title: Between the Pages
summary: Come, step into a world of fantasy. But, beware. The forest is an awfully dangerous place. And, once you enter, you won't want to leave.
pairing: (In order of appearance) Sai/Sakura, Kimimaro/Sakura, Uchiha/Sakura (Madara/Sakura, Itachi/Sakura, Tobi/Sakura, Shisui/Sakura, Sasuke/Sakura), Ino/Sakura, Sasori/Sakura. And a bunch of other implied pairings (Naruto/Sakura, Gaara/Sakura, Temari/Sakura, Kankuro/Sakura...)
genre: Romance, Drama, Action/Adventure, Fantasy, Humor, kind-of-Angst
AU?: Yes, yes it is. And many more within.
warning: OOCness galore! Probable spelling and grammatical errors. A bunch of different fairy tales and some angsty-bits
disclaimer: Naruto and its characters rightfully belong to Masashi Kishimoto. All quotes/lyrics used belong to their respectful owner. All fairy tales belong to their respectful owners as well. I own nothing but the plot, my two, original fairy tales, The Castle of Fire and Little Marionette, and possible OCs used.
notes: So, this is my entry for StormDragon666's latest oneshot contest. I actually had a different idea that I was going to do but it wasn't working out so I came up with this.
The theme of the contest is visiting someplace new, and I think I got that down pretty well. Also, words required are: strawberry, justice, queen, luminous, and thunder. They should all be present as well.
I'm not going to spoil anything, so you'll just have to read to find out what happens :)
Also, I'm going to have to ask you to take a moment to read the italicized words that act as line breakers. They're pieces of a poem I wrote especially for this story.
And, two of the stories that show up are my own original fairy tales.
See you at the bottom!
Between the Pages
Open the book and venture inside
Page after page
Chapter after chapter
The words will capture you
And never let you go
Sakura stared uncertainly at the wall of books, hand at her chin as she contemplated the spines of various colors and sizes. She recognized a few of the titles and deftly ignored those. She was looking for a new book, something she hadn't already read. Behind her, the cashier watched nonchalantly, waiting for the rosette to make her decision and purchase a book.
She frowned, tapping her foot in thought. Which one, which one? There were so many to choose from but the coupon her mother had given her was good for only one book. The shop was fairly new so she was a little surprised her mother had managed to get a half-off coupon so quickly.
A few of the other shoppers had been giving her quick glances for a while and she was really starting to feel self-conscious. After a few minutes, she sighed and moved onto a different bookshelf, ignoring the cashier's groan of irritation.
Eventually, Sakura huffed and simply closed her eyes, reaching forward to lay her hand on the spine of a book. She walked back and forth in front of the bookcase, hand trailing over the spines as she let fate decide. She stopped, moving her hand in a wide circle, and pulled out a book.
She frowned down at the small, dull brown book, eyes scanning the title.
"31 Ways to Tell if He is a Bastard?" she read, face twisting, "Um, I don't think so." and returned the book to the shelf. She sighed and stretched, leaning back until her spine popped. As she looked up at the ceiling, her eye was caught by the bright red binding of a book on the top shelf.
She paused and a smile appeared.
The book stood out from the others; it was much larger and the decorative binding looked much older and vintage than any of the other books. She could just barely make out the title Between and Beyond scripted in a beautiful, gold print along the spine. This was the book for her.
She looked around for a ladder or some sort of stool and quickly grabbed a small step-ladder that she found off to the right. Taking careful steps, she climbed to the top and reached out for the red book, smiling to herself as her fingers brushed the leathery cover. She pulled the book off of the shelf and stepped down, deciding to keep everything but the title a mystery until she got home.
With the book clutched to her chest, she made her way to the bored cashier. He made a face at the book in her hands as he did not recognize it but rang it up anyway. With a sigh, he accepted her coupon and slipped the large book into a plastic bag, handing Sakura's purchase back to her.
"Please, come again." He said, obviously bored and forced.
Sakura smiled charmingly and accepted her new book, briskly leaving the store. She hurried home, fingers just itching to open the book and start reading. What type of book could it be? A biography of some sort of famous person? A SciFi adventure novel? A cheesy yet so addicting romance? A very detailed and explicitly smutty story?
Her face turned red at that last thought and she shook her head to clear her thoughts, speeding her pace up a bit. She looked to the sky, frowning as dark, stormy clouds settled in. It would rain soon; she needed to hurry.
Sakura was soon home and tossing her coat onto the couch as she slipped into her kitchen and filled a small bowl up with fresh strawberries. Plastic bag on her wrist and bowl in hand, she scurried off to her bedroom, placing both on her bed as she pulled her just-long-enough hair back into a ponytail.
She nearly skipped over to her bed, elated at the thought of a new book to read. Sitting cross-legged in the middle of her bed, favorite blanket draped over her shoulders, she reached out for the plastic bag and placed it in her lap. With the bowl of strawberries at her side, she took the book out of the bag and let her fingers trail down its spine and over its red, leather cover.
Her emerald eyes read over the title once more, hand reaching out absentmindedly for a small strawberry.
"Between and Beyond. Hm, I've never heard of it before." She mused, flipping the book over to check for more words. "Eh? I can't find the author's name."
She popped the fruit into her mouth and opened the book to the first page. The pages were old and yellowed but didn't seem that fragile; the binding was excellent and in wonderful condition. The first page was blank so she skipped to the next, gaze traveling over the title again.
Still, no author.
Or even a Table of Contents.
Like, what the hell?
Sakura huffed and turned the page again, nodding approvingly as she found some sort of foreword or note from the author. Surprisingly, it seemed handwritten. The calligraphy was beautiful and she was soon captivated by the text, reading whatever it was that the mysterious author had written. She spoke aloud, ignoring the distant rumble of thunder and rain pitter-pattering on the roof.
"Between and Beyond: A collection of various note-worthy fairy tales with slight twists and unique, unknown stories gathered from all over the globe. A place of discovery and escape. Come, step into a world of fantasy. But, beware. The forest is an awfully dangerous place. Once you start, you just can't seem to stop."
Sakura paused, contemplating what she'd just read. That was kind of strange, almost foreboding. Was it really wise to write something like that at the beginning of a book? What if it unsettled the reader and they decided to put the book away?
"Meh, if it's a bunch of fairy tales, I'll definitely read it. No harm ever came from reading a book. Right?"
Her only answer was a loud boom and a flash of light.
Sakura jumped at the lightning and thunder, sending an irritated look at her window. She snorted and slipped off her bed, pulling the curtains on the window shut and quickly returning to the book. With the book in her lap, she turned the page to a black and white, hand drawn picture that seemed to incorporate everything that came to mind when thinking of a fairy tale.
