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*** The next day, Sakura takes Sasuke’s letters out of the box she has been keeping them in and burns all of them, save his last one. She smiles bitterly as she rereads it for the hundredth time. “Widowed before my wedding day,” she murmurs, laughing at the irony of it all. Sakura looks at the tin, where the letters burn, watching as the flames die down, his words turning into ash. She leans in to get a closer look at the faintly glowing embers. It smells oddly like freedom.

Make-up Smeared Eyes
She didn’t like the sound of his voice—she stopped liking it a while ago—but the way her name came out of his mouth sounded like he needed her. She knew she wasn’t a necessity, though; she was more of an accessory, a pretty ornament that was put on display. She knew the routine, and she prayed that somebody would save her from it, because she didn’t like the feeling of her bare back against her cold wooden door. She didn’t like having bruised lips in the morning. She didn’t like to be called a whore. She didn’t like the feeling of not being able to walk with her head held high anymore. (Because, truthfully, the sight of her feet on the ground just reminded her that she couldn’t even look at anyone in the eye anymore.) Sakura kept her emotions locked in her heart and she made sure to throw out the key, made sure she could never find it again, for fear that her feelings would interfere with her relationships—this one in particular. She couldn’t let her thoughts, wants, or opinions get involved in this; because once they did, her whole life would change drastically. She didn’t really know how it would affect her, but her past experiences had taught her to fear risks. She felt her whole body go numb at the touch of his cold fingertips, as she tried her hardest not to stiffen suddenly. Her hands felt nothing unfamiliar as they tangled with threads of slippery black. She felt her nails scratch against his scalp, as he pressed his lips against hers harder. Sometimes, she wondered why she had ever wanted this. It was her dream, but why was it so painful? ***

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“Dear, how’s everything going? We miss you a lot! We can’t even remember to lock the door without you reminding us. Call us when you have time. We know you’re really busy, but even just a quick hello will be nice. Love you, take care.” Sakura sat up as she listened to her mother’s cheery tone on her voicemail, envying how easy it was for her to deal with everything. The sheets were tangled around her legs and Sasuke’s body, and she knew he was awake when she felt his arms wrap around her waist and pulled her down again. a scowl. “Who was that?” he asked, his thin lips curving downwards as the beginning of

She shot him a venomous look, her green eyes flickering slightly from the reflection of the small rays of sunlight peeking through the blinds. He watched her eyes suddenly became dull after she blinked, as if something came and washed them clean of emotion. She became like a mirror of him—her face just as impassive as his while she ran her pale fingers through her hair to get out the troublesome knots.

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“My mother. I hope you’re satisfied with that answer,” she replied, her voice strong but soft at the same time. He loosened his grip on her as she threw off the sheets and swung her legs off the side of the bed, rummaging through her closet for a clean uniform. She flung the white button up shirt, viridian tie, and green skirt onto the carpeted floor, curling her toes when she heard the springs of the bed creek as Sasuke shifted on the bed. “I’m going to shower,” she said, nearly spat, only holding back because he would surely slap her for being too rude. She reached down right next to her dresser and picked up her lime green shower basket, placing it below her elbow like a purse. Sakura grabbed her champagne colored towel and slung it on her shoulder, stretching a little farther away to grab her clothes. She picked a ball of socks and her previously discarded undergarments up from the floor and slipped on some flip-flops, flats dangling from the fingers of her left hand. Sasuke only grunted in reply, and she somehow hated his lack of response. It ticked her off slightly, but she was used to it already. She cared too much for him, thought too much about him—she needed to get him out of her head, out of her life. She still closed the door slowly and softly so he wouldn’t wake up, still shared an umbrella with him when it rained on their way back from class—but nothing felt real. It was like an act the two put up so other people would be happy, so her friends could go, “Sakura, you’re so lucky that Sasuke’s your boyfriend. He’s so dreamy!” The two had less of a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, or at least Sakura believed so. It seemed like a friends-with-benefits kind of thing, and she didn’t really know how much longer she could take it. It didn’t even seem like they were friends— they only took one class together, and they barely even talked to each other. Sakura ran her hands through her hair and shampooed, noticing that a bit of her pink hair-dye was wearing off at the roots of her hair. Once she could sneak off campus again, she needed to go get some more—she was getting a lot of compliments from everyone on the outrageous color. Not a single word from Sasuke, though. While wrapping the towel around her body, she snapped her shoes against the tiled floor towards the mirror and the sink, beginning to brush her teeth. Sakura stared into the mirror, her neatly plucked eyebrows slightly lifted and jade eyes widened slightly. Looking at her face and comparing it to other girls’ faces, she thought she was bland, boring. She wished she could be plainer, simpler, uglier—anything that would make that Uchiha stop thinking she was interesting. He obviously didn’t pick girls by their personality, since he barely even talked to her now. There was nothing nice about her, nothing special. All her “appealing” or “surprising” assets were basically fake—when she was a freshman, she wore a B cup bra when she was actually an AA, her hair was dyed bubblegum pink and her roots were dark brown, she was below average in height and had to wear five-inch heels just to appear average, and she never smiled “charmingly” like people said she did. Her personality wasn’t great, either—she was overly violent, and beat people up if they got on her nerves,

