This chapter got… much longer than I anticipated. I hope I covered and cleared up everything. As always, please tell me how you found this story overall. Thanks for reading!
Six pages. Six chances.
If you had only six chances to share with someone, to say everything you'd ever want to say, what would you start with? Maybe some people are good at this. Someone like Naruto, he can fit everything there is to say in a single sentence. Me, I can't.
This was my only chance to find out what had happened. My only chance to apologize. My last chance to remind Kiba that I loved him.
My only chance to say goodbye.
So you tell me: What did I do? What could I do?
I slept for half a day. Once or twice, I felt myself waking, but every time, my body and mind shut down. Maybe from exhaustion. Maybe because I didn't want to face what had happened. What I'd done.
I heard voices sometimes, when moving in and out of sleep. Deep voices. I recognized Sasuke's. I felt fingers brush against my injured arm, and soothing coolness inside me. Soft sheets around me. A warm wet cloth rubbing at my cheek and forehead. The smell of disinfectant.
I woke up in the middle of the night.
I didn't recognize the room I was in, and it was too dark t make out details. A big room. A big bed. A dark comforter. A desk in the corner, a backpack on top.
And a worn leather jacket hanging off the back of the chair.
I tried to sit up, then let out a hiss as my arm stung. Almost immediately, a hand was behind me, and a voice in my ear urged me to lie back down. I straightened, shocked.
The light switched on. I saw Sasuke standing by the door, looking exhausted but relieved.
"Sakura-chan!" Naruto exclaimed, somewhat blearily, getting up off the floor, where he had been sleeping on a makeshift bed of blankets.
I turned my head away from him, staring wide-eyed. "Ino. What are you doing here?"
She tucked a lock of pale-blonde hair behind one ear and studied me with serious blue eyes. Another shock. She was back to normal. Last time I had seen her she had been better, not so loopy, but still disoriented. "Naruto called me."
"And Sasuke called me," Naruto added.
"I—" I swallowed, glancing around me. "Where am I?"
"My house," Sasuke said. I looked at him. He hadn't moved from his spot by the door. Ino had been sitting in a comfy leather chair by my bed, and Naruto had been asleep on the floor, but what about Sasuke? I could see no other furniture, and I hadn't seen him sitting at his desk. Then I saw the half-open balcony door behind Ino. He had been outside in the cold? Granted, Wishmakers seemed pretty resistant to cold. But I was still touched.
Until I saw the journal in Sasuke's hands.
I shot up once more, ignoring Ino's protests.
"You read my journal?" I screeched, before remembering that it was the middle of the night and I should probably keep it down. "You read my journal! Our conversations!" Then a more terrifying thought gripped me. "Did you write in it? Did you waste the pages?"
I didn't realize I was half-out of the bed until I felt Naruto's hands on my shoulders. He wasn't smiling.
"Sit down, Sakura-chan." I didn't move, and Naruto sighed. "He didn't do anything."
I scoffed, but let Naruto push me back against the pillows Ino had propped up for me. I sat, glaring at Sasuke, trying to ignore the sudden pounding in my head. I felt so tired.
Sasuke hadn't moved, hadn't spoken, hadn't even changed expression.
"I didn't read your journal," he said now. He held it out to me. "I was just going to give it to you."
My cheeks burned with shame. What was wrong with me? As if it weren't bad enough that I had treated Kiba so horribly – before banishing him to the pages I had tried so hard to free him from – now I was being a bitch to the people who had helped me. Sasuke didn't deserve my attitude. What hadn't he done for me? I owed him my life – literally, now. And here I was, yelling at him for no good reason.
I took a breath, centering myself. "I'm sorry."
If he noticed my voice catch, he gave no indication. He stepped over Naruto's legs to stand by my side, put the journal on my lap, and gently lifted my arm so he could peer at it. I finally noticed the white bandages wound around my wound. They were spotted with pink – my blood.
"I need to change this," Sasuke told me, and I nodded, bracing myself.
