..THOUSAND PAPER CRANES.."

"Fold one thousand paper cranes, make a wish, and it will come true." She promised herself that she would forget him after making the thousandth paper crane. He came back just as she was finishing the last.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.

This story is dedicated to Kamir. You know who you are. ;)

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Two months after he left, she came across an old lady holding strings of what looked like hundreds---no, a thousand paper cranes. The old lady smiled at her and said, "Do you believe in the magic of paper cranes?"

She shook her head, almost feeling the urge to roll her eyes at the idiocy and the childishness of the old woman who believed that paper cranes which were made of paper,possessed magic. She didn't even believe in magic---they were just illusions for simple-minded people.

"Well, fold one thousand paper cranes, make a wish and it will come true." The old lady smiled at her, and she walked away with her string of origami, leaving her with a stricken look plastered on her face.

For a moment, she almost believed in magic.

Almost.

A week later, she was working on her sixteenth crane.

_ _ _ _ _

It has been two years since she last saw his eyes that were the replicas of dark charcoal, and heard his silence that she always took comfort in, no matter how often he stayed that way.

She had always clung to him, yet she was already beginning to forget how her name sounded with his deep, coarse voice. She just needed to hear him again, to see him for one more time, and to feel his warmth despite his ever present cold demeanor.

A sigh escaped her mouth as she folded the crane's wings and pulled them apart, finishing the 663rd paper crane. She had always prided herself for being a woman who was never fooled by the macabre of men, yet here she was, a hopeless romantic, even believing in a piece of paper's magic, just to make that wish.

To be able to beam an unadulterated smile again.

To able to wake up in the morning without him on her mind.

To be able to hear the mention of his name without a cringe.

To be able to fall in love again.

To forget. To move on.To let go.

She wasn't even sure how she believed that old woman's words, all she knows is that a week after that, she was randomly reading a book on Origami and an hour later, making her first ever paper crane. Then, she started making more and more paper cranes in hues of blue, keeping them in a large jar.

She was a full fledged nurse now; everything had changed since he was gone. Yet, here she was, still clinging onto his memory.

_ _ _ _

Another year passes by, and Sakura was sitting on her unmade bed, her blanket on the floor, pillows around her. The two jars of paper cranes were in front of her, the lid of the other one unscrewed. It was 2am in the morning; stars were still brightly shining in the sky, the full moon resting on the dark blanket of heavens. Although here she was, awake in the midst of it all, holding a square piece of light blue paper, her viridian eyes staring intently at it, as her pale, candle-like fingers deftly folded it along the edges. It was the thousandth paper crane.

Sakura's mouth moved upwards as she folded the tail of the crane up, just one more and…"SAKURA-CHAN!!!"

Placing the unfinished paper crane on her unmade bed, she opened the sliding glass door to her balcony.

"Naruto?"

"Sasuke." Naruto breathed as his cerulean eyes drilled through her jades. Her breath hitched in her throat, her feet seemingly fastened on the cold marble floor and her head spinning like mad.

Just one mention of his name, and she's done.

Sakura quickly changed clothes and jumped from her balcony to meet Naruto.

"What happened?" She anxiously asked, shuddering at the low temperature outside. Naruto looked at the ground for a moment and replied, "He…he came back."

The pink haired girl could swear she could hear the flapping of a thousand cranes, making her come back to the night he left.

"D-don't go! I love you with all my heart! If you stay by my side, I'll make sure you won't regret any moment! I'll even help you with your revenge! Or if it's not possible, then take me with you. After all this time…" She sobbed, angry tears streaming down her face.

She swore she heard him sigh, and then Sasuke turned around to face her, his strikingly attractive face illuminated by the full moon above. A smirk was present on his face, his eyes displaying a dozen of raw emotions, "Hn. You're still…annoying."

With that, he started walking away, leaving her standing on the ground, with her heart breaking into tiny little pieces with every step he took. "D-don't leave! If you go, I'll scream and---"

Leaves rustled in front of her, and the boy whom she was confessing to a moment earlier disappeared. Suddenly, she felt a presence behind her and Sakura knew exactly who it was.

"Sakura…" Her name was called in a way that only his deep, coarse voice could do. "…Thank you."