The characters and objects seemed to be coming from the pages of an open book that lay on a forest floor. Elves and fairies and knights and dragons and castles and swords and wolves and, gosh, there was just so much in the picture. It took up an entire page and even seemed to flow off onto the left page, as if the creatures were escaping from the original picture. Sakura's eyes roved over everything, trying to take it all in, and finally, slowly, turned the page to the first chapter.
She reached down for another strawberry and read aloud once more.
"Little Red Riding Hood? I wonder what little twists the author put into that one." She murmured, finger tracing the elegant writing. It was only four little words and yet it was the entire focus of the page; red letters on rough paper, it called out to her. With a smile she turned the page and began to read the first story.
She was only about halfway through the first paragraph ("All manner of creatures were calling and making sounds, frightening the girl enough to make her speed up her pace.") when she felt water dripping on her hand. She paused, marking her place and looked up at the ceiling. She didn't see a leak but when she looked back down at her hand she saw a black drop of liquid on her hand.
Curious, she raised her hand and inspected the droplet. As she watched, another drop fell onto her hand, from her nose. Sakura blinked in shock and wiped her nose, frowning down at the smudge of black on the back of her hand.
A few more drops fell from the tip of her nose to land on her shirt. She yelped, cupping a hand under her nose as she rushed to her bathroom, leaving the book open on her bed, drops of ink soaking into the paper.
Sakura quickly turned on the water faucet and tried to wash the ink off of her hands and her nose, but, as she looked up at the mirror, she could see small rivulets of ink streaming down her face to drip off her chin and nose and fall into the sink. Her fingertips began to tingle and she held up her hands in shock, watching as more ink appeared at her fingertips, dripping off into the sink.
The sink soon filled up with ink and Sakura gazed down to see her reflection, watching in horror as the puddle of ink grew, spilling over the sink and onto the floor. She gagged as the taste of bitter ink filled her mouth. Ink continued to appear and fall from her skin and she rushed to the bathtub, only to slip on the rug in the middle of the bathroom and fall, hitting her head on the edge of the tub. She blacked out, thoughts running amok with panic and wonder and ink and books.
Printed and bound
The stories come to life
Some you may recognize
Other that are new
When she came to, she was instantly aware that she was outside. She could hear birds and other animals and the scent of grass was heavy in her nose. She groaned, rolling over from her position on her stomach to look up at a dark canopy of entwined branches. In various places, moonlight managed to break through the trees and light up her surroundings.
She sat up, eyebrows furrowing at the sound of splashing water. Sakura looked over her shoulder at a small pond, frogs jumping off of their lily pads and into the dark water as she scared them with her movement. She turned around quickly, kneeling in front of the pond as she gazed down at the night-black water.
It was just as black as the ink.
At the thought, she quickly checked her skin and clothes, surprised to find not a single trace of the ink.
In fact, she nearly screamed when she realized that she was dressed in an old-fashioned wench outfit. The dress only reached the top of her knees and the corset was almost too tight to breathe in. White stockings came up to her knees and, as she quickly scooted back from the pond, she noticed a long, red cloak draped over her shoulders. Reaching up, she felt ribbons in her hair and the hood of the cloak over her head.
"What type of sick joke is this?" she screeched, jumping to her feat to look around angrily, worry shining in her eyes. She stepped backwards, squeaking as she tripped over a wicker-basket. She was about to reach out for the basket and investigate when she froze, eyes widening at the sound of an amused chuckle.
She quickly stood, whirling around to search the trees.
"Who's there?" she questioned, angry eyes trying to pierce the darkness.
"My, you're clumsy. You're never going to get to the others." Came a voice, a chuckle behind every word.
"Show yourself!" Sakura demanded, fists clenching.
"Heh, as you wish, Red."
She watched suspiciously as a man suddenly stepped out from behind one of the trees, standing on one of the branches high above her head. She eyed the strange purple stripes over his arms and clothes, raising an eyebrow at the black-with-purple-stripes cat ears on his head and the tail that flicked back and forth behind him. He smiled down at her, but it felt oddly empty.
"Who are you?" She asked uncertainly, watching cautiously as he sat down on the branch, legs kicking childishly. His face twisted in distaste momentarily before his grin returned.
"Oh, come now. Surely you know?"
At her blank look he sighed and rose, swinging around the tree trunk to a different branch.
"Fine, fine. I'll help you guess."
Sakura huffed, crossing her arms as she watched him step from branch to branch with the grace of a cat. He stopped finally on one of the larger branches and leaned against the tree, grin widening.
"Honestly, it shouldn't be that hard to guess who I am. Everyone who's anyone has read my story or seen some sort of adaptation. I'm famous." He said, tail swaying behind him.
Her eyebrows furrowed, "Your story?"
His face contorted in thought as he shrugged. "Well, not technically my story. Dear Alice was the main character but I think I'm much more important."
She repeated the name under her breath, recognition ringing at the back of her head. He ignored her and kept talking, hopping to another branch.
"But really, who wouldn't know me? I suppose those who aren't very educated wouldn't know my name. But they would have to be insane – mad not to know." He paused, turning his attention back to her as his grin widened impossibly far, cat-ears twitching. He stepped behind the tree and reappeared on a branch of a completely different tree, chuckling as she spun around in shock.
"But, then again, we're all mad here."
Sakura gasped, suddenly realizing.
"You're the Cheshire Cat!" she announced, pointing at him in emphasis.
"About time, Red. And, you can call me Sai. It's an interesting name, no? And Cheshire Cat is such a mouthful."
"But..." she trailed off for a moment in thought, taking notice of her red cloak in a new light. "But, this should be the story of Little Red Riding Hood. You're from Alice in Wonderland, what are you doing here?"
Sai smiled in delight, stepping off the branch to land in front of her. "Stories tend to run together when they're gathered in such a confined place. You'll find other elements of different stories in tales they don't belong." He explained, reaching out for her hand to twirl her around. "Or you might not. But, something's have been changed here and there and you may find yourself in tales that seem entirely new even though they are as old as time itself."
He paused and pulled her to him, grinning as his tongue darted out to lick her cheek quickly. He promptly vanished and reappeared in the trees, chuckling as she quickly wiped her cheek and glared up at him, "So, I suggest you be extra careful, Sakura. I doubt some of the others will be as nice and helpful as myself."
Her widened in shock, "How do you know my name?"
He laughed again. "You're the owner of the book. Everyone already knows your name and who you are. And they are all waiting for you so I suggest you get to the next story quickly. Some of the others are very impatient. But, once you finish, we'll all be able to gather outside of our stories. My, my, won't that just be delightful?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, stepping over to the tree he was in, "How do I get out of here?"
He sighed, "Must I do everything? Silly girl, just find the book and go onto the next story. It's that simple."
"Book? You mean Between and Beyond? That's what's behind all this?"