Naruto hefted a first-aid kit I hadn't noticed earlier onto my bed, and Ino disappeared into the attached bathroom. She left the door open, but when she ran the water in the sink, I asked, keeping my voice soft, "What did you tell her?"
"Everything," Sasuke said, pulling the comforter off me and starting to unroll my bandages.
"Sasuke's brother came," Naruto added. "He healed both of you."
"Where is he now?"
"He left. He doesn't live here. He went home a few hours ago. Said Sasuke could do the rest for you, but there wasn't much to do." Naruto half-smiled, glancing at Sasuke. "His brother's way better at healing."
Sasuke glared at Naruto but didn't say anything. I smiled at him.
"Thanks, I—" I broke off, eyes widening when the bandage completely fell away.
The skin was healing, of course. Growing, actually, I realized, remembering how it had been before. But it was pink and tender-looking, and splotched with blood.
Catching sight of my expression, Naruto said, "It was worse before. Sasuke's been healing you, like, every half hour since his brother left. Kept waking me up, too. Not that I'm complaining!" he added hastily.
"You are, actually," Ino said, returning with a basin of water in her arms. She set it down carefully on the floor beside Sasuke, and soaked a towel in it. She glanced at my arm, and I expected a cringe, or at least a grimace, but she just looked relieved. "Oh good, much better."
Holy crap. What state had my arm been in before?
Sasuke began to clean my arm, first, very gently – surprisingly so – with the wet towel, and then with rubbing alcohol, which made the skin pucker and sting.
"Ow ow owww," I said.
Ino giggled beside me. "Suck it up."
"Be a man, Sakura-chan!"
Stupid friends. Sasuke, at least, hurried on to the healing.
He touched my arm gently and his eyes flashed red, just like before. I jerked back, startled, but the others didn't even react. Then I felt that same cooling pressure inside me, and I relaxed. The pain subsided, and as I watched, the skin mended and healed, the wound shrinking. Just a little.
"When am I going to be better?" I asked, as Sasuke began to unwind the roll of bandages. Naruto reached for the bandages to start winding them around my arm, but Sasuke slapped his hand away, almost absently, and shrugged.
"If I keep healing you this regularly… two days? Three?" He looked down for a moment, then back up. "You can stay here until then."
Three days. It was late Monday night – or early Tuesday morning, depending on how you wanted to look at it. I would have to miss class, but I didn't feel up to attending, anyway.
"Stay here…" I murmured.
"My parents are out of town, and won't be back until this weekend. And we have room."
"Sakura-chan's not staying alone with you!" Naruto said, looking scandalized.
"We wouldn't be alone," Sasuke said calmly. "The staff's here." He shrugged, addressing me. "You don't have to. But it would be more convenient for both of us."
"Don't you have school?" I asked.
Ino sighed. "Typical Sakura."
"It's fine," Sasuke said, finishing bandaging my arm.
I shut up.
"We should all go back to sleep," Naruto said, after a moment's silence. I finally glanced at the clock on the wall. Three in the morning. "You too, Sasuke."
"I need to—"
"Heal her when you wake up," Naruto said. "Now go."
"It's my room," Sasuke reminded him. But he looked exhausted, so without another word, he left. Naruto followed, so Ino could have his "bed". She switched off the light and moved to lie down on the floor, but I shuffled to one side of the bed and pulled back the comforter. Without a word, Ino came to lie down beside me.
"Naruto and Sasuke told me what happened," she said after a moment. "Why didn't you tell me what was going on?"
"I didn't think you'd believe me," I said. "And everything happened so fast."
Ino sighed. "They also told me about the party."
I winced. "I'm so sorry." My voice shook. "I never thought he would—" My voice broke.
"Sshhh." Ino turned to face me, drawing my closer to press my face against her shoulder. "It's okay."
I didn't cry. I closed my eyes and, exhausted, I slept.
For three days, I stayed with Sasuke. Naruto and Ino had to go back to school, but they visited when they were free. We watched TV. We ate pizza. Sasuke healed me. We even talked.