Her heart stopped for a moment, his words registering on her mind, and with a pain she felt on the back of her neck, lost consciousness with a murmur of his name. "Sasuke…kun."

She fell onto strong arms, was deserted on the bench that held so much hurtful yet meaningful memories, and Haruno Sakura was left by Uchiha Sasuke, all alone, without her love being returned---along with a simple word of thanks that not even her, could understand.

A "thank you" was a simple everyday word used by each and every one of us, commonly taken for granted. Yet, when it came from him, she swore it can mean so much more, hitherto that she didn't even understand what it meant. Or why he had said it.

A thank you was everything that he had left her. And nine hundred, ninety-nine paper cranes.

The two Konoha shinobi arrived at the Hokage's Mansion, running up the stairs to meet their long lost friend. And her love.

"Granny Tsunade!" The sun-kissed haired sixteen year-old boy burst through the door with the rosette girl following his footsteps.

The fifth leader of the village faced them, a grave look on her face. "I see you've heard, Naruto, Sakura."

"State the obvious, Granny Tsunade!" Naruto banged his fist on the Hokage's table, "WHERE THE HELL IS SASUKE?!"

"Naruto!" Sakura scolded him, yet the impatience to see her recently arrived teammate was clear on her face.

"Uchiha Sasuke came back willingly, and he had killed Orochimaru and the S-Rank criminal, Itachi. The elders will have a meeting tomorrow about him, but now, he's rushed to the hospital, due to wounds he had suffered." Tsunade explained, moving closer to the two stunned individuals.

"He's proclaimed comatose an hour ago, you can visit him now." The Godaime revealed, "But…don't expect him to awake anytime soon."

The two solemnly nodded, and they both rushed to the hospital. Glad, but nervous at the same time for the man they had tried to get back after three long years.

She wiped the tears that suddenly streamed down her face. Here she was, rushing in the wee hours of the morning to meet him again.

Haruno Sakura arrived at the hospital to meet Uchiha Sasuke, the man who had broke her heart over and over with his coldness, with the bluntness of his few words, with his leaving. Yet she never gave up on him. She never hated him for being an asshole for leaving her hanging, for even making her hope that one day, they'd be together. For giving her countless daydreams and fantasies about him and her being soul mates. For allowing her to stare and get lost in his eyes, when in the first place, she never really even had a chance and he never even stared back. For making her fold nine hundred, ninety-nine paper cranes with the hope that once she makes the thousandth, she'd get over him and be able to go on without him.

Yeah, right.

God, Uchiha Sasuke isn't anything but eye candy, but she loved him nonetheless. She accepted his perfect imperfections that no fan girl had even seen. Or acknowledged.

As she and Naruto arrived in the room of the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital, the beeping of the machine the only sound present, Sakura glimpsed at his face for the very first time in three years.

In the midst of the dark, empty room, the full moon above---how reminiscent---once more showed off his features. His hair was longer, with stray bangs on his forehead, his mouth opened slightly as he breathed, and his gorgeous charcoal eyes hidden behind his lids. How Sakura wished he'd open them now, so that she will see them again, so that she can get lost into them once more.

"Sa—sakura-chan…" Naruto muttered randomly, his eyes also fixed on his best friend that he had almost sacrificed his life for three years ago. His best friend, whom he has always envied, yet admired secretly. His best friend, who was better than him in everything, ninjutsu, taijutsu and genjutsu alike, heck, even with the ladies. Uchiha Sasuke, whom their female teammate had always loved despite Naruto's constant love confessions to her. Sasuke "stole" everything away from him, yet he always pursued to get him back.

Naruto breathed in deeply, "Sakura-chan, I'd leave if you want." He smiled at her, and she replied with a stunned look back. "I know you want to be alone with him for the moment. I can just visit tomorrow." The blonde grinned at her, and with that, he exited the room, his fists tightly clenched.

He had to let go of her now.

He had to.

_ _ _ _

It has been two weeks since Sasuke had returned and he was still in a coma, he was in a stable state, thankfully. Sakura had visited him everyday, sometimes even spending the night and sleeping on the hospital couch. Naruto had always gone by when he doesn't have missions, watching over him with Sakura, and annoying the hell out of Tsunade into pleading her to use her medical jutsu to awaken Sasuke like she did back then.

