TK: This is it! The moment you've been waiting for! Sakura has finished the book! This is the last chapter, and hopefully, everything is wrapped up nicely and everyone likes the ending.
I absolutely loved writing this. I got to be really original with this multi-AU, and I ended up very happy with the characters, where they went in the story, and how things ended up. I hope the readers are as happy with it as I am :D
There's a Friends quote hidden in here, inspired by my beta SpeedDemon315.
A Third Chance
A Third Chance
"Is it fate or chance? I can never decide."
—Flemeth from Dragon Age
Sakura Haruno looked at the book in her hands with an expression of pure disbelief. All of the similarities and suggestive parallels were too much of a coincidence… and the age of the book was a mystery in itself. She trusted Tenten's ability to do her job and date the book properly. There was no way it was a prank made by Chiyo to amuse herself.
Especially not with what the content of the story suggested…
Two lives. Sakura Haruno had lived two separate lives before her current one. The first as a princess of Suna, and the second as a ninja of Konoha. Both times, she and Sasori had loved and lost. And now, centuries later, Sakura finally read the story of those previous lives.
Not just hers, but so many people she knew. To think that she had been connected with all of those people in another life…
What was she thinking? Was she crazy? It couldn't be her past lives… that was just… fortune-teller mumbo-jumbo. Right?
Then why did reading it feel so right?
There was only one way to find out. Sakura had put it off for far too long. She'd been too distracted with real life, her job, her friends…
Sakura shook her head. She closed A Third Chance and hopped off her couch. It was late afternoon, but the library should still be open. It wasn't time to think about Sasori. It was time for destiny!
She put on some jeans and shoes. After grabbing her car keys and her white coat, Sakura headed outside and hopped in her car as fast as she could. She didn't have to worry about the library being closed, but she was in a hurry to get the answers she so desperately sought.
Surely Chiyo would know where the book came from.
Her cell phone rang, and Sakura nearly jumped out of her skin. She pulled it out of her pocket and looked at the front screen. Konan's face was smiling at her in the photograph that popped up. She slid her finger over the screen to answer it. "Hello?"
"Hey, you," said Konan. "So! How was your night?"
Sakura was very grateful that Konan couldn't see her blush. "Um…"
"I knew it! I got your text saying Sasori took you home. So are you two for real this time?"
"Um, yes," Sakura said. Her face was on fire from blushing. She thought again about the rose that Sasori had left her with that morning, and it made her smile widely with delight. "He left me a rose."
Konan made an excited sound in her throat. "That's so romantic! The most Pein ever gives me is a headache!"
Sakura could hear Pein's voice in the background of the call saying, "Lies and slander, woman!"
Konan made a 'pfft' sound. "Anyway, so is he with you now?"
"No," said Sakura. "He went in to work and let me sleep. I'm actually on my way there now."
"Okay! Call me later! We can go on a double date now!"
Pein's voice came through the phone again. "I'd rather die."
"Hush," said Konan.
Sakura snorted with laughter. "You got it. Bye!"
Sakura put her keys in the ignition and started up her car. It was a quick drive to work, and when she got there, she rushed inside faster than she ever had before. Her excitement was overwhelming. She couldn't wait to see Sasori again. Their night together had been so perfect, and the morning rose had left Sakura craving for more.
As she stepped inside, she saw Sasori sitting at her computer. He was holding a piece of paper in his left hand and typing numbers on the number pad with his right as fast as lightning. He heard her enter and lowered his hand that held the slip of paper. When he looked at her, he smiled. It was a rare, genuine Sasori smile that made her heart melt with affection.
Sakura didn't take the time to remove her coat. She crossed the room over to him and bent down to kiss him. Sasori let the paper drop to the floor. He placed his hands on Sakura's waist and pulled her onto his lap. The wheels of the chair slid backwards until it bumped into the desk, stopping it in place. Sakura wound her fingers through Sasori's silky red hair as they kissed hungrily.
"Augh!" came Deidara's voice. "My eyes!"
Sakura pulled her head back, but she didn't get up from Sasori's lap. She looked over and saw that Deidara was just emerging from the bathroom. He had his hand over his eyes, and the other was reaching out blindly for the wall.
