A/N: Yeah, I've had these scenes planned out a while ago and wrote some of the last part…maybe two years ago? Well, I wasn't satisfied with it then, but I'm sure it's up to snuff now. I've worked really hard on it, so let me know what you think!
Disclaimer: There's a short flashback scene that involves lines taken from the English dub. Not sure what episode. Something from the beginning of the Chunin Exam prelims. Anyway, credit goes to Kishimoto and the anime staff!
Chapter Fourteen: No More Running
Sakura gazed idly out the windowsill, the curtains parted to a reveal the setting sun just barely dipping below the four stone faces of the previous Hokages. The last remaining rays shone through the window, casting its reflection on the clear vase that held a single yellow daffodil, next to a sleeping Rock Lee's bedside.
It was dusk now, and several hours had passed since their encounter with the three Sound ninja. Sakura couldn't believe all that happened in one morning – it'd felt like a lifetime ago, and yet she still remembered the day's events so vividly in her mind. She could still remember Lee's sincere offer to take her on a walk in the forest, the sudden interruption of the Sound Three, the sheer taste of victory after defeating Kin single-handedly, the sense of fear and terror as Dosu raised his arm for the final attack…
The feeling of awe and breathlessness as she saw Sasuke standing before her, shielding her from harm.
Maybe it was just a dream, Sakura considered. It all feels so distant now, and I was really out of it then. I remember blacking out and then waking up here a moment later… She allowed her eyes to wander around the room. In this hospital… but how did I get here?
The image of Sasuke standing in front of her, back turned, flashed through her mind again and she gasped.
It was Sasuke.
Suddenly, she heard a soft groan close-by and shifted her gaze to see Lee stirring in bed. Sakura couldn't help but feel a small smile tug at her lips. She went over by his bedside and pulled up a short stool. Lee strained to open his eyes, but once he caught sight of her, he immediately sat up in bed.
"Sakura – ow!" He winced and clutched his arm, grimacing in pain.
She automatically reached out for him. "Careful, Lee, your injuries still haven't healed yet," she told him gently.
Lee looked at her then, examining her briefly for injuries. His eyes held nothing but concern. "Sakura, are you…?"
She cut him off before he could continue. "Don't worry about me, Lee; I'm fine," she reassured him with a smile. Sure, she had a few cuts and bruises here and there, but nothing was serious and she was able to make a quick recovery. "I'm glad to see you're awake, though."
Lee tore his eyes from her, but not before Sakura caught a fleeting glimpse of pain. He took to his surroundings before settling on the thin cotton sheets in front of him. "H-How long was I out?" he hesitated.
Sakura thought about it before answering: "A couple hours, I guess… I was out for a while myself before I came to check up on you."
Lee paused for the longest time, staring hard at the sheets before him. Sakura observed how tightly he clutched at the pale cloth. "I am…so sorry, Sakura," he said at last, his every word drawn out slowly and painfully. "I could not keep my promise. I am not worthy…I failed to protect you…again."
Sakura could only watch him silently, her former smile now pulling into a small frown. She hated to see Lee like this, so guilty and broken. She knew she had to say something. "It's not your fault, Lee," she put in carefully. "I never asked you to protect me. I never expected any of that from you."
"S-Sakura!" She could now see the tears welling up in Lee's eyes and he wiped them away with the back of his sleeve furiously. "N-Next time, I promise to get even stronger!" he declared between sobs.
Sakura smiled at him then. His determination, his passion, his commitment – she found it all so admirable, the way he was always pledging not only to her, but to himself to always get stronger…for her sake. The way he listened to her with out fail, sacrificed his precious time for her, stood by her side when she felt the weight of the world was crashing down on her…she felt so indebted, so grateful, so devoted to him. Without a doubt in her heart, Sakura knew that she truly loved him for everything he did for her.
But she also knew that no matter how hard she tried to convince herself otherwise, the love she felt for him wasn't the same kind of love she wanted it to be. It wasn't a romantic love.
It wasn't the love she felt for Sasuke.
Sakura bowed her head a little. To think it had taken her almost a full month to finally admit it to herself. What an idiot she was. She tightened her grip on her dress, unsure of where to begin.
"Y-Yes?" She could tell, without even looking, that he was still holding back sobs.