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and she refused to allow anyone know what she feels. In Sakura's opinion, she was probably the least desirable kind of girl out there. So what did Sasuke see in her? Perhaps she was over-thinking this—maybe Sasuke didn't see anything. Maybe that's what he liked—or preferred, if he didn’t have any kind of emotional attachment to her. Perhaps, she was so unlikeable that Sasuke knew he would fail to form any kind of bond with her. Yes, that had to be it. It was definitely it. Because boyfriends that loved you wouldn’t just leave your room without saying goodbye. *** They took economics class together. That was when they actually met—the first time was through some friends at a party. They weren’t seated next to each other before that, ever. Sakura knew who he was, because she remembered all the times Ino gushed about how handsome and intelligent he was. She didn’t really think Sasuke was all that, really—just a boy with a pretty face and almost no personality. But she had to admit that he was mysterious, and she loved the thrill of mystery. At that point, she had a kind of affection and admiration for him—he kept to himself, mostly, and she couldn’t deny that he was good-looking and smart. Ino was right, but for whatever reason, she knew she had to get away from him. Sakura didn’t know what was going to happen, but she knew she had to get away. It felt like he was going to eat her, or he was going to destroy all the pieces she used to build her life. He was going to bring change, and Sakura despised change—she feared it, almost like how a three-year-old was afraid of the dark or the monsters lurking in the closet. Sasuke, in some ways, was the devil disguised as an aesthetically pleasing human being. She carefully picked out her seat, one that’s far, far away from him, so she’d never have to ever talk to him or look at him because she knew she’d find herself falling in love. The teacher usually paired people up by their seating arrangement—her partner was usually the extremely shy girl, Hinata. It was perfect—he’d never have to even glance at her, for there were no windows or bulletin boards nearby, and he would never have to walk past her when class was over. He wouldn’t have to contact her or touch her, and there was no chance of Sakura ever bumping into him. All his other classes were different, and he lived in the other side of campus. But slowly, his mysterious charm started to lure her in, and soon enough, she was probably obsessing over him as much as his fan club was, except that it was all in her mind. She couldn’t risk being exposed as a “Sasuke-kun fan girl.” It would be a terrible name, and rumors would probably spread about how she screwed every guy to get him jealous. After all, she had heard those things about Ino before. Sakura was clean the entire freshman year. No sort of contact with Uchiha Sasuke—not even a glance. She was relieved, but she couldn’t deny she that it had hurt. It hurt her to know that she couldn’t sneak a peek at him without feeling extremely

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guilty. It was painful to have to build her wall all over again—she didn't know how she could have let it fall after all the effort she had done for four years, but her barrier was gone. It was broken; and each time Sakura tried to pick up a piece, it would turn out that the pieces were glass where she could see the tears in her eyes. During those days, she figured it would be easier to just give up and let herself break. He talked to her a week after she had learned to suppress her internal pain, only a little into sophomore year. The teacher was extremely fed up with Naruto, the boy who sat to her right. The blond was always attempting to charm Sakura and Hinata into being his girlfriend, but he never was able to succeed with Sakura. Hinata was falling head over heels in love with him even with such a reserved, shy disposition. It was obvious the girl was always giggling every time Naruto would speak. However, she never exploded with joy—she always resisted the urge, for she was never that expressive in the first place. As Naruto began to list cheesy pick-up lines that amused Hinata, Sakura was busy fixing pencils in her hair buns. The teacher droned on and on, but suddenly the blue-eyed boy laughed heartily. He was ordered to switch seats with Uchiha Sasuke, and Sakura was both thrilled and agitated. She could not decide which emotion she felt stronger, she only recalled living in the moment as he sat down next to her and sighed—out of happiness, relief, or displeasure, Sakura did not know. Being next to him already made her giddy, so she buried her face in her books and had her hair in her face the entire class. room. She was proud when she didn’t even spare him a glance on her way out of the *** “Be my girlfriend.” It was not a question, only a command, and Sakura was completely unprepared for the question, dropping her notebook into her tote bag in the process. Her green eyes widened, but she was almost sure they were shining brighter that day. It was any girl’s dream come true, and for a moment she felt like she was floating. “Why?” she blurted, without thinking, because her mental defenses were down the drain. She must not get close to this boy. Hadn’t she engraved this in her own mind? Hadn’t she strategically picked her seat so that she’d never see this boy? Hadn’t she congratulated herself every time she ignored him? Get away. She was getting ready to leave, and she thanked her feet for moving. All she wanted to do was run, run like her mind was telling her. Then, he pulled her to him and kissed her. It wasn’t a soft, fairytale kiss. It wasn’t passionate or loving, it wasn’t emotional and heartfelt. It was a harsh, raw, hungry, cold kiss that Sakura never expected. It wasn’t even a kiss, just his lips grinding against hers. She hated her body for going along with it—her barriers were again shattering into pieces. She had spent the past half-year or so preparing herself just to