"Well, where do I find the book?" She watched him as he snorted, as if the answer was clear.
"You'll find the book in the place that each story meets its climax or resolution."
She nodded slowly to herself, about to ask him another question when she was cut off.
By a loud, foreboding howl.
She jumped and whirled around, eyes searching the trees anxiously. Sai watched her, his grin widening.
"Well," he started, catching her attention, "That would be my cue to leave."
"What?" she exclaimed, "Wait!"
Slowly, he began to vanish, "Hurry on to Grandma's house, Little Red. The Big Bad Wolf is coming."
Her sound of objection went by unnoticed and he was gone, leaving her alone in the forest with a wolf on the loose. She stood there uncertainly for a few moments before sighing and retrieving the basket.
"In the place that the story reached its climax." She mused to herself, slowly turning to try and find some sort of path to take. "I guess that means Red Riding Hood's Grandmother's house. But how do I get there?"
Suddenly, brightly colored flowers sprung up around her, glowing in the dim light. Sakura crouched down and examined them curiously, watching in shock as more suddenly appeared and made a path into the forest, lighting the way.
"Well, that's convenient."
She straightened and followed the flowers, watching as they retreated into the ground just before she could step on them, reappearing once she had passed over. The pinkette followed the luminous flowers carefully, listening for anything that seemed out of place.
The leaves on the trees rustled around her and she could hear the sounds of nocturnal animals moving around, but, fortunately, there were no howls. She took comfort in this thought, going over the story in her mind.
"If I remember correctly, the wolf meets Red Riding Hood once in the forest to figure out where she is going then runs off to get to Grandma's house before her." she mused under her breath, stepping over a fallen tree and following after the flowers. "I think he tricked her into stopping to pick flowers so he could get ahead of her. I won't fall for that though!"
She stopped as she heard the sound of a growl and bit her lip absentmindedly. The wolf wouldn't try to eat her until she got to the house, right? At the sound of twigs snapping and leaves rustling, Sakura slowly turned around and waited anxiously.
After a few minutes, nothing had appeared, so she sighed in relief and continued down the flower-path. She'd only taken three steps when there was a howl and something barreled into her back and knocked her to the ground. She gasped at the weight on top of her but then she was flipped onto her back and staring up into bright, sea foam green eyes.
His hair was white, matching his large pair of wolf-ears and his long tail. He crouched over her, face emotionless with his eyes narrowed ever so slightly. He lowered his head slowly, sniffing her as his pretty eyes closed. After a moment, he sat back, a smirk appearing on his lips.
"Finally." He murmured, hand reaching out to play with her hair.
Sakura gulped, all too aware that his nails were long and sharp, much like claws. "You're...You're the Big Bad Wo-"
"I prefer Kimimaro," he growled, cutting her off. He paused, looming over her to sniff her neck again. "You've no idea how long it took to track you. Even before you started reading."
She squirmed underneath him, his hair tickling her ear. He stiffened and growled under his breath, nose nuzzling into her neck.
"But that damn cat got to you first." He said under his breath angrily. "Hn, no matter."
He pulled back suddenly, hands wrapping around her waist to pull her up with him. He sat on the forest floor with her in his lap, straddling him. She was frozen in fright; this didn't happen in the original story. His fingers trailed up her back along her spine while his other hand cupped her chin. He turned her head to the side slightly.
Kimimaro pressed his face into her neck again, tongue darting out to drag over her skin. Sakura gasped, hands darting to his shoulders to try and push him away. He chuckled and pulled her closer, mouth moving to trail kisses down her neck and under her chin.
"I believe you know the lines." He said against her skin, fingers brushing along her side, making her shiver.
He nipped her chin and she yelped, grip tightening on his bare shoulders.
"Come now. I'll start for you. My, what large ears you have."
She was too dazed at this point to form proper thoughts but as his mouth moved to her exposed shoulder, she managed to speak. Her eyes fell on the white wolf-ears on his head and she swallowed nervously.
"M-my, what large ears y-you have."
"All the better to hear you with, my dear." He practically purred, returning to her neck as he looked up at her.
"My, what –ah!– large eyes you h-have." She said, her own emerald eyes closing as she groaned.
"All the better to see you with, my dear." He chuckled, gently pushing her back down onto her back. He held one hand out to brace himself as the other trailed down her arm.
"My," she murmured, "What large h-hands you have."
He gathered her wrists in his hand and pinned them above her head, grinning predatorily down at her. "All the better to grab you with, my dear."
She paused, but at the look on his face, she slowly continued.
"My, what a large mouth you have." She whispered, trembling ever so slightly.
His lips were on hers then, molding perfectly. She squirmed, eyebrows furrowing. And, after a few moments, he broke the kiss, eyes glinting down at her as she stared up at him wide-eyed.
"All the better to eat you with, my dear."
With every ounce of strength, Sakura lashed out wildly and managed to throw him off of her. As Kimimaro tried to come to his senses, she scrambled to her feet and raced down the flower-path, heart pounding as her skin tingled.
This was so not part of the story!
The sound of his howl only spurred her on further.
She swore angels were singing when she finally spotted small cottage up ahead of her. The flowers led right to the door and she forced herself to go faster, not daring to glance over her shoulder to check for the wolf. She finally made it to the house and swung the door open, slamming it closed behind her.
But, just before she was inside, she managed to spot a pure-white wolf running down the path towards her.
He could change into an actual wolf?
She spared this new information very little thought and quickly barred the door, racing into the house to find Grandmother's room. The book had to be there. She could hear Kimimaro howl and scratch at the door and she nearly tripped over her own feet in fright.
The house was unsettling empty and dusty, as if no one had been inside in years. Most of the doors were sealed tight but, as she searched frantically, she finally found an unlocked door. She burst through it, just as the sound of him tearing down the door met her ears. Locking the door behind her, she spun around, eyes scanning the room.
At last her eyes landed on the book, lying innocently on the dresser. She dashed to it, quickly flipping through the pages of Little Red Riding Hood to the next chapter.
"The Castle of Fire," she read aloud, frowning as she didn't recognize the title. She heard Kimimaro's heart-wrenching whine as he scratched fruitlessly at the door, already knowing that she was leaving.
"Please," he said through the door, "Don't leave. I'd waited so long."
She paused, almost wanting to stay and just hug him, he sounded so sad. But she quickly shook her head free of this thought and began to read, trying to ignore his horrible howl.
"In the castle, there lived a family who could control fire. The fire loved them just as much as they loved the beautiful flames and would fulfill their every wish. No one dared challenge the family and they lived peacefully in their castle of fire who's very walls burned with the heat of the flames and the love between the fire and the family. Then, one day, the flames seemed to make their own decision without the family's consent and created something from the flame and ashes. The fire was personified and the family had something new to love."
