to finish, either. "I make money off of my paintings, but some months have a better turnout than others. To make up for the slower months, I work a part-time job as well."

She smiled. "You must keep pretty busy, then."

"I suppose."

They lapsed into a comfortable silence after that, and Sasori began putting his full concentration into his work. It took him several minutes to mix the perfect color for her eyes, but he eventually got the desired green that was just a few shades lighter than an emerald.

"I'm going to work on your face now," Sasori told her. "Stay still and don't speak."

Surprisingly enough, she complied.

More than halfway through the painting, Sasori decided that she was beautiful.

She was conventionally attractive, of course. She may have had slightly rounded facial features, but they were well-proportioned and overall aesthetically pleasing. Her large green eyes were a striking contrast to pale skin, and somehow she was able to make that pink hair of hers work with the rest of her image.

Those things were only part of the reason, however. What caught Sasori's attention even more was the way she carried herself. Despite her previous discomfort, she now held herself with confidence, as though she knew exactly who she was and where she stood. A majority of his models had avoided eye contact, instead averting their gazes to their hands or the wall behind Sasori. Sakura met his gaze dead-on, green orbs shining curiously and with an unspoken challenge in them.

To Sasori, that was what made her truly beautiful.

Not that he would ever say so out loud.

Sasori arched his back and stretched, his free hand running through messy red hair. He had been sitting in that same position for nearly three hours, and he was starting to get stiff. He could only imagine that Sakura was feeling the same way, but she didn't have the same luxury to stretch that he had.

"You look relaxed."

He looked over at her again, marginally surprised to hear her speak after all this time. "What?"

"When you paint," she elaborated. "You look really relaxed when you paint. You've probably been doing this for a long time, am I right?"

"Since I was a child," he confirmed, dipping his brush into red paint; he was going to paint her bright crimson blouse now. "My grandmother's the one who introduced me to the art. She gave me my first paintbrush and taught me everything I know."

Sakura looked interested. "She must have been an amazing woman."

Sasori snorted at the image of his loud, eccentric grandmother. "She's hardly what I'd call amazing." He didn't bother to mention that Chiyo was still alive and well, and that she got her kicks from fooling the nurses at the nursing home into thinking she was dead every other week. Senile old bat.

A few more minutes passed before Sakura spoke up again. "Hey, Mr. Akasuna?"

"Sasori," he corrected, not looking up from the canvas.

"Sasori." She said it somewhat slowly, as though she was testing out his name on her tongue. "What made you decide you wanted to paint me?"

"To be honest, it was your hair. The color caught my eye."

"Oh." She sounded disappointed. Most women would have been flattered, but Sasori supposed that with her unique color, it was an answer she probably got on a regular basis. It was the truth, though. He wasn't about to change his answer for her pride's sake.

The painting was nearing completion now. At this point, all he would have to do is add the little details, which would take another forty-five minutes to an hour, depending on how much of a perfectionist he felt like being. Currently, he was adding the shading of her exposed collarbones. Along with the jawline, the collarbone was one of his favorite parts of the body to paint. It was a delicate part that required very precise detail in order for it to come out right. Too much shading would make her look gaunt. Too little shading, and it would look like she didn't have collarbones at all.



Sakura looked like she was trying very hard not to move. "Do you think you'll be done any time soon?"

"Be patient," he said, dabbing his brush at the shadow beneath picture-Sakura's collarbone. "I'm almost done."

Finally, he was finished.

Sasori leaned back and examined the completed piece critically. He could spot a couple of areas he wasn't fully satisfied with, but he knew that trying to correct them at this point would only result in creating more problems for him to fix. Besides, he had made Sakura sit there long enough, and the only thing he hated as much as being kept waiting was making someone else wait.

"All right. You can move now," he told her.

"Good." Sakura let out a relieved sign and immediately stood up, obviously very stiff from having to sit in the same position for slightly more than four hours. She placed her hands on her hips and arched her back, stretching as far back as she could go.

Sasori let his gaze linger on her a moment longer before he turned back to his workspace and began collecting his brushes, dropping them carefully into the cup of multicolored water that he had used for rinsing.

"Well?" Sakura said, and he turned to find her gazing at him expectantly. "Do I get to see the finished product?"

"I suppose so," he said, stepping aside so that she would have room to look.

She joined his side in front of the canvas, and Sasori studied her expression carefully. This was the part of nearly every artist's career that they both craved and feared. Sasori, on the other hand, felt neither of those things. He had full confidence in his artistic talent. His grandmother had once said that it was to the point of arrogance, but Sasori had argued that it wasn't arrogance if one had something to back it up. Unlike his friend Deidara, who was also an artist (or so he liked to think, because those abstract sculptures of his could hardly be considered art, in Sasori's opinion), he didn't crave fame or recognition for his work.

However, that didn't mean that he didn't enjoy it when it was given.

Sasori watched as Sakura's eyes took in every detail of the painting in front of her. It was always interesting to watch people study portraits of themselves. They saw their own reflections in a mirror on a daily basis, but paintings were a completely different matter. Instead of seeing themselves through their own eyes, they were able to see the way others saw them. None of them ever said as much on the matter, of course. They were too busy giving him empty praise about his talent to bother discussing anything deep or constructive with him.

As he studied Sakura, however, he saw something different. She didn't say anything, but he could see jade eyes scanning over every detail intently. They shined with the same curiosity and contemplation that he had captured in the painting. At this angle, it really did look like she was looking into a mirror.

"It's good," she finally said, turning to face him with another one of those smiles. "Actually, it's amazing. I have a friend who paints, but he hasn't ever painted me like this before. I guess artists really do see the same things a little differently, huh?"

"That's one way of putting it," Sasori said, and for the first time in a long while, he was thoroughly impressed. She actually got it.

Sakura stretched again, lifting both arms high over her head. Sasori studied her slowly and unabashedly, deciding that she had definitely been his most intriguing model so far.

"I'd better get going," she said. "I have to get home and feed my cat. Thanks for having me. It really was an interesting time."

"I should be thanking you," he said wryly. "Despite your inability to listen to orders, I got what I wanted."

She made a face at him again, then turned away and strode into the kitchen. Sasori had assumed that she would leave, so he raised an eyebrow curiously when she walked back into the living room a minute later, a folded slip of paper in her hand.

"If you ever want me to model for you again," Sakura said, handing the slip to him, "just let me know." Her eyes lingered on his for a moment longer, inquisitive green locking with cool caramel. Finally, she gave him one last smile before exiting the room again. Sasori could hear the rustling of her plastic grocery bags again, and he knew that this time, she really was leaving.

It wasn't until he heard the door click shut behind her that he allowed himself to unfold the paper in his hands. He had already had a feeling about what the contents would be, so he wasn't surprised to find all ten digits of her phone number staring back at him.

"If you ever want me to model for you again, just let me know."

Sasori allowed himself a small smirk.

Somehow, he had the feeling he would be letting her know sometime soon.