"You've been…so good to me," she began uncertainly, unable to meet his eyes, "You know that, right, Lee? There's no way I could ever repay you for what you've done for me…"
Lee couldn't hide the confusion in his voice. "Sakura…?"
"This past month, you were the only one who cared to listen to me – the only one who knew exactly what was bothering me. You always made sure I was happy, and I will forever be grateful for what you did for me. Even back in the Forest of Death, you came to my aid. We weren't even teammates – we barely knew each other – and yet you put your life on the line for me." Sakura smiled to herself, recalling her past thoughts. She then glanced up at Lee. "You've been such a big part of life, and that's something I just can't deny. And despite all the obstacles we've come across, we were always able to pull through – I have no regrets of anything of it. To tell the truth, I wouldn't be the person I am today if it weren't for you, Lee!"
He only stared at her, unable to say anything. Sakura tore her eyes away from him then and let out a sigh. Honestly, she didn't know how to tell him – not without hurting his feelings, at least. But she also knew that, if anything, she had to tell him. She hated herself for lying to him, after all this time, and she knew that…if she were to keep lying to him, it would just wind up hurting both of them. Sakura drew in a deep, shaking breath.
"But do you remember what I tried to tell you three days ago?" she began. "I never got to answer you…and that's because I didn't want to say it. All this time, I tried to keep you from the truth, Lee, because I didn't want to hurt you…but now…I realize it'd only hurt more if I never told you…" She averted her eyes to Lee. "I finally understand that if I were to continue on like this, I'd just be living a lie."
"So, what are you saying, Sakura?" Lee asked curiously. He said it like a normal question, but Sakura knew he was hesitant, as if he already knew the answer but just had to hear a confirmation.
"That same day…you told me, 'if you cannot get someone out of your head, then maybe they are supposed to be there.' Remember?"
Lee nodded, prompting her to continue.
"Well, to be honest, I never truly understood what that meant…until now. Because now I know…now I know that, all along, I was just running away from this inescapable truth." Sakura kept her eyes concentrated on the tiled floor. "And that no matter how fast – or even how far – I tried to run, it always found a way to catch up to me, like trying to outrun your own shadow… And now I know that no matter how hard I tried to escape from the truth, I never could, because deep down, I think I've always known that I couldn't…I couldn't forget about Sasuke…"
It was a strange feeling, confessing about Sasuke just then. But unlike all those times she spoke of Sasuke with pain, regret, and even anger, this time she felt oddly content, and she almost felt the urge to ridicule herself for being so inconsiderate saying all that in front of Lee; she knew he wouldn't take it lightly. But instead, she found herself smiling, however selfishly. For the first time that month, she felt no shame or guilt. For the first time that month, Sasuke was no longer a source of regret or pain for her, but of genuine, sincere feelings that she could no longer ignore.
"I…think I always knew, Sakura…" Lee's voice interrupted her from her thoughts, and she finally allowed her eyes to settle on him. It had taken him just as long to reply as it had taken her to gather her thoughts, and at that moment, Sakura knew how difficult it was for him to speak.
She saw a smile cross his lips, but knew that it was more a forced smile of hidden pain than anything else, something she was rather used to by now. Still, she couldn't help but feel a knot of guilt twisting in the pit of her stomach as her muscles tensed. To think that I put him through all this…
"I think I always knew that you still loved Sasuke," Lee continued. "I could see it. You never seemed genuinely happy with me like you are with Sasuke. Even when we went out together, you were always…distant, like you wanted to be somewhere else—"
He just shook his head, still keeping his eyes focused on the sheets. "Please do not apologize, Sakura," he said. "It is alright. I know you tried to hide it, tried to deny it, but no matter how hard you tried…you just could not escape it."
Sakura couldn't help but stare at him. He spoke with such understanding. In the short time he had known her, how could he have understood so much?
"I think that…maybe that is what I was trying to do to – living in denial," Lee spoke, his voice low and soft. "Denying your love for Sasuke, even though I saw it so clearly. Maybe I thought that, if I could somehow ignore it, it would not be there, and that somehow, you would return my feelings. " He smiled again, the same wry, painful smile. "Yeah, that must be it…but it was a lie. I understand now. I know what you are feeling, Sakura. And I should be the one who is sorry. I told you to be honest with me, but this whole time, it was me living in denial. I am sorry."