"Granny Tsunade! Come on, awaken him like you did before!!!" Naruto pouted, his voice booming in the hospital walls.

"SHUT UP, NARUTO! How many times do I have to tell you that his coma is by far different from before?! He was in a coma back then because of the genjutsu Uchiha Itachi had cast on him, and I just had to release him before! It's different now, his whole chakra system is close to being depleted and his whole body is still suffering from injuries! I can't just force his body to awake again!" Tsunade will also shout back every time.

Today, Naruto was out on a mission, so Sakura was the only one watching over Sasuke. She had taken a break out of missions and was doing shifts in the hospital at night as a nurse.

Sakura had never come back to her house since Sasuke returned. She just asked her mom to bring her a hefty pile of clothes and stayed at the nurses' dorm next door. The nine hundred ninety-nine cranes left in her two gigantic jars, the thousandth unfinished piece of origami still lying on her bed.

Sakura pursed her lips as she glanced at Sasuke's resting form in front of her.

"Well, fold one thousand paper cranes, make a wish and it will come true." She remembered the old woman's words as if it were said yesterday. She shook her head as she smiled at how she believed that after folding a thousand paper cranes, any wish will come true.

Wrong. She knew the answer now.

It was time that made her wish come true. The long, long time spent in folding a thousand paper cranes was what healed her. She didn't need the wish anymore. The magicof the thousand paper cranes was enough. More, more than enough. Time, like stated in that cliche, heals everything. Everything. Anything. Anyone.

Sakura realized that night Sasuke returned, after Naruto left them alone, that Sasuke was merely her first love, not the last. That it was true that she fell in love with him, but it is already time to let go. It was time to let go of the hurt, the pain and the suffering, and the feeling of magic caused by loving Uchiha Sasuke. It was time for her to start anew again, three long years of waiting and nine hundred, ninety-nine paper cranes were sufficient to mend her heart. It was the time that made the wish come true.

She was able to beam an unadulterated smile again.

She was able to wake up in the morning without him on her mind.

She can hear the mention of his name without a cringe.

Shemayfall in love again.

She has forgotten the pain. She moved on.She had let go.

Sakura felt the atmosphere change suddenly and was taken aback as she gazed at Sasuke's face one more.

His eyes were open.

He slowly took the environment around him and sat up. With a turn of his head, his eyes fixed on Sakura and his mouth opened, releasing one word. One name. "Sakura?"

Sakura slowly stood up, and with shaking knees, launched herself to Sasuke and hugged him. To say that she was overjoyed was an understatement.

She slowly released her grasp on him and smiled, "Sasuke-kun, you're back."

He closed his eyes for a moment, and like nothing had happened before, smirked, "Hn. Yes."

_ _ _ _

They were all 20 year olds now, all jonin ranked and even close to be named as the Second Generation of the Sannin. Many things have changed, Naruto, for one instance, figured out that Hinata likes him and asked her out on a date. Shikamaru surprisingly became twisted around the fingers of Temari and Ino in a love triangle. Tenten was seen "strolling" around the park with Neji in the wee hours of the morning. Team 7 was still composed of Naruto, Sasuke, Sakura, since no other genins had passed Kakashi's test.

"Sasuke-kun?" Sakura had arrived in their training grounds, carrying a large paper bag in hand.

Sasuke acknowledged her presence with a grunt and pointed at the paper bag with raised brows. "Oh, this? Well…" Sakura sat across him, since Naruto and Kakashi sensei were late again.

She removed two large jars from the paper bag and set them before Sasuke and her. "What of these?" Sasuke took one heavy jar with his left hand and examined it.

"Can't you see what's inside?" Sakura said, opening the other jar. Sasuke opened his jar and his eyes widened slightly with what he saw. Inside were light blue paper cranes, occupying every space inside.

"Origami?" He asked, and she nodded with a smile.

