Disclaimer - I do not Own Naruto.

A/N - For once, I'm actually doing a fic that goes with the actual storyline. From Chapter 499 onwards. So if you don't want spoilers, go back to my profile and read a different story :D

PS - Not everything is strictly from the manga.

Beyond This Illusion

It is our imagination that creates the world. But sometimes, we get ahead of ourselves.


Sasuke's return to Konoha didn't bring Sakura the happiness that she had expected. And why would it anyway? It wasn't like she meant anything to him. She had tried to stop him in the beginning – and failed. Was left with nothing but a 'thank you' and a cold stone bench to sleep on.

For the first couple months of his absence, she'd imagine Sasuke coming home, and sweeping her into his arms and kissing her. She'd imagined that the thank you was some sort of romantic prelude to what would happen. That it meant he'd come back to her someday, and they could be happy. That he understood her feelings towards him and one day, when the time was right, he could finally return them. She thought that he may have had some noble excuse to why he didn't stay. She'd imagine him saying:

I've loved you all along. But I couldn't risk your safety. That's why I had to leave. But I'm home now, and I love you.

But no, this wasn't a fairytale. This was reality.

Sakura wasn't even sure that Sasuke had the capacity to love anymore. Being so far strayed away from it for so long, she wondered if he even had the word in his vocabulary.

And when he first came back, Sakura was angry. She was supposed to be the one to bring him back. She had promised Naruto that they would bring him back together. It really mattered. Because all of Sakura's hard work, everything she'd done for the past few years had been building up to this very moment. The moment when she would go with Naruto to find Sasuke. Sasuke would realize that she was strong now. She wasn't weak or pathetic anymore.

As much as she had tried to convince herself that no, she no longer valued Sasuke's opinion. She didn't care what he thought. Didn't care if he thought she was weak, she knew that she did. She knew that proving to him that she was worthy and strong enough to bring him back, she knew it would impress him. But all of that was taken away from her when she saw Naruto and Sasuke emerge into the hospital together. They both supported each other's weight and they both looked exhausted. Naruto had that damned stupid grin on his face as if to say 'I told you so'.

And all Sakura could do at the time was stand there, stupefied. Stand there and wonder, When did Naruto see Sasuke? When was he even sent on a mission to retrieve Sasuke? And why didn't he take me with him?

But her anger quickly dissolved as she assessed the two shinobi, realizing they were both in critical condition. She wheeled them off to a private room, refusing help from anyone else because these were her boys. Only she could heal them.

And for hours she sat, healing the both of them. Exhausting herself. She didn't stop until both of them were stabilized, and even then she didn't leave their presence.

Sasuke was asleep most of the time. He didn't say a word to her, drifting in and out of consciousness. She turned to look at Naruto, sweaty and tired.

"Why?" she asked simply. And in that one word Naruto understood what she was asking.

He looked away, his fingers fumbling with the hospital bed sheet. "It wasn't planned." He mumbled. "I was on a different mission. I was fighting off the Kyuubi. Because, well you know. It wanted to overpower me. And I, I saw my mom Sakura," he looked up to meet Sakura's gaze, a small broken smile on his face, "I saw her. She's so pretty. And we talked. And then Sasuke was there."

Sakura cut him off. "But we made a promise." She insisted. "We were supposed to save him together. And after I found him with Karin, you came. And then you fought. Because it was always about the both of you, wasn't it? I was always just the awkward third wheel. Nothing special about me. I didn't have Sharingan, or s curse seal or the Kyuubi's powers. I only had myself. And I worked damned hard for almost three years just to try and catch up to the two of you." She shook her head, her fists clenching.

"Sakura-chan, you're strong." Naruto said, furrowing his eyebrows. "Everyone knows it. You kick my butt all the time."

"You go easy on me." she murmured. But Naruto was already shaking his head.