But not about Kiba. Not about what happened. I gave myself until I was healed and back home to talk to him. I didn't open the journal, and I tried not to think of what to say to him, because I wasn't really sure what I could say to him.
Except one night. The first night, Sasuke and I sat in his room while he healed me. His staff didn't know he was a Wishmaker, and Sasuke didn't want to risk using his power in front of them.
"How's your brother?" I asked, breaking the silence we always sat in during healing sessions.
Sasuke glanced up at me, then back to my arm. "He's better. The negative energy is gone. Mostly."
"Some is still hanging around in the air. Mostly around you."
"Oh." I swallowed. "Are you okay? Being around me, I mean."
I exhaled, gustily enough to ruffle Sasuke's hair, and he looked up again.
"Did you want something?"
I fidgeted with the hem of my denim skirt. Ino had dropped off some clothes for me earlier, allowing me to finally shower. I felt clean now, but my heart was still heavy.
"Are you going to explain what happened yesterday?"
Sasuke finished healing me and rocked back on his heels, staring up at me. I tugged the hem of my skirt lower, feeling uneasy under that dark, knowing gaze.
"What do you want me to explain?"
"Your boyfriend tried to kill you. I stopped him. You sent him back into the journal." Sasuke glanced at the journal on his bedside table. "And then I brought you back here."
"Let's start with how you found me."
"I felt a lot of negative energy. I just followed it."
I sighed. Everything made sense to me; I just didn't want to piece it all together. I didn't want to think about what had happened.
"What'll happen to him now?"
Sasuke paused in re-bandaging my arm. "He'll be trapped in the book forever, unless someone breaks him out of it like I did."
"And if that happens?"
"He'll do the same thing all over again," Sasuke said. "Fixate on whoever found him and broke him out. Or…" He looked uncomfortable.
"Or?" I pressed.
"He was very attached to you," Sasuke said awkwardly. "If the next person to find him doesn't form that connection with him, and if you're still alive… he'll find you."
"And?" I asked softly. Sasuke's expression told me all I needed to know, but I had to hear it.
"Destroy you," Sasuke said. Not kill. Destroy. "Come after your family. Your friends. Everyone you care about."
Shikamaru's arrest, I realized, remembering Kiba had been in the woods the night before. Ino. Naruto. Even Sasuke. He had been ready to hurt them all. I stiffened, remembering—
"Naruto's car. It was towed, only minutes after you released Kiba. Did he do that?"
Sasuke shrugged. "Possible. Make him angry, even a little, and he'd attack."
I shivered. "But…" I stopped, flushing.
Sasuke finished with the bandaging and I dropped my arm. "But?" he pressed, walking over to the bathroom to wash his hands. I didn't reply, and he came back out, looking curious now. I never really held anything back. Still don't, actually. "Sakura?"
"Well…" I coughed, looking away. God, he was going to think I was the biggest loser. "He said he loved me!"
Sasuke's expression didn't change. Wait. That wasn't true. The corner of his mouth twitched. Just a little. "And?"
Flushing an even deeper red at his amusement, I said, "You don't try to kill the people you love."
The amusement faded. "Sometimes there are other circumstances."
I felt a lump in my throat, but I had cried too much in front of Sasuke already. I wouldn't again.
"He couldn't help it," Sasuke said. "He had too much bad energy inside him. It was the reason my brother had sealed him away in the first place."
"But why did he seal him away in a book? That's just too cruel. And, as we saw, kind of risky."
"That was all he could think of. They were battling. Kiba was winning. Itachi saw the journal and took a chance – he didn't even think. Killing him—" I winced, but Sasuke ignored me—"Wasn't possible. My brother was too weak, Kiba was too strong, and it's very hard to kill a Wishmaker."
Sasuke looked surprised for a moment. "Oh. I didn't tell you. Yes, Kiba was a Wishmaker. Kind of."
"What do you mean?" I demanded. When Sasuke didn't reply, I shot to my feet. "Sasuke!"