Lee looked up with her then, his eyes finally meeting hers. "But I appreciate your being honest with me, Sakura," he said.
Sakura stared back at him. His voice held no bitterness, no spite or hatred. Remorse, yes. But also acceptance. She knew that – not just in what he said, but in the way he looked at her now – that he not only understood her, but accepted her feelings for Sasuke as well. She felt an incredible wave of gratitude sweep over her, and without her even realizing it, she found herself flinging her arms around Lee's neck. She felt him stiffen in shock before he gently returned the embrace.
"You don't have to say you're sorry, Lee," she told him. "There's no way I could ever thank you enough for everything you've done for me. You're such an amazing friend."
When they parted, Sakura could see the tears of joy streaming down Lee's face. "S-Sakura…!" he cried.
She smiled at him then before standing up. "Well, I guess I should get going—"
"LEE!" Before she could even finish her sentence, she heard the door burst open as a tall figure bolted into the room, nearly bowling Sakura over in the process.
Lee's eyes widened in pure joy. "Guy-sensei!"
Sakura could only watch awkwardly as the student-teacher pair exchanged a rather overdramatic tearful embrace.
"I tried to get here as fast as I could, Lee!" Guy said between sobs. "As soon as I heard what happened – I came right after the mission!"
"It is alright, Guy-sensei!" Lee apologized with equal sobs. "I-I should have been more careful!"
Sakura watched the tearful exchange for a second longer before heading for the door. She gave one last, parting smile. Something told her that as long as Lee had Guy, he'd make it.
He'd be alright.
By the time she'd left the hospital, the last stream of sunlight had descended below the horizon. Sakura looked off to a large open-dome structure in the distance, the site for the final stage of the Chunin Exams. To think that it'll only be three days away…
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted, however, by a loud, obnoxious voice calling her name from afar.
Sakura turned to face the direction of the voice. No surprise there. It was Naruto. But she didn't scowl this time in annoyance. Instead, a small smile made its way across her face.
"Sakura! Sakura!" Naruto shouted, finally catching up to her. He rested his hands on his knees, panting in exhaustion, but still managing to choke out, "Sakura, are you alright? I heard what happened earlier! Are you okay? Are you okay?!" He was now practically screaming in her face.
Sakura waved her arms out in front of her, backing up a little. "I'm alright, Naruto," she reassured him awkwardly. "Don't worry about me. I'm fine." She thought about yelling back at him, but didn't feel like it at the moment.
"Where's Bushy Brow?" Naruto demanded, glancing over Sakura's shoulder, obviously unable to keep still. "Wasn't he there to protect you? Just what the heck was he doing, anyway? Some boyfriend he's turned out to be! If I hadn't been training with Pervy Sage all day, I would've been there to protect you – like I real boyfriend should!"
Sakura couldn't help but feel the urge to jump to Lee's defense. "For your information, Naruto, Lee was there! He didn't ditch me, if that's what you think. But we were both busy fighting our own battles at the moment; he couldn't exactly help me out the whole time. And I'm perfectly fine protecting myself, thank you very much!" She found herself speaking with greater strength than she realized she had. "And Lee's still in his hospital room recovery from his injuries, if that answers you question," she added as an afterthought, careful not to mention the fact that she and Lee were no longer dating.
"Okay…" Naruto began hesitantly. Sakura noticed he'd taken a step back from her, much to her amusement. But only for a split second. Pretty soon, he was back all up in her face again. "Hey, if you're feeling alright and if Lee's busy at the moment…wanna get some ramen with me?" He glanced up at her hopefully, grinning broadly.
Sakura smiled, but shook her head. "Nah, you go ahead, Naruto," she declined. "It's been a long day for me. I'm just gonna be heading home now."
Naruto scowled. "Want me to walk you back?" he offered.
"No, that's alright," she replied. "I think I'll be fine."
Naruto stared at her for a moment before shrugging his shoulders, his fingers now laced casually behind his head. "Okay, if that's what you want," he said. "But I'll tell you now; you'll be missing out on some really good ramen, Sakura!"
Sakura just waved her hand. "Go ahead," she insisted.
That was all it took to encourage Naruto; he was out of there without another moment's worth of hesitation.