"You killed Sasori. An Akatsuki member. Sakura-chan, trust me, your hard work wasn't for nothing. And I intended on you being there when I brought Sasuke back. But he was going to destroy Konoha. I had to stop him. I had to tell him what Madara told me. He had to know that he was being manipulated. Of course, with that bastard's thick head, it took a little fighting before I could convince him, but it's okay now. We'll be alright. We killed Madara, well Sasuke did mostly. I focused on Kabuto, or whatever he is now. He's gone too. For good. The third war doesn't have to happen. We ended it."

Sakura bit her lip. "Why did Sasuke believe you? Didn't he find out about…" she trailed off, remembering how Tsunade had reluctantly told Naruto and herself the truth about the Uchiha clan and Itachi.

"Yes, and he also found out that Madara was up to no good. He found out that he was being used. And he had already completed his goal. He was confident that he could destroy Konoha on his own, so I convinced him to kill Madara. He had already dealt with Danzou – thank Kami – and the only problem left was Madara."

Sakura nodded, standing up. She placed a hand on Naruto's cheek. "You did good, Naruto. Now rest." And she bent down to kiss Naruto's forehead.

They hadn't spoken about her professing her love for him yet. She knew she was wrong to lie to him, but he wouldn't have been able to deal with them killing Sasuke. She had to be the one to do it.

Sakura smiled wryly and thought to herself, A few days ago I was planning to kill him, and now I spend all my chakra healing him. She shook her head.

Sasuke's punishment wasn't exactly set in stone yet. Konoha was a mess, and everything was hodgepodge. There was no time for the Council to sit and decide what to do with him. For the time being, all that mattered was that he no longer wanted to destroy Konoha. Which was good, because everyone knew he had the capability of doing it. He was one of the most powerful shinobi, and Konoha could use all the allies at the time. Also, Tsunade was still recovering from her coma, and was unable to make any decisions.

Everything was a mess.

There had been a report of seeing Akatsuki in the area, although without Pein Tsunade didn't know what the point was. Nevertheless, it was never a problem to have protection.

So for the time being, Sasuke was off the hook.

It's funny, Sakura thinks to herself. That Sasuke will always get his way. No matter what. He has no consequences for what he does. And he'll never learn from his mistakes.

Not that she ever wanted him to get hurt, or really pay for what he'd done. She just wanted him to realize what he put Naruto and herself through. So that maybe he could change. But that would be asking too much.

So she wasn't all that surprised when Sasuke came back, he avoided her like the plague.

After all, that's how it had been before he left anyway. Why would it change now? Naruto was the one he spent time with. The one he cared about. Maybe he felt as though he had to protect Sakura in the past, but that was all. It was because she was his teammate and nothing else.

Still, she was upset. Almost three years of waiting for this? This anti-climactic ending. It couldn't just be over. Everything that she had worked so hard for – to bring Sasuke back. And now that he was back, now what?

She felt lost.

Everything goes back to normal. Or what was normal back when they were twelve. Sasuke's punishment will be tolerable, Sakura thinks. But that was only because he switched his allegiances at the last second. He realized what Madara was planning, somehow came to his senses, and realized that he was being manipulated. He killed Madara. Now he really was the last Uchiha.

But he wasn't glorious. He wasn't a prodigy anymore. His eyes were slowly deteriorating. Slowly failing him.

"Sakura." He had greeted one morning, before training. Sakura blinked, surprised that he had spoken to her. They hadn't exchanged a word since she healed him when he first returned – battered and broken. He's still battered and broken. Sakura mused to herself. And I can't fix him.

"Good morning, Sasuke-kun." Sakura replied. Her voice was steady and calm. She didn't obsess over him, and Sasuke was grateful for that. She had changed, he thought. He wasn't sure what to make of this new Sakura, but he was still wary of her. She still used the affectionate suffix from their childhood. She herself didn't even know why she still called him Sasuke-kun. Maybe it was to remind herself that yes, this was her Sasuke-kun from back when they were twelve. He still is the same Sasuke-kun. But she knew better.

