Warning: Spoilers if you haven't gotten to the three year cut off point for Naruto-manga. This has ZIP to do with the anime.

A Box for the Past

by Blue Jeans

She's a collector of monsters and strays, which is strange because you wouldn't know it if you look at her.

When she was very little, her mother used to bring to her dolls and she would play with them. One day she got sick of dolls and in her haste to throw them out, she accidentally ripped an old favorite at the neck. Her mother found her crying over the tattered fabric and white stuffing. "What's the matter, Sakura-chan?" the fond voice of her mother broke through her whimpers - a child's grief.

"I didn't mean to break her," she had said with dripping eyes and a dripping nose. "I just didn't want her anymore, but I didn't mean to break her."

With an adult's amusement, her mother took the doll from her small hands and smoothed away her pink, girlish hair. "It's alright, darling," the woman reassured the child. "You didn't want it anymore, anyway." With that, her mother gently dropped the doll into the garbage with its discarded companions. Yet, to her, it wasn't alright. She didn't want it anymore but that doesn't mean she wanted it broken. So, with childish regret, she had looked down at the broken doll, lying amongst many of its familiar peers, but it was transformed now, no longer like the other dolls or what it had been before the accident. She doesn't understand how or why, but all of a sudden, the broken doll was special again, and her previous lack of interest for the object dissipated as she remembered why she had liked it so much in the first place.

She wanted to rescue it from further suffering. She thought, maybe she could convince her mother to sew it back together and this time she'll treat it right. She thought, it is all different now, battered and bruised and no longer the perfect little doll she once knew, and she likes it better this way. Haruno Sakura doesn't like dolls anymore, but she kept one and adored it and never threw it out. She keeps it close, setting it on the shelf by her bed until the night before her wedding day. On that night, she carefully takes the doll from the shelf and tucked it away into a box for the future and for the children she may have later.

Haruno Sakura collects broken and lost little boys and relationships just the same, cherishing the wounds like she had cherished her crippled doll. She thought that the stitches and scars gave them character, which is good because there's no perfection in the ninja business, only complications. She's loved them soiled and stained, and the more they were life-worn, the more she goes out of her way to try and protect them with the emotions she herself doesn't understand all that well. She doesn't discard these discarded boys from broken homes and broken lives. Instead, even when she had out-grown some of the people and left behind a few of her relationships, she would take out a box in her heart and tuck them safely into the attic of her past for some other time to contemplate.

When it rains and she's relaxing with a cup of tea on her own, she takes out these boxes and thinks back on these collected, cherished things with a smile. These are the people and ties that make her who she is. She wouldn't dream of throwing out even one imperfect being, because to Sakura, these are the stains that make her.

Pink-haired and green-eyed, Haruno Sakura was practically a doll herself as a child, a perfect reflection of the name she bears. She didn't question it even though she's never liked the different kimono her mother has stuffed her in nor did she enjoy being treated like a doll. But Sakura was brought up to respect her elders, and obey her parents. She grew from between two people who wanted to make a name for themselves, especially since Haruno was neither a well-known nor a well-respected name in the Hidden Village of the Leaf.

She remembers most vividly how she used to look out longingly at the boys and girls that played freely in the mud. She remembers imitating her mother's disapproval of them, though inwardly, a voice began to grow and speak in discontent. She doesn't like long hair or her doll-like clothing, and she had done-away with her girlish toys, long ago. She doesn't want to play house or pretend she's afraid of getting dirty, and when she dreams of being attacked by a dragon, if she cannot kill it on her own, she calls it a nightmare, especially if someone else does the rescuing. She wants to ruin a few good kimono in protest and roll in the dirt like a puppy, because then she wouldn't feel so restricted or helpless or trapped. She wants to learn how to fight like a ninja and not die like an animal, but the world she lives in won't like her do what she wants.

Sakura doesn't want to be a princess. She wants to be a knight. She wants to learn to be brave and strong, because she is far from both. But when she thinks these thoughts she knows they're wrong and unwanted because Mother would never approve of them. She said them once out-loud, but her beautiful and delicate mother had looked so shocked and terrified that Sakura learned never to voice it again. Sakura doesn't understand these rebellious feelings as a child. She can't talk about her hopes and dreams to anyone, because for some reason they're already labeled as strange and dangerous and wrong. She doesn't know how to cope with these warring feelings all bottled up inside. So she starts to make imaginary friends and speak to the girl hiding behind that girlish face and awkward actions. Sometimes, she could spend hours conversing with herself in her head, by herself, just looking from her pretty cage at the world she couldn't join and didn't seem to want her to.