Sakura paused and watched as her hand started dripping ink once more. A puddle formed under her feet and, as she looked up at the dresser-mirror, she saw that the ink was quickly coating her skin.
The wolf howled once more and frantically scratched at the door but the mirror suddenly cracked and shattered, the shards flying out towards her.
Find the book again
And turn the page
Into a new story
Try to escape them
Sakura screamed and held her arms up, eyes clenching shut. But when she didn't feel the glass cut into her skin, she opened her eyes and gasped, watching in shock as the glass melted in its suspended place, flames which had suddenly appeared melting it into its molten state.
The flames drew close to her, filling her vision with fire, wrapping her in its heat. Her skin felt warm but didn't burn. It was a comfortable warmth, like the love in a mother's hug. She embraced the fire, watching as the flames danced and swirled around her. She wasn't aware of her clothes burning away, the ink and house gone as well. She kneeled in the fire, smiling to herself.
The flames parted and she looked up to see a man appear before her, just outside the flames' reach. His eyes blazed like the fire, a bright red. His hair was long and the color of ashes yet as wild as the flames. He smiled down at her and held out his hand, reaching out to her.
Sakura paused unsurely but the flames ushered her forward, towards the man. She nervously took his hand and his smile softened as he pulled her out of the fire. She was too dazed by the man to take notice of the beautifully elaborate room but she was aware of someone placing a blanket or cloak over her shoulders, covering her bare body.
"Welcome home, little ember." The man said, pulling her towards him and hugging her gently, as if she would shatter. He was just as warm as the flames, comfortingly so.
"Where am I?" she wondered aloud, mouth dry. She licked her lips, frowning at the lack of saliva on her tongue.
"Home is a good enough answer as any." Came a new voice. She turned in the man's arms to see another man who looked much like the first. His eyes were the same but his charcoal hair was pulled back in a low ponytail. He smiled at her and glanced up at the man holding her before his gaze returned to her.
"I am Itachi. This is my cousin, Madara." He said. She nodded to herself, pulling the blanket closer around her body as she became aware of her nudity.
"And your name, love?" Madara asked, resting his chin on top of her head. He already knew but he wanted the pleasure of her telling him herself.
They hummed in delight and led her away from the fireplace she had emerged from. "Come, let us introduce you to everyone else." Itachi said.
"Hm, I think we should find more suitable attire for our lovely Sakura first." Madara interjected, chuckling to himself.
Her face heated up at his comment and she pulled the blanket even further about her. Itachi smiled and took her hand, leading her away from Madara. "Okaa-san would love to dress her up. You go tell the others of our guest, Madara." Itachi called back to him, sending his cousin a smirk.
She almost had to run to catch up with Itachi's long strides and she glanced over her shoulder to send a weak smile back at Madara. She felt so much calmer than earlier and kind of liked it here. But, she kept her eyes open for the book. She didn't know this story so there was no telling where it would be.
So, she followed after Itachi down the glistening hallway until they finally stopped in front of a pair of large double doors. Itachi knocked politely and waited for an answer, smiling down at Sakura. After a few moments the sound of muffled footsteps met their ears and the doors opened, revealing a curious woman. She was beautiful and had to be related to both of the men Sakura had met so far.
"Ah, Itachi-chan. What can I help you with?"
He stepped aside to let her see Sakura. The woman gasped and glanced up at Itachi, sending him an unspoken question. He nodded and placed a hand on Sakura's shoulder.
"This is Sakura."
The woman grinned and took her hand in her own. "Oh, yes! Of course! We've been waiting for so long, dear."
Sakura blinked and played with the end of the blanket nervously. "Um, it's a pleasure to meet you ma'am."
"Please, please! Call me Mikoto! Come in, come in. No doubt Itachi-chan has brought you to get you properly dressed. Oh, I just love playing dress up!" Mikoto led her inside the room, quickly running to one of the hundreds of racks of beautiful clothing and picking through outfits.
"Tut, tut. We need to get you out of that silly blanket and into something suiting your beauty! This is going to be so much fun!" Mikoto mused, tossing dresses around.
Itachi touched Sakura's hand to catch her attention and spoke, voice low as his mother muttered about silk and satin. "I'll leave you in Okaa-san's capable hands, Sakura."
She was about to object, not too keen on being used as a dress up doll, but he simply smiled and bent down to place a kiss on her forehead, quickly leaving. Sakura watched him go, whirling around as Mikoto called her over.
"I found the perfect dress!"
Minutes later, Sakura was fitted into a beautiful, silk dress that looked to be made of the fire itself. She spun around in it, smiling brightly at her reflection. Mikoto giggled and nodded approvingly, hand placed against the wall as the fire inside hummed happily.
"It's beautiful." Sakura praised, turning to look at the pleased woman. "I-"
But the doors burst open before she could finish her sentence and three men stumbled in. Their eyes were instantly on Sakura and one of them raced towards her, scooping her up into his arms and spinning her around.
"Tobi's so excited! Sakura's finally here!" the man exclaimed as the other two quickly made their way over to her. The one holding her had short, shaggy hair and the same eyes as the rest, except a patch covered his left eye.
"I'm Tobi!" he announced, grinning widely at her.
The other two men finally came into view as Tobi set her down. The taller had wild, curly hair while the other's spiked up in the back. The tall one took her hand and pulled her into a hug, smiling fondly.
"At last." He murmured, placing a kiss on her cheek.
"Sakura, dear, this is Shisui and my son Sasuke." Mikoto said, gesturing to each as she said their name. Shisui stepped back and bowed as Sasuke sent the rosette a smirk, taking her hand to place a kiss on her knuckles.
Sakura's face had heated up several degrees and she was almost afraid that she'd burn the dress she was wearing. This story wasn't all too bad. It was much calmer than the one before it; she quite liked it.
But, she had to find the book and get home.
"Now," Mikoto announced, ushering Sakura out of the room, "I'll go tell Fugaku-kun and we can start getting the feast ready!"
"Of course, dear! You're here; we need to celebrate!"
And Sakura was led away and spent the next few hours meeting the family and dining with them, still blushing from the affection they showered her with. A little too much affection on certain people's part. They treated her like a queen and were always happy to fulfill her every request. Madara and Itachi never seemed to leave her side and Tobi always had something exciting to show her. Shisui and Sasuke were more reserved but always within sight.
Mikoto was practically attached to her hip, just dying to put her in more pretty outfits.
It was later in the night, as everyone fell asleep, that she finally found the book. She felt relieved, standing out on the veranda of her room, as she held the book in her hands. She flipped it open, glancing over her shoulder to make sure there was no one there. She turned page after page of The Castle of Fire until she reached the last page.