We were only inches apart. Sasuke stared down at me expressionlessly. "Kiba tried to become a Wishmaker."
"I don't know. It's never been done before." I remembered Kiba telling me once, in the journal: Wishmakers are born, not made. Then I remembered him telling me he didn't know why Itachi had sealed him away in the book. He had lied to me? "Anyway, it messed him up. Normal humans can't handle that kind of power. The magic overloaded his brain. Warped him. That's why he seemed so normal when he was in the journal – he was cut off from his power."
I didn't know what to say. That was happening a lot lately.
Sasuke walked over to his desk and booted up his laptop, leaving me sitting on his bed. He didn't ask me to leave. He seemed content to ignore me while I mulled over all this new information.
Sealing Kiba in a book still seemed too cruel, even if Itachi had had no other option. With a sinking heart, I realized that I had done the exact same thing only a day ago. But what else could I have done? I remembered Kiba's face. Remembered how he had looked at me. He wanted me to seal him back in the book.
I touched my cheek, the last place he had touched me. The last place he kissed me.
"Sasuke," I said. "Is there anything I can do for him?" I couldn't ask for another Wish. I couldn't do that to Sasuke. Or could I? For Kiba, could I do that to Sasuke?
Sasuke didn't turn. "I can't release him from the book again. He won't rest until he finishes you off."
"But spending eternity, trapped in that book is too horrible," I said desperately, then stopped. I closed my eyes.
Sasuke read my mind. "You don't have to do it."
Six pages. Once I used up all the pages in the journal, Kiba would be gone. I knew I had to do it. But I had hoped I wouldn't, had hoped there was another option.
I lay back on the bed, eventually falling asleep to the clicking of keys as Sasuke worked into the night.
After that conversation, I kept to light topics. I felt guilty every time I thought of Kiba, waiting in the journal – which was all the time, basically – but I tried not to. I had had no other option. I wasn't ready.
Okay, let's face it: I sucked.
Sasuke healed my arm almost completely in three days. When he drove me back to campus, my skin was still pink and raw, but considering it had melted off only days earlier, I didn't think that was too bad.
"Thanks," I said when Sasuke parked the car and reached into the backseat for my bag. He handed it to me, and I unbuckled my seatbelt. "For everything," I added, on impulse leaning over to grasp his hand for a moment. I would have hugged him, but even the brief squeeze of his hand had him looking uncomfortable. I unlocked the door and started to slide out, when he called to me.
He still looked uneasy, even more so now. "If you need anything…" He broke off, looking for words. Then he cleared his throat, looking like he wanted nothing more than to drive away from the menace in his life (i.e. me), and continued: "Anything at all… You have my number."
I smiled at him again, deeply touched. "Thanks, Sasuke." Then, not wanting to make him any more uncomfortable than I already had, I got out, shut the door, and walked away.
And once I was out of sight, I felt my steps grow heavier, my fingers tighten on the strap of my bag.
Time to talk to Kiba.
Sakura, have you seen this yet?
If you have, please talk to me.
I don't blame you. I just want to talk to you. Is your arm okay?
My eyes burned. I turned the page.
I'm here. My arm's okay. I'm so sorry.
I didn't know what else to say. I turned the page. After days of talking to Kiba as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted, this way seemed even worse than before. I felt so constrained.
Oh, God, Sakura. Okay, don't turn the page until I say so. We're running out of them.
I love you. So much. I can't believe what I did to you. I don't know… sometimes, when I'm out of the book, I feel… weird. Like I don't know what I'm doing. Like I can't control myself. Sometimes, I would look at you, and feel the way I do when I'm in the book. I knew I loved you. I knew I wanted to be with you. There's something about you, Sakura, I don't know what. Maybe it's because we met so strangely, or because you were the only person in my life for a while, or because you were the first person I spoke to – wrote to – in seven years. I don't know. But when I was with you, I was happy. Sometimes.