She likes to dream that there is someone out there who can understand what she feels and share in her dreams, but she doesn't dare share these dreams with anyone in her family. When the school options came up though, Sakura jumped at the chance to take part in the much heralded, Ninja Academy. Her mother was quite reluctant and a bit scared about the profession itself, but her father thought it would do well for Sakura to be around so many of the most honored and prestigious names in the village. If not Sakura, at least if she married well, the Haruno family may begin to have some of that prestige enjoyed by other families and neighbors.

"Maybe she'd find herself a nice husband and then she can stop being a ninja," her father encouraged his wife. "It'll be good for us if she marries into a good family." Her mother reluctantly agrees and Sakura is given permission, which both surprises her and brings her so much happiness that she jumps with joy. Sakura wants to escape her life of kimono, dolls and delicacy with a kunai to cut off the strings.

If her parents knew, they probably would never have agreed.

Sakura rarely brings home suitors but when she does it's never very good news. None of them are what her parents expected, though if they had really thought out where they were sending their daughter, maybe they would have been more prepared. At first she talks unendingly about the little Uchiha Sasuke, before he betrays the village and becomes both a Missing-Nin - at the age of thirteen - and a minion of the evil over-lord, Orochimaru - which would have sounded funny if it wasn't their village he was betraying and if it hadn't been their lives he would one day try to destroy.

She started to grow her hair long - with delight instead of reluctance - after meeting Sasuke and would ask her mother questions about boys and how to be pretty and elegant and desired when she first began to attend the Ninja Academy. The older Haruno is both frightened and delighted by her daughter's sudden interests. And suddenly, the prospect of her daughter going into such a dangerous field is no longer so daunting if it makes Sakura act more girlish than she had in the past.

Sakura studies hard though, a good trait, but doesn't seem to be that interested or determined to be a great ninja as she is in Uchiha Sasuke, which soothes her father out of his fears. Then she graduates with honors, and a title for being the "Smartest of her Class", they're proud of her and wish her luck in catching the "man of her dreams". But when she starts to train under the much heralded "Kakashi-sensei", the only name they know him by, outside of his reputation, they became unsure of how to handle their changing daughter. Her teacher was the son of a legend and is now a legend himself, a blessing all the way but soon to be their curse. They're delighted at first but soon perplexed, because as she grows older they are more and mores surprised by her growing determination. They hadn't thought she would continue with her education, but she's still young and her mother is happy with the fact that she's on the same team as Uchiha Sasuke - last of a once -most- powerful and renowned clan. They are, however, not at all delighted that she's with that trouble-maker Naruto, but it is a sacrifice they must silently bear.

"What's his family name again?" Sakura's father asked grumpily over dinner, though they all know Naruto doesn't really have a family.

"Uzumaki," Sakura supplies nonchalantly, though she would be the last to admit that she doesn't hate the blond as much after several missions. She still thinks his a dunce, and on a good day, an idiot, but she's becoming less and less understanding of her parents' hatred for him.

"Be careful with that one," her mother tells her, perplexed. "Try to stay away from him if you can."

She finishes her food and sets down her chopsticks with thanks. "Mother," she sighs as she rises. "He's on my team, I can't avoid him. He's my -teammate-." Her parents don't understand her words much less her emphasis, especially now that she's more herself than ever before. She had taken Kakashi's teamwork lesson to heart, and since the Water country mission, she's even beginning to admire the tenaciousness of her idiot teammate, though he's still nowhere near as cool as Sasuke.

"He's still trouble," her father warns her stubbornly. She chooses not to answer and goes to her room.

Months later, after Sasuke made himself quite famous for being bad, her mother would sigh and say she should have seen it coming. After all, Naruto was on their team and he's -such- a bad influence. For once, Sakura snaps, because the memory of Naruto at the hospital is fresh in her mind. "It's not his fault," she yells at her mother for the first time ever. But she hadn't the heart to blame it on Sasuke either, even though that voice that she's been talking to for years in her own head timidly points out that it is the dark-haired boy's fault, at least, for Naruto being so beat up. She blames herself too, for being too weak to go out with her blond-teammate and saving them both. She hates the fact that she's the helpless one who couldn't save anyone - at least, not without help - or defend her team - the people she's come to love and rely on.

She's reprimanded harshly for being disrespectful and doesn't get a chance to see Naruto off for training, though it wouldn't have mattered because they both had promises to each other to keep. But it's okay, because she's training too now, under the Hokage herself. Sakura knows, even though she hadn't voiced it yet out-loud, that she's never going to be the princess that her parents want her to be. She's going to be a warrior, a ninja, because being a wife in a kimono is not her dream.