Sakura paused, curious to know how the story ends considering she'd never heard of the story. She read aloud, whispering under her breath.
"As the flood waters came to extinguish the castle of fire, their little ember bravely took her place in front of the castle. She called on the flames which had created her and grew brighter. Brighter and brighter as her love and the fire's love burned for the family. As bright and as hot as a star. Her love surrounded the castle and its inhabitants.
"The bright white flames burned so hotly, the water evaporated before it could even touch the castle. The little ember sacrificed herself for the family that she loved. Her love warmed the hearth of the castle forever after, reminding the family always of their precious little ember. Once the flame of love is ignited, it can never truly be extinguished."
She was honestly surprised to find tears in her eyes as she finished reading. She wiped her eyes, closing the book momentarily as she sniffled. She looked up, gaze traveling over the beautiful landscape before her. As if on cue, she could see the waters of a rushing flood racing towards the castle.
After being with them all for only a day, did she really love them that much? As much as the girl in the story?
"If you start the next story, the flood will go away and they'll be fine." Came a familiar voice.
Sakura spun around, mildly startled to see Sai standing behind her, leaning against the doorway that led to the veranda. He grinned, nodding down to the book.
"Go on. Read, Red."
She watched him curiously. "These guys were much more pleasant than that Kimimaro guy. Why is that? He could have killed me."
"Nonsense. Kimi's just lonely. He lives in the forest all by himself, waiting for you to show up." He explained with a sigh. "These guys have each other, so they don't really have room to get lonely."
She nodded slowly, looking back to the water that was drawing closer.
"Besides, everyone's reaction to you is going to be different depending on who they are."
"You mean the character they portray?"
He shook his head, grin reappearing. "Character they are."
She hummed under her breath and opened the book back up, turning the pages until she reached the next chapter.
"So, I just read and they'll all be safe?" she asked. Turning to look over her shoulder when Sai didn't answer.
But, he was gone.
"Ugh, damn cat." She mumbled, fingers brushing the paper as she looked back to the book.
"Jack and the Beanstalk? Does that mean I have to be Jack?" the rosette muttered before sighing. She glanced up, shocked to find the water even closer than she expected. It was a huge wall of water, rushing towards the castle. Would she be able to stop it in time?
She quickly started reading, not even bothering to say the words aloud. She'd gotten about halfway through the first paragraph when the ink started dripping from her skin again. She held the book close, watching fearfully as the wall of water came to the castle. It froze, only a few feet away from her.
She could reach out and touch it if she wanted.
She watched, amazed as the water turned to ink and continued its journey, flowing over her and blacking out her surroundings.
She was only vaguely aware of the mixed shouts of the family, all begging her not to go.
How long they have waited
And finally you are here
Their only wish is for you to stay
Won't you stay?
They love you dearly, don't you know?
Sakura opened her eyes and found herself staring down into a pail of water. She stepped back, pail swinging to her side as water sloshed out. As she attempted to get her bearings, she took notice of her clothing. Her shirt was a dull red and felt rough against her skin and her plain, brown trousers were just as uncomfortable.
But, she really shouldn't have expected anything different. Jack was poor. And stupid. That's why he had sold the family cow for a few beans.
She had sold the cow for beans.
Sakura groaned and stepped back a few more feet, face twisting as she bumped into something behind her. She turned around, dropping the pail as she realized that she'd been leaning against the very beanstalk Jack was so famous for. It seemed to go on for miles and miles; it was so tall.
She stared up at it, contemplating the fact that she was probably in the part of the story where Jack first climbed the beanstalk. She really didn't want to go up to the giant's castle, but the book would probably be up there. The rosette sighed and started climbing, grateful that the stems of the leaves were close enough for her to scale the monstrous plant.
It was hours later that she finally reached the huge cloud on which the castle stood. Her arms and legs were burning and she felt short of breath but she hadn't fallen or died from the thin air like she'd expected. The fact that she was in a fairy tale must really have been working in her advantage. She stood carefully on her leaf and hopped down onto a path of gold that seemed to float atop the cloud.
Sakura took a moment to sit down on the road and massage her sore muscles, not even jumping when Sai appeared.
"Halfway there, Red. Now, all you got to do is make your way to the giant's castle and find the harp. She's hidden the book so you'll have to try and persuade her to give it to you."
Sakura gaped at him. What? Hidden? These stories just kept getting more and more complicated!
She sighed and slowly stood, sending the grinning cat a dirty look.
"How many stories are there left?"
"Hmm, about nine more, I think. Probably more."
She groaned in frustration and started jogging down the golden path, leaving the annoying man behind. She didn't know how long it took her to get to the castle but, when she did, she realized that she had no idea how to get inside the huge – enormous structure. She stood just outside the monstrous doors of the castle, contemplating whether she would have to do more climbing. Eventually, she noticed that, at the bottom of one of the doors, there was a crack in the wood just large enough for her to slip through.
She had to crouch and do an odd wiggle but she made it through and took a moment to stand in awe of the interior of the castle. Everything was so big.
After a few minutes of staring, she quickly crept along the wall, following the sound of music playing. Finally, she found the room from where the music was coming from. It was some sort of recreational room, she realized. There were what looked to be various games and activities, all the right size for a giant. She was just mentally figuring how she would try and climb up to the table where the music was originating when the end of a rope was thrown over the edge of the table.
Well, it was more string, but large enough to be rope for her.
It dangled next to one of the legs of the table and Sakura quickly approached it, giving it a few tugs to make sure it was stable. Thus, she began to climb, taking careful steps up the leg of the table as she pulled herself further and further up the rope-string.
Eventually, she made it to the top of the table and found a hand held out to help her. The rosette graciously accepted the gesture and sent the owner a bright smile as she was pulled up and over the ledge. She paused as she came face to face with a beautiful, sky-blue eyed, platinum-blonde haired woman.
She grinned back, stepping back to make room for Sakura. "It's about time you got here, hun! I was getting so boredof waiting!"
"Uh," Sakura began, making sure that she was a reasonable distance away from the edge of the huge table, "Thanks. I'm Sakura."
"Duh. But, I guess an introduction on my part is necessary. I'm Ino; glad you're finally here, babe." The blonde said, taking her hand and leading her over to a pile of tiny cushions (just the right size for the two, next to which were many musical instruments. Ino sat down and patted a spot to her left, motioning for Sakura to join her. The rosette took her seat, eyes darting from instrument to instrument as she searched for the harp.
"I'm looking for the harp? Do you know where it is, Ino?"
The blonde giggled, affectionately patting Sakura's shoulder. "You're looking at her, hun."
Sakura's eyebrows furrowed, "Shouldn't you look a little more, I don't know, harp-y?"