Sakura felt a smile tug at her lips. Typical Naruto…
Now that Naruto was gone, the walk home was calm and quiet. Shops in the village closed at sundown, so the streets were really peaceful and uncrowded. Sakura had only seen five other people at the most. Small paper lanterns lined the streets, casting its dim light among the small buildings.
Pretty soon, Sakura's feet met with cobblestone as the Academy campus ground came into view, the familiar stone bench standing before her. Sakura stared at it, a wry smile crossing her face. Why is it that I always wind up here…of all places?
She looked up to deep blue sky, its surface dotted with bright stars. But what stood out to her the most was the pale moon, proudly showing its face amidst the surrounding clouds. It's a full moon tonight, Sakura observed.
A cool breeze started to pick up and the surrounding leaves began to swirl in a gentle circular motion. But it didn't feel cold; Sakura felt no urge to hug herself in an attempt to keep warm. Strangely, the breeze itself was warm, almost reassuring…
She could feel her breath get caught in her throat, her heart pounding in her chest. Her whole body shook. That voice – it's…!
"Sasuke…" she breathed, finally allowing herself to turn around to face him.
But he wasn't standing there facing her. His back was turned with his hands in his pockets. As usual. But that wasn't the least of Sakura's concerns.
"What are you doing here? At this time of night?" he asked, his tone cool and even. He still refused to turn and face her.
Sakura disregarded his question and instead asked one of her own: "You still haven't answered me yet, Sasuke…why did you come back?"
"Don't get the wrong idea," Sasuke interrupted, a now-irritated edge present in his voice. "It was all Naruto's idea."
She had to force herself to stifle a scoff that time. "Yeah, Naruto, I'm sure," she repeated almost dubiously. There were a million reasons in her head that said otherwise. Her previous encounter with said person already proved that he had no knowledge of the incident. That aside, she also knew Naruto well enough to know that he'd even refuse a year's supply of ramen before he'd ever let Sasuke do something he was more than capable of doing himself.
"We all know him better than that," Sakura settled after a moment.
A brief moment of silence passed over the two before Sasuke finally asked: "So, how's Lee doing?"
The sudden question caught Sakura off-guard, but she knew; Sasuke didn't really care. Lee had never been an object of concern for him…not that much was, anyway. The question was just merely an effort to break the silence, or maybe even to change the subject and dodge the question. Truth was, he couldn't answer her. Usually things like this would have made Sakura smile in amusement, but not today – not now. Still, she found herself answering him in spite of herself.
"Lee's fine," she replied at last. "He's still recovering in the hospital, but he'll be alright. His injuries aren't serious."
Sakura paused, waiting for a response, but not getting one in return. Typical. But that didn't bother her so much as his refusal to answer her question, the one unanswered question that haunted her mind since that morning – the one question she couldn't get out of her head. At that moment, she didn't care what it took; she just had to know.
"But tell me, Sasuke," she insisted. Almost pleaded. "Why did you come back? After all those things you said to me…why? Why would you come back to save me?" She could feel her breath get caught in her throat again. "Why are you here right now?"
It was one of the simplest words, and yet it left the most unanswered.
Sakura glanced up at Sasuke expectantly then, but only received silence. His back was still turned to her, forming an impassive barrier between them. She tore her gaze away from him and focused instead on the square cobblestone tile on the ground, unable to look at him so long as he wasn't going to face her. "Why? Why is it always silence with you, Sasuke? Silence and walls?" she heard herself whisper. "Why do you have to keep shutting me out of your life?"
She thought back to the time of the Chunin Exam preliminaries: her worrying over his curse mark, begging him to forfeit his match.
"Am I supposed to just stand by and watch you tear yourself apart? I can't bear to watch it."
"Then don't watch, but stay out of it!"
And then just a few weeks ago, outside Sasuke's apartment.
"Listen, Sasuke, it's not like you to be late. And…well, I just thought that something bad might have happened, so I went to check on you…"
"You don't have to check on me. I can take care of myself… Quit overreacting."
And then those three words that she could never get out of her head.
"Leave me alone."
"Am I…really so much of an annoying pest that you really don't want me around?"