Sasori let out an audible sigh. "Idiot."
Sakura giggled and said, "He's our idiot." She turned her head from Deidara and looked down at Sasori. He met her gaze with an adoration she never expected from him. "Thank you for the rose," she told him. "It was lovely. I put it in a vase in my kitchen."
"I'm glad you liked it."
The day passed in a blissful breeze. Sakura watched the clock in anticipation for the end of the day. She was going to go straight to the library to confront Chiyo about A Third Chance. In the meantime, she thoroughly enjoyed how Sasori would find excuses to come downstairs from the work room just to spend time with her. He was surprisingly affectionate, but she knew better than to mention it to him. Instead, she was more than happy to be content with her special treatment.
When the time came for her to clock out, Sakura said her goodbyes and made a promise to see Sasori later. However, when she turned her key in her car's ignition, it sputtered for a moment and wouldn't start. She cried out and tried again, but it made the same stalling sound. Sakura slammed her hand down hard on the steering wheel in frustration.
"Damn it, why now?" she demanded. She was so close, so close, to uncovering the mystery of A Third Chance.
It was then that she remembered that Deidara had plenty of experience working on cars, because he was always fixing his piece of scrap metal. Sakura pocketed her keys and hurried back inside the studio.
"Sakura?" Sasori asked, not expecting her to come back.
"My car's not starting," Sakura said without preamble. She looked at Deidara, who was sitting on her desk and kicking his legs over the edge in a childish manner. "Do you think you could take a look at it, Dei? It can be when you guys are done with work; I don't mind waiting."
Deidara shrugged and hopped off the desk. "Nah, I don't mind looking at it now… yeah. What's it doing?"
"I turn my key and it sounds like it's trying to start, but nothing's happening."
"Is your battery old?" Deidara asked.
Sakura's face turned as pink as her hair. "Um, I don't know."
Deidara snickered. "I'll take a look… yeah. Gimme your keys." She tossed him her keys, and he caught them in his right hand. "Back in a sec."
Sakura walked over to her desk and leaned against it. Sasori was sitting in her chair going over a file on the computer.
"Is your car usually unreliable?" he asked. His eyes stayed on the screen as he scanned the contents of whatever document he was viewing.
"Eh, it's not perfect, but it works most of the time," she replied. "We can't all make three-figure salaries on art."
The corner of his lips twitched in amusement, and he bit down a smirk. "Indeed." His amber eyes shifted to Sakura, and she smiled at him. He still had not fully absorbed the situation with her. It was spiraling out of control like a rollercoaster, but for some reason, he liked the thrill. Perhaps Konan was right when she said that Sakura was a good thing for him.
He decided he wanted to keep her.
"If Deidara can't fix it, I can take you home," he offered.
"Thank you," Sakura said. "I hate to impose, but could you also take me to the library? That's where I was headed now."
Sasori supposed she was going to return A Third Chance. It was probably for the best. He nodded. "Sure, I don't mind. We can go now, if you like."
Sakura smiled sheepishly at him. "That's okay," she said quickly. "You're still working."
"This won't take long. Then by the time we get back here, Deidara should be finished with your car."
She grinned at him. "Thank you."
Sasori finished up his work on the computer and signed out. He collected his keys from his pocket, and he and Sakura headed outside. Deidara had the hood of Sakura's car up as he examined the inside. She told him they would be back shortly and then took their leave.
"The library, right?" Sasori asked as he drove out of the parking lot.
"Yes indeedy," Sakura said.
"You're not even going to ask me what for?" Sakura asked. She sounded amused.
Sasori considered her question. "Honestly? I've learned to stop asking and just go with the flow with you."
Sakura raised her eyebrows and smiled, impressed. "Oh. That works."
Rather than continue the conversation, be it small talk or general ramblings, Sakura opened that old book of hers and started flipping through the pages. Sasori was… surprised, and a bit confused, that for once, he didn't have Sakura's full attention. It was a strange concept, because he couldn't ever remember a time where Sakura didn't stay absorbed in everything he ever said or did.
Perhaps Sasori was more of a spoiled brat than he originally thought.