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have it all go to waste. Her eyes drifted shut, and she could feel herself float into a dream-like state. It was the moment when she despised herself more than she ever had before, yet she couldn’t stop. She should’ve known that the moment didn’t really mean anything to him—he never even held her hand or bothered to embrace her, only pushed against her lips and waited for her to do her job. *** “You have to leave him, Sakura,” Ino pleaded, long fingernails digging into Sakura’s arm when she grabbed her. All Ino could see was the agony in Sakura’s eyes— it was painful to see Sakura transforming into a nearly suicidal girl. No, there weren’t scars on her wrists, but her clothes were stained with alcohol and her skirts constantly smelled like marijuana. “He’s your dream guy,” Sakura replied simply, not even attempting to elaborate. She knew Sasuke didn’t love her—he didn’t even like her—but he wanted her more than he wanted anybody else. For now, that was enough. It wasn’t about the future anymore. It was about the present, what people lived for now, not what was going to happen ten years later. He taught her that. “Ugh, I’m not going to date him.” “Back off.” “Stop being so defensive.” Sakura freed herself from Ino’s grasp and didn’t bother to look back as she began to run. It had been two weeks after he left her while she was showering, and he didn’t even look at her in class that day. Sakura finally reached the edge of the campus, and she felt everything build up in her throat. The liquid dripped out of her mouth onto the black gravel, flowing downhill into a drain. Sakura wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and popped a mint. She shuddered for a moment, and it wasn’t from the cold. She’d been having massive headaches recently, causing her to sleep at random times, and she needed at least six cups of coffee to function properly in a day now. Yet she was still exhausted. She grabbed her hair and weaved it through her fingers when she hurled again. Her unoccupied hand flew to her stomach and rubbed it, dreading what this could mean. She covered her head with her hood and followed the black road with yellow lines towards town, letting the black of her mascara trickle down her cheeks and sink into her skin. *** She was beginning to get used to the darkness of the room and the humidity that floated in through the open window. Her clothes stuck to her skin uncomfortably. The only thing that could comfort Sakura was the fresh smell of rain. It made her feel clean.

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There was a faint knocking on the door—for a moment Sakura didn’t know if it was just her imagination or reality. However, it became louder. queen.” “Sakura, please open the door. We all know you need to be less of a drama

Only Ino would say that, Sakura was sure of it. Pushing the covers away, she shuffled past the clothes that were discarded all over the floor, kicking a button-down shirt out of the way. All Ino could see when she opened the door were Sakura’s brilliant green eyes. So green, green like grass. But they were red and watery, too. She had lipstick smeared on her cheeks and black running down from the corners of her eyes to her pointed chin. Her hair was flat and was starting to get darker. Some damp strands stuck to her forehead, the one Ino used to make fun of all the time. Sakura looked like a disaster. “I—sorry. Are you...okay?” She realized what a stupid question it was— Sakura was in pain, in so much pain. She only tried to put on a mask of serenity, even when her heart was falling apart and she felt more lost than she ever had in her life. The broken girl collapsed when Ino embraced her. The blonde was more caring than anybody had been to Sakura in months. “It’s him, isn’t it?” Ino whispered, unbearably pained to watch Sakura crumble like this. Her dry, cracked lips didn’t move one bit. “Please, please, please. Say something. Let me know that you’re there. What can I do? How can I help? Tell me you’re okay.” There was a tense silence when Ino closed her eyes, waiting patiently for a response. All she heard was shallow breathing. Then, a deep breath. “...I’m okay.” Both of them knew she wasn’t. *** God didn’t care much for her despair. He didn’t even try to lend her a helping hand when she stood in front of his door, Sasuke’s door, which was painted a plain offwhite with a golden knob; it’s as flawless in appearance as he was. That door, his entire room, was good enough for a prince, she was sure. The fluorescent light of the hallway flickered rapidly, almost as quickly as Sakura blinked to hold back her tears. She bit her lip and wiped away her tears. Ino was waiting for her; she was there for her. “No matter what you do I’ll be here.” That’s what Ino told her when Sakura had no more secrets to spill. It seemed like the blue-eyed girl was the only one in the world that could save her from being too lonely.