"Yeah. Paper cranes. Nine hundred, ninety-nine of them." Sakura replied, a pleased smile plastered on her face. "Two months after you left, I met an old woman holding a set of strings of paper cranes. She told me that once I fold a thousand of them, I should make a wish, and that wish would come true. Foolish of me, I believed her." She shook her head, seemingly embarrassed with the retelling of the story.

"Why didn't you make a thousand?" Sasuke asked as he looked down on a crane, examining it with his fingers to prevent meeting her gaze.

"Well, I was about to finish the thousandth, but Naruto called me, saying you have arrived." Sakura answered simply.

Sasuke looked at her, with his lips in a tight line. "What were you going to wish for?"

"To move on from you. To let go."

Sasuke inhaled deeply and put the crane he was examining back to the jar to prevent himself from crushing it.

"But, little did I know that over the course of three years, folding these paper cranes had helped me to heal. Time had healed my wounds, Sasuke-kun. I was able to smile genuinely again. Moreover…." Sakura grinned at him, her bottle green eyes so innocent, "…I was ready to fall in love again."

Sasuke just looked at her, his eyes blank, his mouth speechless. He cannot think of words to say, he never knew how much he had hurt her, how much he had influenced her---and now, it all came crashing on him.

"So now, I don't really need these 999 paper cranes anymore, Sasuke-kun. My wish was granted. You helped me grow, Sasuke-kun. I have to tell that when I look back upon my preteen years, I was nothing but an obnoxious, obsessive, annoyingfan girl who did nothing but to pester you, a girl who had wanted to fasten herself on your body, a girl who always acted as if she was always right and talked as if she knows everything. However, after the moment you left, you taught me what being in love means. Loving someone isn't all about the sweetness and the security it brings, but it also meant sacrificing and continuing on even if that person keeps hurting you."

"Lastly, you also taught me that it is more than okay to let go when you know you just simply don't stand a chance. When you get more pain without gaining anything. It is all right to just simply walk away, even if you can't breathe without that person, even if you love him with all your heart, and even… and even if you know in yourself that you can'tmove on and let go of him. You taught me to love myself,Sasuke-kun. With that..." Sakura looked at Sasuke's eyes, her lips forming a smile that no one had ever seen before, "…Sasuke-kun, thank you."

"Sakura…I…" Sasuke muttered, looking on the ground.

"So, I am giving you these nine hundred, ninety-nine paper cranes to you as my gift, Sasuke-kun. You just have to complete this one…" Sakura took out the unfinished crane she made four years ago when Sasuke came back from her back pocket, "…just fold it up to make the crane's head."

"Sakura, you can just make a wish for your----" Sakura put her hand over Sasuke's mouth and shook her head.

"Come on, Sasuke-kun. You won't find nine hundred, ninety-nine paper cranes in a store." Sakura put the unfinished thousandth paper crane on the palm of his hand she had forcedly opened.

Sasuke stared at her, "Sakura, this…"

"Yeah, just fold it up and you have one thousand paper cranes." She smiled, handing him the two jars.

Sasuke folded the pointed end up and pinched the tip to make the head of the crane. "Now, hold the two wings with your fingers and pull them apart." Sakura instructed, Sasuke obliged, and looked at the paper crane on his hand. Sakura's thousandth paper crane. No, histhousandth paper crane.

"Now, Sasuke-kun, make a wish." Sakura whispered; her hands in a loose fist.

Sasuke creased his brows, and closed his eyes tightly, his mouth shut tight. "Come on, Sasuke-kun. Just play childish with me even for a moment." Sasuke snorted at her for putting her "idea" of humor in this situation.

Sasuke began as Sakura looked at him intently, "I wish…with these one thousand paper cranes…"

A breeze of wind,

Coldness.

Leaves falling on the ground,

Silence.

Sasuke enclosing his hand on Sakura's fisted hands,

Warmth.

"…that Haruno Sakura give me a second chance."

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---FIN---

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You can forget.

You can let go.

You can move on.

But you can never stop loving.

Someone who has once occupied your heart, will forever, remain there.

No matter what.

I know you know what Sakura's going to do. After all, it's Uchiha Sasuke. ;)

Thank you for reading!!!

With all my love for SasuSaku, books, chocolates, FaceBook and gifts,

Katrina.

:D