Sakura looked down at A Third Chance in a daze. She knew all of the characters. In her mind's eye, she could see them perfectly. For one instant, Naruto was there in an orange polo shirt and blue jeans. The next instant had him in orange cargos with a matching orange jacket and a ninja headband.
Somehow, Sakura could see all of the characters in the book in her mind as if she knew what they looked like all along. Anyone could play it up to reader's imagination; she'd read the descriptions in the book and was making it up to match her friends. But Sakura knew differently. She wasn't sure how she knew, but deep in her heart, she knew it was not just a coincidence.
Sasori pulled into the parking lot of the library, and Sakura all but rushed out of his car. He was again taken aback by her quick dismissal and stepped out to follow her. They entered through the main doors together.
The inside of the library was exactly how she remembered it from one month before. The tall aisles of books were forever welcoming. Many of them, Sakura had fished through for class or light reading on the side.
And there, sitting calmly at the front desk without a care in the world, was Chiyo herself. Sasori's grandmother hadn't noticed the two of them enter. She was leaning back in her seat with a comfortable smile as she stared at the ceiling.
Sasori realized then that he should have been able to guess Sakura's purpose in coming to the library. She wanted to confront his grandmother about the book. Sasori wished that Chiyo hadn't forced the book on Sakura, especially since it ended up being the cause of much of her stress. Still, he was curious to hear what Chiyo had to say on the matter, and about the… similarities.
Sakura set the ancient tome down on the front desk with a gentle thud. Chiyo jumped out of her thoughts and stared at them both. Finally, she smiled widely and said, "Oh, my adorable grandson! Are you bringing me your girlfriend at last? I'm so proud!"
The look on Sasori's face was rather priceless, but Sakura whipped her head around to him and said, "You told your grandmother about us?"
"What? No," Sasori said, a little too quickly. He really hadn't, though. But Chiyo liked to assume.
"I'm so happy," said Chiyo. She looked it, too. It made Sakura feel bad about changing the subject to the true matter at hand.
"Actually, Chiyo, I really just…" Sakura trailed off. She pushed A Third Chance toward Chiyo. "I need to know what this is. The characters in it. The two Sakuras. The… ending." She shook her head, bracing herself for more words. "I had this book dated. It's over 400 years old. There's no way this can all be a coincidence. You have to tell me what this really is!"
There was a long pause. Sasori was at a loss for words. Sakura's hand was on the leather-bound tome, and she was staring at Chiyo with a mixture of desperation and determination. Chiyo's dark eyes went down to the book for a long time.
Finally, she returned her gaze to Sakura, and her voice was soft. "…I think you know what this is, Sakura."
Sakura took a shaky breath. "But that's impossible." Chiyo didn't respond. Sakura fumbled for something else. "And the ending…"
"The ending is up to you," Chiyo reminded her. "When I first gave you the book, I told you that very thing."
Sasori put his hand on Sakura's shoulder. He looked concerned. "Sakura…?"
Sakura tore her eyes away from Chiyo and looked at him. Her eyes became lost between Sasori now and Sasori of the Red Sand. His mess of unruly red hair, his perfect amber eyes, his serene expression… he was the Sasori that she loved now, and also the Sasori that both of her past lives had loved years ago.
But it wasn't the time. Sakura looked at Chiyo and asked, "What do I have to do?"
"Your memories will return to you when both of you believe this book to be true," Chiyo replied.
Sakura's green eyes shifted down to the book. She believed it—she truly did. In her heart, she knew that she was Sakura of Sand and Sakura of Leaf. Her eyes drifted over to Sasori.
"Sasori," she said slowly. "I know all of this must sound crazy to you… but you need to read this book."
Sasori glanced at the book for a brief moment before returning his eyes to Sakura. When this was over, he was going to have a long talk with Chiyo about leading Sakura on with fantasy stories. "Sakura… I know there are many strange… coincidences, but—"
"They're not coincidences!" Sakura protested. She picked up the heavy tome and opened it halfway. "How can you say they're coincidences when we know everyone? Even Deidara is in it, and you two bicker about the same things you do in real life!"
"Because it's a hoax, Sakura," Sasori said. He was trying to calm her down. He looked at Chiyo. "Right? This has gone on long enough—tell her you made the whole thing up."