Ino grinned and stood, grabbing a violin as her golden dress swayed around her with each step. She began to play, a beautiful tune which must have taken ages to learn. After a few minutes, she switched to a flute and played a new, hauntingly pretty, song. She sent Sakura a smile and sat back down.
"I'm actually more of the talent personified. At first it was just the harp that I played, so well that it was as if the harp was part of me, thus giving me the identity of the harp. But, then I got bored with just that and started playing other instruments, all of which I mastered almost instantly. The boss was more than happy to supply me with more instruments when he learned I could make more pretty music." Ino explained. Sakura nodded, head still filled with the music.
After a moment, she shook her head to clear her thoughts. "Speaking of, where is the giant? I want to try my best to avoid him." Sakura said, gaze darting to the doorway. Ino waved offhandedly and patted Sakura's hand.
"Oh, he's taking a nap and won't wake up for at least three more hours. You're perfectly safe, babe. Besides, the boss likes pretty things and probably won't mind you staying around if he does wake up and find you."
Sakura felt her face heat up at the compliment and she quickly pushed it down, remembering why she'd climbed all the way up here in the first place.
"Ino, where's the book."
The blonde's smile disappeared and she stood, walking off to examine a saxophone. "Hm? What book?"
Sakura stood and followed her, careful not to step on or knock over any of the various instruments scattered about. "Sai told me you hid it. Where is it?" She could hear Ino's mutter of, "Damn meddling cat." under her breath and sighed.
But she was interrupted by a loud, deafening rumble which seemed to shake the entire castle.
Sakura squeaked in surprise and quickly tried to find a place to hide. She chose a somewhat dark corner between a book and a mug and stood perfectly still, whispering to herself.
"Chair mode: activate."
A pause as Ino sent her a raised eyebrow.
Ino sighed, shaking her head at the rosette. She sat down on one of the cushions, crossing her arms.
"He talks in his sleep, darling."
Sakura stiffened at her comment, slowly turning around as she laughed nervously. She sighed and looked back to Ino, scratching her arm absentmindedly.
"So, the book?"
The blonde pursed her lips, "I'll tell you what, I'll tell you a little riddle and, if you can answer correctly, I'll give you the book."
Sakura frowned but nodded, "Alright. Go."
Ino grinned and stood, slowly circling Sakura with her hands clasped behind her back. The pinkette watched her, turning in a circle to keep the blonde in sight.
"What has a lot to say, but is not a talker? Has no need to breathe, but can't go in water?"
Sakura stopped turning, shoulders slumping. She wracked her head but nothing came to mind; she was completely stumped. Ino sent her a mischievous smile, sitting back down. She watched Sakura struggle for an answer, chin resting in her cupped hand.
Again and again, the rosette repeated the riddle in her mind, trying to make since of it. A lot to say? But not a talker? Doesn't need to breathe? But can't go in water? Okay, okay. She could do this. She just had to break it down.
"What has a lot to say? Parrots? People? No, it can't talk. A picture? Yeah! A picture is worth a thousand words. Has no need to breathe? Check. But can't go in water? Well, if the picture is made of paper, I suppose it needs to remain dry." Sakura mused aloud, but quiet enough for Ino not to hear. Confident that she'd figured it out, she turned to face the blonde, but, at the sight of her wicked smile, she suddenly felt unsure.
It couldn't be a picture. There had to be a theme to how everything was going, a picture was too random. Sure, a picture could be an answer, but it probably wasn't the one Ino had in mind. What else was made of paper and had a lot to tell?
Sakura froze as she realized, eyes widening a bit.
Not a lot to tell. A story to tell.
"Of course." Sakura said dryly, almost amused at how simple and obvious the answer had turned out to be. She looked back to the blonde and grinned, hands planted on her hips victoriously.
"A book." She answered, smile widening as Ino's disappeared. The blonde huffed and stood, lips pursing in distaste.
"I knew that one was too easy." She mumbled to herself as she approached a large round box. She opened it and removed a bass drum which she placed off to the side. She reached in and pulled out the familiar book, turning back to Sakura with a scowl.
She reached out for the book but Ino held it back for a moment, pouting up at her and batting her eyelashes.
"Do you really have to go so soon? You just got here and I've waited so long. Can't you stay a little longer? Let me play you a few songs?" She asked, genuine sadness appearing on her face.
Sakura's expression softened and she nodded regretfully, taking the book from Ino as the blonde sighed and held it out.
"Fine, fine." She said, face twisting from a grimace to a grin, "But at least give me a kiss before you go and leave me all by my lonesome."
Sakura's lips parted in surprise but managed a weak smile. She stepped to Ino and pressed her lips to her cheek for a quick kiss. Ino giggled and grabbed her wrist, pecking her lips before she could object.
"Okay, okay. I've had my fun. Go on, read."
Blushing, Sakura opened the book and flipped to the end of Jack and the Beanstalk and to the next story. Ino led her over to a vanity dresser and pushed her into the seat, wrapping her arms around Sakura's waist as she rested her chin on her shoulder, watching the pinkette's reflection as she read aloud.
"Little Marionette? I've never heard of that one." Sakura murmured, placing the book on the desk. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Ino make a face as she recognized the title. She gave the rosette a short squeeze and closed her eyes, listening to her voice.
"It's kind of like Pinocchio." She muttered, frowning to herself.
Sakura paused before reading, keeping Ino's words in mind.
"There was once a master carpenter. His creations were so amazing and beautiful that peoples from miles around would come to commission toys and gifts from him, mostly puppets with incredibly real faces. His craft led him to his first and only love, a young woman who was enchanted by his wonderful pieces of art. She asked him to make her a lovely little doll which she wished to give to her younger sister. The Puppeteer, as he was called, quickly accepted and told her she could stay and watch him make the doll.
"As the days passed, the two fell deeply in love, though neither knew of the others feelings. When the doll was finished, the Puppeteer became sad, for he knew that she would leave. But, she returned the next day, asking him to make something new for her. He gladly accepted and began work on a realistic, wooden rose. She waited with him, watching him carve the flower every day.
"She told him that she planned to give the rose to the man she love. The Puppeteer felt upset and thought of purposely ruining the rose, but, he realized that he wanted nothing more than to see her smile, so he continued his work. Finally, when the rose was done, he handed it to her, smiling sadly as he knew that this would be the last time he saw her again. She simply smiled and handed the rose back to him.
"Days later, they were married and lived happily for many years, loving each other more and more every day. But, one day, the Puppeteer's love grew ill and soon died. Overcome with grief, he sought out a witch or worker of dark magic to find out if there was a way to bring his love back to life."
Sakura paused, looking up at the mirror in front of her. Nothing had changed and Ino still rested on her shoulder, eyes closed, tears gathered on her lashes. She checked her hands for ink but found none; she must have not read enough. So, she continued.