"I have…a favor to ask." He said, standing next to her against the bridge.

She made no movement, but her eyes glanced towards him. "Really now?" her tone held curiosity. What could the almighty Uchiha want with her?

Sasuke ignored her clipped tone. "As you know, my eyes are getting progressively worse." He began. She nodded, yes she did know that. She had checked his eyes out and told him herself.

"Well, I know that you've looked at Kakashi's Sharingan before. I know that you know how it works." It wasn't like Sasuke to beat around the bush. But then again, it wasn't like Sasuke to ask for something. She waited for him to finish. Where was Naruto?

"I want you to study my eyes."

Ah, there it was.

Sakura looked him square in the eye – she wasn't afraid of him anymore. She wasn't afraid of what he thought about her. Hell, why should she care? He made it painfully obvious that he didn't.

"You know what?" Sakura asked casually, "it's really amusing how you can just expect people to do whatever you want. It's funny how you have the balls to ask me for a favor when it's convenient for you but when it comes to casual greetings it's as if I'm invisible."

Sasuke shifted impatiently. "There's no one else that knows the Sharingan like you."

She shook her head and sighed. "I can't fix your eyes, Sasuke." Her tone was less harsh than before. But still not the soft tone that she used with Naruto, Sasuke noted. "But I can tell you that the more you use the Sharingan – Mangekyou specifically – the quicker your blindness will happen."

"You can delay the process." He affirmed with certainty.

"What's in it for me?" she pondered vaguely, taking out a kunai and spinning it around idly.

He didn't like this new Sakura.

"You can't get something without giving something, you know." Sakura declared, when she realized he wasn't going to reply.

"What do you want?" he asked, growing annoyed.

"Nothing that you can give." was her mumbled reply.

Their conversation had been interrupted by a rather obnoxious Naruto declaring that training was cancelled, due to Kakashi's absence. And that yes, he would treat them all to Ichiraku.

Ichiraku was awkward. But Naruto filled the silence with his loud chatter. Hardly recognizable, being that ramen was stuffed in his mouth while he spoke. But Sakura managed to make out a few words.

Something about "Old hag…mission…Sasuke…ask…Sakura…Sai…" and then it was muffled gibberish.

She could feel Sasuke's on her as she ate, and turned so that her back was facing him.

"Well." She announced suddenly, her ramen not finished. "I have to get back to the hospital. I'll see you later."

"But you didn't even finish your ramen!" Naruto exclaimed, appalled.

"But you'll finish it for me." Sakura stated softly. Naruto grinned and pushed Sakura's bowl over to himself, muttering a 'suit yourself' under his breath. And then he dug in. At least Naruto's love for ramen was one thing she could depend on. One thing that would never change.

"I'll walk you." Sasuke said, getting up.

"I'm fine, thanks." Was Sakura's reply. "I'm not a little girl anymore."

But Sasuke had already made up his mind. "I'll walk you."


Walking to the hospital – Sakura decided – was more awkward than Ichiraku. Now she didn't even have Naruto to help. She glanced at Sasuke, whose stride was long and confident, his hands shoved in his pockets. He looked aloof. Sakura vaguely wondered if she could pull that look off.

"You never answered me." Sasuke said, finally breaking the silence.

Sakura shrugged. "I wasn't aware you asked a question."

Even she knew that beating around the bush wasn't going to win points here, but she didn't want to answer him. Because she knew she'd say yes. And she didn't want him to get everything damned thing that he wanted because he didn't deserve that after what he'd done.

"Sakura." he warned; his voice low.

She sighed again. "Fine, fine. I'll take a look at your eyes."

But at the time, Sakura didn't realize that she was making a big mistake. Didn't realize that allowing Sasuke this one thing would only open up a door for her to ask for more. Because he was Sasuke and Sasuke was never ever satisfied.

Maybe if she did know, she would have refused.

A/N - I've been coming up with a lot of stories lately. Haha writing spurt. Reviews are loved and appreciated!