Chiyo frowned at him. "I will not, for everything Sakura has said is true! The book's age should tell you that I had no part in its creation. It was given to me by Baba-Yaga months ago, and I passed it on to Sakura."
The desperation in Sakura's voice was evident. "Sasori," she said, trying to reach him with just her strength of will. "This is your past life. Everything in this book… it was real."
Sasori looked between them both in disbelief. They were both standing by their insane theory that the book's story was real. He looked down at it, the tattered cover, the faded text on the ancient pages…
Sakura closed the book and pushed it into his arms, giving him no choice but to accept it. "Please, Sasori. For me."
Sasori's amber eyes went from Sakura, to the book, and back to Sakura. Finally, he sighed, and said, "All right. I'll read it."
While they were gone, Ino decided to visit Akatsuki Studios. She found Deidara poking around in Sakura's car as she pulled into the parking lot. She shut off her engine and stepped outside. Her blonde hair was up in its usual ponytail, and she was still wearing her purple apron from work at her salon.
She raised an eyebrow, looking amused. "You know, Deidara, some people don't like it when people poke and prod around their cars."
Deidara jumped at the sound of her voice and hit his head on the hood of Sakura's car. He whined and held the top of his head in pain. He looked over at Ino and pouted. "And some people don't like to be sneaked up on, yeah!"
She rolled her teal eyes at him. "Is Forehead in there, then?"
"Nah, Sakura's out with Sasori, yeah," said Deidara. "They said they'd be right back, if you want to wait."
"Oh," Ino said with a look of realization. "Are they an item yet?"
"Unfortunately," Deidara replied in a lazy drawl.
"Well, that's nice," said Ino, though she didn't sound happy. She leaned her hip against Sakura's car and folded her arms across her rather large chest. Deidara's eyes dropped there for a moment before quickly switching back to Sakura's car battery. Ino sighed, "So I guess Sakura's going to go off into the sunset with him after all."
Deidara looked at her. "Don't sound so pleased… yeah," he said sarcastically.
Ino huffed. "I am happy for her; I just was kinda hoping I could go off into the sunset with someone first." She laughed. "I had my eyes on Sasori for a while, too."
Deidara looked as if he had a bad taste in his mouth.
"But no man seems to want to date me. Maybe I'm too intimidating…"
"Come on, Ino… yeah. You could totally get a date if you wanted to."
Ino made a miserable sound in her throat. "You're just saying that."
"I am not!" Deidara insisted. He leaned back and closed the hood on Sakura's car. "You know what I said to Sasori when Sakura first introduced you to us, yeah? I said 'Excellent butt, great rack.'"
Ino smiled brightly at Deidara. "Aw, that's so sweet! I mean, I'm officially offended," she added with a serious face. She smiled again, "But how sweet!"
"No problem… yeah," Deidara replied. He pulled Sakura's car keys from his pocket and sat down in the driver's seat. He left the door open so he could continue talking. "But really, you don't need a boyfriend or a girlfriend or whatever, yeah."
"That makes less sense than a haiku," said Ino.
Deidara gave a halfhearted shrug. "Everyone's always so obsessed with finding true love or sex or just a relationship. But being with someone just for the sake of being with someone isn't going to make you happy… yeah. You need to find someone who actually makes you happy."
Ino averted her gaze, looking away from him. She wasn't used to Deidara being so serious. "But what if you're lonely?"
"That's what friends are for… yeah," Deidara said. "You don't need to be in a relationship to be happy. There's so much to enjoy in life. You can indulge yourself, play the field, focus on becoming the best 'you' that you can be. Get a couple hobbies, yeah? There's a whole world out there for the taking."
A small smile came over Ino's face. "You know," she said, "that's pretty brilliant, Deidara."
Deidara pretended to examine his perfectly manicured fingernails. "I'd say I try, but I really don't… yeah." He turned the keys, and the car started right up. Satisfied, he turned it off and pocketed the keys again. Deidara stepped out of the yellow car and closed the door. "Wanna come inside?"
"Might as well," Ino replied with a shrug.
Sasori could not understand his luck. He finally decided to try a relationship with Sakura, and it was going amazingly well, only to get completely sidetracked into reading that book. When they'd returned to Akatsuki Studios, Sakura had thanked Deidara and left with Ino to go out to an early dinner. They rescheduled their plans that night for the following evening instead, since it was Saturday and they wouldn't have to be up early the next day for work.