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She raised her trembling hand and pulled up her turtleneck to cover her mouth. She wanted to hide and disappear at the moment. Her finger moved to touch a flake of gray paint on the wall. She started tapping against the wall, reminding her of the frustrating noise she used to make when she played piano, when her long nails would clack against the ivory keys until they broke. Abruptly, she stopped. Get this over with. When she was poised to knock, he opened the door. “What?” he hissed, eyes frighteningly cold. “Stop making that noise.” “I already stopped.” She was already tearing, the salty liquid nearly falling out of her eyes. She blinked several times more, until her lashes had droplets of water on them. Her nails dug into the palms of her hands. Sakura directed her eyes towards the floor, unsure of what to say next. She examined the mud that sank into her white laces earlier. He sighed, loudly, and she could imagine him running his hand through his hair. He always did that. “Just say whatever you need to say,” he finally said, breaking the minutes of silence. He was becoming impatient. He hated it when people wasted his time. She paused and licked her lips. She looked up, but was terrified to meet his eyes. She pretended to be fascinated at the flake of gray paint and how the light fell on it ever so often. “I’m pregnant.” She exhaled shakily, pulling her hands into her sleeves and hunching her shoulders over. She said it, and it just made her want to hide more. “Don’t give me that crap.” Sasuke reacted immediately, his obsidian eyes fixed on her small figure, glaring. “This won’t make me care.” “What should I do?” she whispered, the words slipping out of her mouth unintentionally. “I...I don’t know what to do.” “I don’t care,” he answered, ready to close the door on her. “But I love you,” Sakura cried. It sounded like such a stupid confession. Her voice was hoarse from screaming into pillows, her tone was pathetically desperate. She wasn’t even sure if she loved him. How could she? He shifted his weight to his left foot. The flickering light illuminated the right side of his face, but she couldn’t read his expression. He was always like that, mysterious. He didn’t say a thing, only kept an unreadable expression on his face. “Sorry—never mind. I don’t know what I’m saying,” she decided to say, hoping that she could take back her words. “I don’t need your help.” “Just leave,” he commanded, closing his eyes and furrowing his brows in frustration. His hand moved to the door, ready to close it. “I don’t care about that thing. Keep it or kill it, it doesn’t matter.”

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“I don’t need you.” When Sakura heard the slamming of the door, she realized that was the biggest lie she had ever told.

sunlight. For the first time in the long months of continuous interrogation, he feels the The gentle ray—probably eight in the morning, he guesses from the mild heat— brushes across his pale brow. He refuses to blink from the sudden brightness and stares unflinchingly at the smiling, bespectacled man in front of him. Hohenschoenhausen, they aptly call this place. He remembers from the hushed whispers that ghost every part of Leipzig, the house of horrors. But there is nothing horrifying in this quaint little picture: cream-yellow plush carpets, a mahogany coffee table in the center, the dainty chairs and chintz-covers. In fact, the only thing that stands out is his steel stool and the cuffs behind his back. It seems surreal that such a room exists in this bleak, hellish dungeon. (and yes, dungeon. that assessment is not far from the truth.) “The weather is quite wonderful outside.” He knows that those congenial tones and that considerate drawing of the chartreuse tapestry are being used against him, a weapon to break down his mind. “How long have you been…ah, down there?” The smile on his captor’s face is accommodating, but it is far from pleasant. “Ten months.” This officer, they know him as the one with that astonishing silver hair, the one who enjoys a cup of tea while watching men being prodded with electrodes and drowned in water, is now grinning. “Impressive.” But they know that since there are prying eyes from the other side, the supposed-to-be righteous humane world, they have to keep the injuries at a minimum. (less physical scars, less irrevocable evidence.)