A fresh tear rolled off her cheek and hit the ground. Sakura could only stare at it spitefully. "I-I told myself I wouldn't cry anymore," she muttered, "…That I was through spilling tears for your sake. But who am I kidding? That's all I've been doing." More tears began to well up in her eyes, but she did nothing to stop them – she could only taste the bitter salt against her tongue. "I told myself that I was over you, Sasuke, and for a while, I thought it was true – 'thought I'd moved on with my life, thanks to Rock Lee…
"But I was wrong…" Sakura continued, her voice cracking. "No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't bear it! I couldn't forget about you, Sasuke! I never could!" She hugged herself tightly. "And whenever I tried to block you out of my mind, you always came back! And I didn't know what to do! It hurt to think about it…to think about what you said to me…" Her voice gave out on her again and she could feel her shoulders trembling. I-I can't stop it anymore. What's the point in trying?
It was at that moment that Sasuke felt himself stiffen. He knew it; he knew where this was going, but at the same time, he knew better. He knew such emotions were unbecoming of a shinobi – unbecoming of an Uchiha. I can't…I just can't, Sasuke told himself, tightening his hands into fists.
"Sakura, don't…" he pressed.
She suddenly felt a rush of anger pulsing through her blood, overtaking her. Tears of fiery burned her eyes as she finally tore her eyes from the floor and glared at Sasuke. "You always push me aside, Sasuke! Why can't you understand that there are actually people who care about you?!"
"Overreacting? How can you call caring overreacting? Am I committing a crime because I care about you?"
"That there are actually people out there who worry about you!"
"Sasuke, I can't bear to watch you suffer! Ever since what happened in the Forest of Death with Orochimaru—"
Her voice fell to a whisper, "That there is actually someone…who loves you…"
The words left her mouth before she could stop it, but she didn't wish she could swallow up her words and just take it back. She knew that she meant it. Every single word. She knew it all along.
The sudden confession caught Sasuke by surprise. You're annoying, his mind told him. Just say it!
Why not? You've said it before, you can say it again!
It's different this time…
How's it different? It's still the same-old fangirl confessing her love for you! It's obvious she's liked you since Day 1! Again, how's this any different?!
The sudden realization dawned on him. This wasn't the same girl who once praised his every move, someone who saw him as some invincible being like every other girl his age did. No, she wasn't like that anymore. She saw him at his weakest point in the Forest of Death. She realized his flaws – his fears – and accepted them, pushing him to be stronger. She stood by him and gave him support when he needed it most. Not once did she ever leave his side. In the year they had spent together, Sasuke had come to realize that she was someone precious to him, someone he could trust and rely on – not some annoying fangirl.
It was true what she said back then: how she went to check up on him when he didn't show up at the bridge for their assignment. She really was worried about him – she really did care about his well-being, and yet all he could do was shun her, berate her…
Reject her with a door in her face.
Even now, the very notion still haunted Sasuke with an ever-present guilt. He knew what he did was wrong, but he'd never admit it to himself. He was the sole survivor of the Uchiha clan, for crying out loud. He was born into a family of the utmost honor and prestige. He swore to himself that he'd only live to fulfill his ambitions – to kill his brother Itachi and restore his clan. That was all. But at what cost had this all come at?
He knew he couldn't give in to his feelings. He knew that he couldn't possibly…
Sakura could only stare at his cold, turned back, her heart sinking with every passing second. He hadn't moved an inch. He hadn't even turned back to face her – not once. Why was it always like this? She hung her head down in despair, shutting her eyes tightly so the tears could flow. What did I expect from him? That he'd actually turn around and face me? That he might somehow return my feelings? What was I thinking? I'm such an idiot… I never had a chance…
She couldn't bear it any longer. Before she knew it, Sakura found herself turning on her heels, running. Just running. Not sure where she was going or how far she'd run – just as long as it was anywhere but here. Away from Sasuke. Away from the one person she loved so much and yet the one person who always knew how to break her heart in pieces. She knew that she had to escape, to get away from him – to break herself free of this painful, unwavering devotion.
What a cliché it was, but here she was now: running away from love.
And what did Sasuke do? As soon as he heard the sound of fleeting footsteps, he finally tore himself from his thoughts and turned around. He could only watch her departing figure, running away from him. Again.
Trying to catch her before she left, Sasuke quickly opened the door and stepped out onto the pavement. However, Sakura—as if sensing his presence—suddenly quickened her pace to a run. And though Sasuke was sure he could have caught up to her, he decided not to. Instead, he just watched her go.