"It took many days, but the Puppeteer finally found a great many of spells that he hoped would work and began to create an exact replica of his love. But, it took many tries before he found the right spell and, in that time, created puppet after puppet of his beloved. Finally, he cast the right spell. But, he'd unknowingly committed the greatest of sins: creating false life."
Sakura was about to continue but she noticed a few drops of ink fall onto the page. She looked back up to the mirror as the ink began to appear. Ino made a face at the smell and the feel of the ink and opened her eyes, expression turning incredibly sad as she let Sakura go and stepped back, watching with small tears in her eyes.
But the forest is a dangerous place
And its inhabitants even more so
They have been waiting for you
Waiting for you to open the book
Now you are trapped
Sakura glanced at the blonde's reflection but the mirror began to melt into a silvery liquid, flowing out of its frame to puddle at her feet, joining the ink which was already there. Sakura seemed to sink into the shiny black and silver liquid and was soon surrounded by it.
She clenched her eyes shut as her chest began to hurt and her skin burned. Unlike the flames, this heat was horrible and she heard herself scream. It was only after the heat abruptly ceased that she realized that she couldn't breathe. She gasped for air, reaching out blindly for something to hold onto and felt something cool grasp her hand.
She was aware of her body being lifted and held against the coolness, holding her close and trying to calm her.
"Shh, shh, doll. It's alright; open your eyes."
Sakura was finally able to breathe and she took slow, careful breaths, straining to open her eyes. As she did, her vision cleared and a face came into focus.
Concerned, brown eyes and an elegant, pale face surrounded by feathery, wine-red hair. The face she stared up was lovely.
No, lovely did not do him justice. He was beautiful – angelic.
He smiled down at her softly, tightening his grip on her ever so slightly. He lowered his face to hers and placed a gentle kiss on her lips, murmuring against her skin.
"Finally, you're back with me. In my arms where you belong, my perfect doll."
Sakura squirmed in his hold, face turning red.
He opened his eyes and stared into hers, noticing the uncertainty and worry. He sighed and sat up, grip loosening just a bit.
"I was hoping this wouldn't happen. You don't remember much, do you?"
Sakura shook her head.
The beautiful red-haired man sighed and moved her off of his lap and onto the bed he was sitting upon, extremely carefully as if she'd shatter like a porcelain doll. He stood and stepped in front of her, bowing low and regally.
"I am Sasori. Welcome home, my doll."
She felt compelled to introduce herself as well, even though he would already know her name. "I...I'm Sakura."
He smiled at her and she felt herself blush. "Yes, of course. Come with me, Sakura. You probably feel really stiff; let's stretch our legs, shall we?"
She nodded, eyes locked on Sasori as she slowly stood. She'd just managed to get on her feet when her knees buckled and she started to fall. Sasori quickly caught her and wrapped his arm around her waist as he slowly led her out of the candle-lit room.
Some hours later, Sakura had walked through most of the house and felt much better. Sasori was eternally by her side, watching her with worried eyes every time she stumbled or started to collapse. As they walked, he'd told her of their life together before she had died, about the significance of everything he showed her. Finally, he led her out of the house and to a field filled with flowers and tall, soft grass.
The sun was just beginning to set and a light orange and golden glow was cast over the field. Sakura's eyes widened and she felt overcome with the beauty of the scene. Sasori smiled down at her and entwined his fingers with hers as he led her to the middle of the meadow.
"We used to spend hours and hours out here, picking flowers and watching the clouds and butterflies." He said, turning to her and lowering her to the ground. They sat in the grass together, him brushing a few stray strands of pink hair out of her face and she listening intently to him.
"I kept every single one of the flower chains you made for me, pressed between books to keep safe forever, as true art should be."
She smiled, leaning into his touch as he cupped her face. He pulled her to him and placed a soft kiss on her lips, smiling against her skin.
"It's been so long since I've held you. I've missed you so much, precious doll."
She smiled and kissed him back, still mesmerized by his gentle touches and soft words. "I've missed you too, Sasori." She said without thinking. When she realized what she'd said, she paused, but realized that she didn't regret it or wanted to take it back.
He held her closer, lips trailing down her jaw to her neck. She wrapped her arms around his neck and sighed in contentment. Somewhere at the back of her mind, she was reminded of Kimimaro, but Sasori was so gentle and careful that she was soon lost in his presence.
His sweet butterfly kisses trailed down her neck to her collarbone as he gently pressed her down onto her back, the grass tickling her skin. He was above her and all around her and his skin felt so cool against hers and her mind was filled with him and his soft touches and his lovely face.
He'd slipped the straps of her dress off of her shoulders and was about to remove her white garment when the sun set completely, cloaking them in darkness. Sasori paused, sitting up to look up at the starry sky. Sakura's eyes opened and she gazed up at the stars with him, smiling to herself. They were so similar to the stars of the real world; almost exactly alike.
Her eyebrows furrowed at the thought, slowly remembering that this wasn't real, that it was all just a fantasy.
Sasori looked back down at her, smiling fondly, and scooped her up in his arms. He carried her back to his home – their home and returned to the room she had first woken up in. He laid her down on the bed and, at the sight of her tired yawn, moved her shoulder straps back in place. He joined her on the bed, curling up next to her, and held her close, long after they had both fallen asleep.
When Sakura awoke, some hours later, she was instantly aware that she was alone. She sat up in the bed, rubbing her sleepy eyes. Sasori had apparently left some time ago and, as Sakura stood to stretch her legs, she spotted the book, lying in the middle of the floor.
The rosette paused, contemplating its red, leather cover, before retrieving it. She held the book in her lap as she sat back down on the bed, glancing over to the doorway to check for Sasori. Hesitantly, she opened the book and quickly flipped the pages to Little Marionette.
She wanted to know how Sasori's story ended.
Sakura looked to the last page of his story and read under her breath, occasionally checking the doorway.
"His joy of having his beloved back would not last long, for he would be punished for his sins against nature, much like the titan Prometheus. The Reaper would come for the Puppeteer to punish him. Death planned to turn the carpenter into wood, like his beautiful creations, and throw him into a burning pit where he would suffer for all eternity."
Sakura stopped, holding back a gasp. She bit her lip and continued to read, quickly.
"But his little marionette would be his salvation. As Death came for the Puppeteer, she cast herself between the two and offered her heart in place of her beloved's. She sacrificed herself and gave her heart to the Reaper, who gladly accepted the offering and vanished. Her dying words to her love, as he held her in his arms, tears cascading down his face, were that though she had given her heart away to save him, it would always beat for and belong to him.
"Overcome with the horrible grief of losing his love for a second time, the Puppeteer took his own life."
Tears had gathered in her eyes.
"His little marionette met him at the gates to the afterlife and they were truly reunited at last, loving each other eternally throughout their afterlives together. Forever and always."