And so, Sasori found himself sitting at Sakura's desk in Akatsuki Studios the following day with that blasted book, reading while Deidara's incessant teasing went in one ear and out the other. And Sakura, of course, was at home, leaving Sasori to answer his own phone and put his own appointments in the computer.
"I just don't get it, yeah," said Deidara. He was perched on Sakura's desk and kicking his feet back and forth like a bored child. "You shouldn't be here reading that dumb book. You should be over at Sakura's place!"
Sasori looked at Deidara, unable to concentrate on A Third Chance with him around. "We're out of here in another two hours. I told her I'd call on her then."
"As long as you didn't actually use the words 'call on you', yeah," said Deidara. Sasori had made the mistake of saying he was 'courting' Sakura earlier, and Deidara refused to let him live it down. "Hey are you sure you're not secretly eighty or something in a twenty-year-old body?"
"Shut up, Deidara," Sasori said warily. He returned his gaze to the book.
"Yeah well, don't lose your dentures anytime soon… yeah. I'd hate for you to pop a hip bending down for them. HEY-OH!"
Sasori threw a pen at him.
He had to admit, A Third Chance was… compelling. Sasori read about his character's gradual descent into darkness, from leaving the Sand Village to working with Akatsuki. The way he talked about his art, and even bantered with Deidara, was all so familiar to him. He found himself thinking many of the responses in his mind before even reading them, and was even able to picture scenes perfectly in his mind as if he had actually been there.
But that was just absurd. It was just a book. Sure, Sasori had toyed around with the concept of having an immortal soul, but reincarnation was another thing entirely. The concept of having past lives had never really been one he'd put much thought into. Now that he was reading this book, thinking these things… he couldn't help but wonder if there was more to it.
"Why are you reading that book anyway, yeah?" Deidara asked.
"I wasn't going to," Sasori admitted. The book had… intrigued him, at first. But he deemed it too eerie a coincidence and decided to set it aside. And yet, here he was, reading it at Sakura's request. "But it's important to Sakura, so I…"
"So it's important to you, too." Sasori could practically hear the grin in Deidara's voice, even without looking at him.
"What? No. No, it's just…"
"Oh, ho ho!" Deidara laughed teasingly. "She's a keeper, eh? Eh?"
Sasori rolled his eyes. "How amusing that you think your teasing affects me."
"Oh really, because it seemed to be affecting you a minute ago… yeah," Deidara pointed out.
"…Shut up, Deidara."
Deidara smirked at him. "Ah, spoken like someone who was truly affected!"
Sasori and Deidara closed the studio that night and went their separate ways. Sasori considered going to Sakura's home, but he discarded the idea because he wasn't finished reading A Third Chance. There was a good chunk of it left, but something in him compelled him to go home and read some more of it. Perhaps this was the strange feeling that drew Sakura to the book.
And so, he sat on his couch in the dim lighting of his sitting room, picked up the book, and resumed reading. Sasori read about Sakura of Leaf's life as a shinobi, how she was able to do all the things that Sakura of Sand never got to and then some. He read about Sasori and Deidara in the book returning to Hidden Sand to kidnap the new Kazekage for the One-Tailed Beast inside him.
He even read about killing him remorselessly.
Sasori was nearing the end of the book. The darkness outside his home showed that it was late, but he was too immersed in the story—he couldn't stop now. Not now that Sakura and Sasori were finally reunited in the book.
And what a battle it was.
He read about bits of Sakura's memory returning to her as they fought. He read his and Chiyo's denial of reincarnation until his character could simply no longer deny the theory at all. Book-Sasori actually believed that it was the Sakura from his past reborn, and for his part, the real Sasori agreed with him.
And then, when Sakura killed him, and all of her memories returned, Sasori felt the overwhelming sense of acceptance for his fate that his character in the book was feeling at the same moment. He had wanted to die, and Sakura had granted his wish.
She died with him, killed by his poison and by Chiyo's own hand. It was their second chance, and it, too, had been taken away from them because they fought on different sides of war.
All that was left of their story was the book A Third Chance.