She stood up to leave, but before she did, she gave one final, hard glare in Sasuke's direction. "You disappoint me sometimes…Sasuke Uchiha…" And with that said, Sakura walked out of the Ichiraku, leaving Sasuke behind.
Sasuke waited a moment before turning off the running water, and then turned around to see Sakura's retreating back, walking out on him…again.
Sakura turned around to face him, and shot him a death glare. "Save it, Sasuke! I already told you, I don't want to hear it! Is that so hard to understand?!" She felt a crack in her voice, and then instantly turned away. "Just forget it, okay?!" She hurried up the stairs without another word.
"Sakura! Just let me talk to you!" Sasuke started to chase after her, but stopped as soon as he reached the stairs. Pretty soon, all he could hear were her fleeting footsteps, each of them growing fainter as she grew further away. "Sakura…"
He knew what he had to do. Without thinking, he did the only thing that came to his mind…
Why do I always try? Sakura asked herself, tears streaming behind as she continued running to who-knows-where, her lungs starting to burn. All I do is keep hurting myself. And for what? For nothing! Nothing at all! Why…?
Her thoughts were cut off as a strong hand suddenly grabbed her arm, stopping her in mid-run. Sakura froze, her breath caught in her throat. She willed herself at that moment not to turn around, not to turn and face the guy who would just shun her again. She didn't need that. She had to get away.
But turn around is the one thing she did do. "Sasuke?" she breathed.
Sasuke caught one glimpse of her tear-stained face and felt another pang of guilt. This was the first time he'd seen her face-to-face in a long time, and he couldn't believe how much of a jerk he was, to make her hurt so much. He couldn't bear the sight of it, and instead looked away. "Don't go, Sakura…please."
Sakura didn't know what to say, let alone what to think. She wasn't even sure if she could speak. All she knew was the sense of hurt in his voice, clearly written all over his face.
"If you run away from me again…I don't know what I'd do," he whispered. He had to force the words out of his mouth, but he didn't care. Some things were more important than pride. He couldn't bear the thought of losing her for the fourth time. He didn't even want to think about it.
Sakura didn't know what to do anymore, so she let instinct take over, throwing her arms around his neck and burying herself into the crook of his neck, crying into his indigo shirt.
The sudden action caught Sasuke off guard and he stiffened a little, but instead of backing away from her, he wrapped his arms around her trembling form in a protective gesture, as if letting go would mean that she'd slip away from him again. A nightmare he was not about to relive.
He rested his head on her shoulder. "Don't worry…I'm not going anywhere."
And he knew this time, that that was a promise. Almost three weeks ago, he had been a fool, making that one mistake of his life that he had regretted all this time. There was no way he'd let that happen again. Never.
And after all this time spent running way – running away from the past, running away from her feelings, running away from Sasuke…Sakura knew that no matter how hard she ran, the truth would always catch up to her, but this time, she didn't mind. She always knew, somewhere deep down, that her heart had always belonged to Sasuke. She'd always loved him, and although it had been met with both pain and doubt, it was never an insincere feeling. And to think that she'd only realized that today.
"I love you, Sakura…"
It was barely a whisper, but Sakura heard it. For a moment, she had thought it was just the wind playing tricks on her, but no, it wasn't. It was really Sasuke. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest and for the first time since Sasuke was involved, she found herself smiling. She loved him. Truly, she did.
And this time, there were no regrets.
A/N: *Ahem* Well, that turned out a little sappier than I thought. I apologize for Sasuke being a little OOC, but I tried my best. 'Wasn't sure if I wanted to include such a confession from him, but I felt that it seemed to have better completed the story. Note: btw, in case you were confused, the part with Sasuke's thoughts (in italics) and the bold parts reflect his own thoughts, while the non-bolded parts reflect his conscience, if that makes sense!
But anyway, overall, I'm really happy with the turn-out! This chapter even proved to be longer than the last! I originally planned to have the Lee and Sakura scene as a separate chapter since it was longer than I expected, but since I told you guys that there'd only be one chapter left, I kept it all together.
Finally, I'd like to thank everyone who read this little fic and took the time to review! I know this story's been on hiatus for the longest time ever, but I sincerely thank you guys for not giving up on this fic and for giving me the motivation to continue. This is actually one of the few stories I have ever completed (yeah, seven years of writing and I can barely finish a story), so I'm really happy with it. It's been so much fun to write, but as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. =D