Sakura sniffed and wiped away her tears, before freezing as she realized that, since she had found the book, the story was reaching its ending.
Which meant Death was coming for Sasori.
She quickly stood, racing down the hallway, aware that she could hear Sai speak to her, even though she could not see him.
"You can still save him, Red. All you have to do is read the next story and end this one."
She nodded to herself and continued to run, nearly tripping over books and carpentry tools. Finally, she made it outside and found Sasori, lying in the field as he watched the sun rise. He smiled as he noticed her, expression quickly turning to worry as he saw the tears. He jumped to his feet and pulled her into his arms, holding her comfortingly.
His eyes widened as he saw the book in her arms.
"I have to go." She whispered, hoping she had enough time left.
Slowly, sadly, Sasori nodded, lowering them to the grass. He sat her in his lap, burying his face in the back of her neck with his arms wrapped around her waist.
"I-it's okay. Read."
Sakura reached down and took one of his hands in her own, opening the book to the next story. Sometime during the hurried moments in which she read, Sasori had turned her around to face him. He pressed his lips to her forehead as the ink started to drip and the sun began to disappear.
She looked up at him, seeing her reflection in his soft eyes, and managed to return the kiss before her surroundings melted away.
Once you are inside
They will not let you go
But do you really want to leave?
Enraptured by the fantasy
You decide to stay
At last, many chapters later, Sakura passed through the final story. The book was still in her hands as she opened her eyes to a room made of mirrors. She paused, remembering that she'd turned the last page of Cinderella (in which she'd danced with a charming, blonde-haired prince named Naruto until the clock struck 12 and she found the book on the steps outside the castle, just as she lost her glass slipper) and reached the end of the book. It had become harder and harder for her to choose to leave the stories the further into the book she went, but she had finally made it.
Confused, she turned in a slow circle, the grass tickling her bare feet. Her attention was on the many mirrors that lined the wall of the circular room. After a moment, she realized that the mirrors were looking into each of the stories she had visited.
She stopped, facing the one that stood out.
While the others all had silver frames, this one was gold. She rushed to it and noticed that the scene it showed was of her bedroom, the book still lying open on her bed with her bowl of strawberries next to it. Time seemed to have stopped in her room a flash of lightning still lighting up the sky outside her window.
As she watched, the scene panned to her bathroom. Sakura gasped and stepped back as she saw herself, lying in a heap on the bathroom floor. Her head was bleeding and the blood had pooled around her. Sakura watched, eyes wide, and slowly raised her hand to her own head. She remembered; she'd slipped on the rug and hit her head on the bathtub.
She reached out to the mirror, fingers brushing the smooth glass. It morphed around her fingers, turning into a silvery liquid.
"Now," came a familiar voice from behind her. She whirled around to face Sai as he leaned against a tree in the middle of the room, which she was sure had not been there before. He grinned at her and continued.
"You have two paths to choose from. But, before I tell you what they are, I'll gladly answer any of the questions rolling around in your head at the moment, Red."
Sakura glanced back at the gold mirror but sighed and stepped forward, crossing her arms. True, she had a lot of questions, but she asked the first one that came to mind.
"Why did I act so differently around certain people? I mean, it was like I was compelled to act a certain way. Like in Goldilocks and the Three Bears; I was constantly trying to fight Gaara, Temari, and Kankuro off, even though all they really wanted to do was snuggle." She paused, mumbling, "Especially that Gaara." under her breath.
Sai smiled and crossed behind the tree, reappearing on one of the branches overhead. "It all depended on which character you were portraying. Goldilocks was afraid of the Three Bears, so, you were too. In The Castle of Fire, you felt at ease around the Uchiha's because you were supposed to."
The rosette nodded to herself and turned to look at the various mirrors. "Where are they all now? You said the stories would end when I went to the next one."
The cat sat down on the branch and kicked his legs idly. "They're waiting for you to make your decision. They're all gathered together, here, but the mirrors won't open up for them until you've made your choice."
Sakura frowned, gaze darting up to him.
"Wait, if they've all been 'gathered', why are you here? I never went through Alice in Wonderland."
He chuckled and pushed off from his branch to land in front of her. He spun her around again, like before in the forest.
"Essentially, you've been in my story the entire time. You went from story to story through mirrors and reflections, remember? You were always Alice, entering many different Wonderlands."
Sakura gaped at him, as he dipped her down and licked her cheek. She batted him away when he straightened her up and stepped back, arms clasped around herself as she looked about.
"Okay. So, what were those paths you were talking about?"
His face turned serious for a moment and he turned her to the gold mirror.
"You can either return home, possibly surviving that head wound there, and continue your life of boring normalcy, never to go an any grand adventures or visit fantastical worlds again. Putting the book away or selling it or destroying it, leaving everyone you've met alone until their stories wither away and are forgotten."
She frowned and her turned her around, making a spinning motion with his finger. She felt his tail brush her leg, but she was too distracted by the mirrors suddenly spinning around them, stopping for a few moments for her to look into the scene.
Kimimaro lying curled up in the middle of the forest, her red cloak clutched tightly in his arms as he buried his face in the fabric.
The Uchihas all gathered around the fireplace from which she had first emerged. Madara, Itachi, Shisui, Sasuke, Tobi, and Mikoto all watching with hopeful eyes.
Ino sitting on a cushion, a lyre in her lap as she cupped her chin in her hand, sighing occasionally.
Sasoi lying on his back in the field, arms crossed behind his head. Staring up at the starry sky with a lost but hopeful expression.
All the other, wonderful and strange people she had met and, in some small way, fallen in love with.
"Or," Sai said, taking her shoulder to have her face him. "You can stay here and make them all happy. Create new stories and live in a world of fantasy. Never to die and never to grow bored. To join the books you love so much and write your own tale."
The mirrors stopped spinning and the gold one stopped in front of her. Sakura bit her lip and stepped forward. They all looked up from inside their mirrors, as if they could see her. They all seemed to smile and Sakura received the last bit of confidence that she needed.
She reached out and pushed the mirror down, watching as it shattered and disappeared.
The forest may be a dangerous place, but to create one's own story is the greatest wish to be fulfilled.
After all, it's not like she'd be alone in the forest.
Destined to remain inside the printed words
Between the pages
notes: Okay, so. I'm immensely proud of this. Like, I thought Somniare had been my best oneshot yet, but I really think this tops it. I wish I could have put more stories into it, but I've got a lot of stuff to do.
I had a lot of fun writing this. Some bits turned out a bit differently than I thought and I wish I could have gone into more detail with the Uchiha/Sakura parts.
But, I think everything turned out great. :)
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed it!
Be sure to vote for your favorite of all the entries on Storm's profile! (Mine included, heheh :D)
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