'Hope fades,
Into the world of night.
Through shadows falling,
Out of memory and time.'
'Into the West', Annie Lennox

oOo

It is the day on which all of Sakura's hopes and dreams are supposed to come true. For so long she has yearned for him to return and here he is, finally pardoned and a shinobi of Konoha once more. Sasuke, taller now and handsomer if possible, is the culmination of all she wished for as a girl and being in his presence seems to take her back to those days. It is odd how being near him strips her of whatever changes she's made over the past three years and she is suddenly shy again, eager for his approval instead of assured in herself and heavy-handed with her fists.

She doesn't care. Sasuke is back. Sasuke is home.

"Sasuke," she says and his name is like a guilty pleasure on her tongue. "Perhaps, afterwards, you would like to…I mean, if you don't have anything planned…I know a good teahouse near the hospital."

She is twelve again and it is almost strange not to have hair that stretches down towards the small of her back.

Then Sasuke looks at her and the look in his eyes is almost pitying. "Sakura. Don't. Please."

She is left to watch his back as he walks away from her (away, away, always away) and in this moment, more than any other, Sakura grows up. She has changed – she is stronger now, in body and in spirit. He has changed – crushing her long-lasting hopes had almost seemed painful to him. But some things have not changed. And will not.

Sakura now knows the true meaning of 'futile'.

Maybe, once her heart is done breaking, she can now evolve into the girl she would have been without the goal of Sasuke weighing her down.

…Maybe.

oOo

Sakura introspection. I shall state very clearly that I am all for strong Sakura. I adore strong Sakura. I would very willingly have strong Sakura's babies. This was not a happy piece to write, but I wanted to explore the effect Sasuke would have on Sakura post time skip, were he to actually return. She's put so very much into just finding him, you have to wonder what will sustain her when she actually gets him back.