It wasn't often that Sakura fell asleep on her couch, but she'd been going over medical documents for college, and it somehow sent her straight into a slumber. Sakura woke from her deep sleep with a raging headache that turned into blinding agony. She shut her eyes tight and cried out in pain, but each wave brought forth a surge of memories. She saw herself, young, innocent, looking at Sasori with adoration and love. She writhed on the sofa as she saw herself healing her friends with her skills as a medical ninja, traveling on missions, defending her life…
Sakura saw herself stab Sasori in his puppet heart with her kunai knife.
When the ache subsided, Sakura was curled up and panting. She slowly rose up on the couch.
Sakura crawled off the sofa, still feeling the aftershocks of pain. He was coming; she knew it. He must have finished the book and believed it. That's how she remembered so many pieces of her past lives.
She walked toward her front door and opened it, and on the other side, there he was, hand raised and ready to knock. They stared at each other for a long moment, and then, Sasori closed the gap between them, his eyes bright and face resolute. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her tightly as if she might break.
Sakura inhaled sharply, standing shocked at the surprising show of affection from Sasori. She slowly raised her hands and ran them up his sides before settling on his back. She remembered how embarrassed she had felt before, afraid that Sasori would never return her feelings for him, and now, all of that seemed silly.
She pulled back to look at his face, and of all things, Sasori was actually smiling at her.
"It's like, three in the afternoon," she told him. "You're supposed to be at work until—"
He lowered his head to hers and kissed her. It was passionate, and it reminded Sakura of their previous nights together. They had been sublime, and Sakura hoped Sasori would visit her tonight for a repeat. Sasori held Sakura to him as she threaded her fingers through his tousled red hair.
They pulled back to breathe, and Sasori said, "I watched you die. I saw it, both times. I stepped out of my car, and a wave of pain hit me like no other. I saw the whole thing."
Sakura gave him a feeble nod. "I saw it, too. So you finished it? You believe it now?"
Sasori sighed. He reached his hand up and ran it through his hair in a gesture of stress. "I… I do," he admitted. "It's impossible—but I believe it. Those were our lives."
"They were," Sakura said, nodding to him. She bit her lower lip and fidgeted for a moment. "Sasori… I don't want our relationship to be based off of something we read—"
"Sakura," Sasori said patiently. "We happened before this book. And I happen to think we were doing very well. Don't you agree?"
"It's been wonderful," Sakura assured him. She grinned in spite of the still-receding pain in her head. Sakura took hold of the front of his coat and pulled him in to her small house. "So wonderful that I want you to kiss me again."
Sasori chuckled and pulled Sakura to him, happy to obey her command. He would be issuing a few of his own later. He kissed her like he hadn't seen her in years. Sakura felt as if she were freefalling through the sky.
Their Third Chance had been a success. They were happy and in love. But it had grown to so much more than that, more than their lives as ninja would have ever allowed. They would have fallen in love even without Chiyo's 400-year-old book. The book just pushed them in the right direction.
The leap itself was theirs to take.
Friend, enemy, love—the lines were all blurred anyway. He was hers, and she was his.
And this time, they wouldn't waste their chance.
TK: And that's all! I briefly toyed with the idea of writing an epilogue, but everything in the story is pretty much wrapped up by this point. Aside from an amusing scene where someone asks, "So how long have you two been together?" And they sort of look at each other and say, "Um…"
But yes! Hope you enjoyed! :D
Thank you to SpeedDemon315 for being my beta reader from Chapter 8-15 and my e-buddy for the last like, seven years XD
Thank you to everyone who read and reviewed! Your comments have meant the world to me. To anyone who came back to this story after the seven year hiatus, welcome back, and I hope you all got the ending you finally deserved. And to the new people, thank you for reading my story!
The Upside Down and A Third Chance universe is officially at an end. And yet, despite everything that's happened since then in Naruto canon, characters like our beloved Deidara and Sasori will live on forever, because fan fiction never ends. If we miss them, we can always come back to these old stories and smile. It has been my honor to contribute to the vast collection of love for them.
To quote Disney's The Fox and the Hound, "Goodbye may seem forever, farewell is like the end; but in my heart's a memory, and there you'll always be."