And then, other times… I got angry. I don't know what happened to me. A tiny, insignificant comment – a joke, even – would set me off, and I'd go into a rage. I wanted to hurt you. I wanted to break you.
Don't apologize. Please. I'm so glad you're okay. I'm so glad Sasuke stopped me.
When I met you before, I don't know. I didn't really remember what had happened to me before Itachi sealed me. Maybe if I did, I could have convinced you not to unseal me. I think it was all the years in the book. My memory grew hazy. Seven years of solitude in these pages is agony, Sakura. It messed with my mind. I wish Itachi had thought of that before he left me in here.
Sakura, I can't do that again. I can't live like that.
My heart stopped.
Please, finish the book. Turn the page.
I didn't move. I knew I had to. But, God, I didn't want to. Surely, there was another option. There had to be…
Turn the page, Sakura.
I turned it.
Don't make me do this, Kiba. I can't. Please, please, think. There has to be another way, something we haven't thought of yet.
After a moment, I turned the page.
Don't cry for me, Sweetheart.
Too late, I saw the teardrops on the page.
I'll miss you.
Turn the page.
Fall-out sobbing now, I turned the page. Shaking so hard my words were barely legible, I wrote.
I love you, Kiba.
Then I pushed the journal away, still open, and dropped my face into my hands, weeping. I didn't settle down for a long time. I cried, thinking of Kiba, of what I had done to him. I didn't stop for nearly half an hour, and when my tears dried up, I just sat there, eyes closed, sniffling.
So it took me a while to notice the last note.
On the inside cover of the journal, inches from my words on the last page, were new words.
So it turns out we had one page more than we thought. But this is the end. For us. For me.
Take care of Akamaru. Thank Sasuke for me. You'll find evidence to clear Shikamaru – and implicate me – in my room. Tell Naruto he was a good roommate, and right not to trust me.
It might not count for much now, but I'll love you for the rest of my life.
And then, at the bottom of the page, so he couldn't write any more:
Close the book.
There are two things you need to remember after you read my story: (a) this isn't how my love story ended; and (b) I married Sasuke.
You read the second and probably forgot the first, right? I'll address that first, then.
I called Sasuke after I closed the book, broke down on the phone, and then met him for coffee. Sasuke said he wasn't too far, but he had actually never left. He had been waiting for me, knowing I was going to talk to Kiba, and thinking I'd need someone to talk to.
Sasuke was a good friend to me. He was kind and sweet, in his special Sasuke way. He was smart, and Naruto considered him his best friend. Sasuke treated me right and understood me. He had been there, not just for me, but for my best friends. I didn't even realize how I felt about him until one day, when he asked me – looking horribly awkward, of course – on a proper date.
But that took two years. Don't go thinking I was so quick to forget Kiba. I wasn't. Another reason Sasuke and I work: he was there for the Kiba drama. He knew what happened – obviously – and he knew what Kiba had meant to me.
It took me time to stop moping over Kiba. It took me longer to admit that there was nothing I could have possibly done to help him. I still wonder sometimes, though. Could I have saved him? And if I had, what would my life be like now?
Back to my first point. Yes, Kiba was gone. I keep the journal with me, in my bookcase. Once I finish writing my story, I'll print it out, get it bound, and keep it next to the journal. Maybe, somehow, Kiba will feel the words.
But that wasn't the end of it. I checked back every day for weeks, but Kiba didn't write back. Sasuke confirmed: he was gone. And even though I was happy he was free, I'll admit, a huge, selfish part of me was devastated.
Remember at the beginning, when I said my love story involved only one person, at least at the beginning? If that's true, then there shouldn't be any reason it couldn't end that way as well, right?
Kiba was gone. But I was still there. I had his words. I had his love, which could never change. I had my memories. Most importantly, I had his journal, which had brought him to me in the first place. It was almost like being back at the beginning.
Maybe, one day, someone will find my story, the way I found Kiba's journal (though hopefully not at a garage sale), and maybe, one day, someone else will fall in love with this bittersweet love story.
Oh wait, someone just did.