One day, she's going to bring Uzumaki Naruto home as the official suitor, the future son-in-law. She's going to tell her pale faced parents that he's the man of her dreams. Her mother's going to faint and her father's going to become red with anger and say terrible things that he'll never be able to take back, though he wouldn't want to for some time. She's going to stand there, with this boy who's fought so hard for his promises to her with tears in her eyes, but she's not going to shed them. And then she's going to take a kunai in her hand and cut off the strings tying her to the obligations she's never going to fulfill anyway, by walking out of her house and never going back for years afterwards.

But for now, Haruno Sakura looks out the window on a rainy day, before anyone else has risen in her house. She wonders where Uchiha Sasuke is, who he's become, and how much closer to his goals he is now, after everything. She'll look to the clock that tells her that she's got another hour before she is scheduled to meet with the Hokage for training. She takes a sip and wonder if Naruto's okay, if his training is making him stronger, and if that too is taking him further from her as Sasuke is now from them both. She fears that she won't be able to catch up to that idiot teammate of hers, or the one that's betrayed them both, and she worries that she won't be able to keep her promise to the team. The thought makes her smile weakly into her cooled tea before she sets out to go see Tsunade-sensei, who pays more attention to her than Kakashi ever will, not that he doesn't care for her though she doubts he really knows what to do with her beyond the basics.

She's going to get stronger, and live a dream that's all her own. Sakura's accepted that as she glues back her heart from the pieces she's found though she knows it'll never really be as whole as before. It won't ever be the same again, like her broken doll and her broken friends, but in the end, she won't regret it at all.

Haruno Sakura isn't strong, but that doesn't mean she's weak or that she's going to break that easily. When she faces the fact that Uchiha Sasuke is now just a vassal for Orochimaru and that the boy she's loved since a child was never coming back, she thought she took to the news rather well, and much better than Naruto did. She didn't cry or scream or feel cheated, because some part of her, when she found the dead body of the Kazekage, Gaara, lying in that abandoned cave looking so very dead, realized how fragile these powerful boys she was chasing after really were. Since then, they had all been demoted from the pedestal she's put them on, and she's been the one to sooth those who went to her later for not being able to be more than human.

These boys with monsters and strange bloodlines running just beneath their skins were really so terribly mortal. In her Medic-Nin eyes, she begins to dissect away the glamour and power she's viewed them in and absorbed the truth of their humanity. Those dark circles under the Kazekage's eyes, the tears that sometimes spills from Naruto's sky-blue gaze, the faint scars on Sasuke's white, swan neck, these were the tell-tale signs of their clumsy hearts that is constantly threatened and on the edge of being snuffed out or broken or both. She liked that about them more than the fearful place of power and immortality she's once set them on. They are like the doll sitting on her shelf at home with a sewed up neck done in her own hand, one that she loves so much more for no longer being perfect.

Slowly, bit-by-bit, as the years went by, she found herself expecting doom and death far more than life and hope. It doesn't mean she's given up or stopped trying, but an unfulfilling result was not going to break up her world either. She's older now and her world is more real and less picture-perfect, which makes it less like glass and more like stone. It isn't as attractive as before but it'll endure the trials she's going to face in the future. This is the world she's always wanted to be a part of anyway, and so Sakura discards the delicate flower that she had once been known to be for the solid trunk of the tree that she is now. It isn't as pretty but it can last all year round through bright sunlit days and dark, stormy nights. She can only hope that she ages as gracefully and lives as long.

Sakura curls her toes into the mud on a rainy day as she stands beneath the showers and imagines her bare toes as small but growing roots. Naruto finds her by the river with her discarded sandals at the top of the hill when he comes back from his three year training. "Hey, Sakura-chan, if you're not careful, you'll get washed away!" he warns her after greeting her still, drenched form. She doesn't know he has a demon inside him yet, and he doesn't know she'll accept him far more easily knowing the truth. They had just gotten those damned bells off of Kakashi the day before, so she's rather ecstatic to see him, even though he's spent the last three years with the world's most famous pervert.

"Hm, Naruto," she smiles at him in case he thinks she's one of those silly girls who cries in the rain. "I'll treat you to some ramen if you promise to let me stand here a little longer -without- saying a word."

He laughs but can't hide his excitement. "Oh, how long?"

"Mm," she closes her eyes under the warm showers. "Five more minutes, I promise."

"You've got yourself a deal, Sakura-chan!"

Sakura closes her eyes and imagines that Sasuke is there with them and that Kakashi is late. She imagines herself thirteen years old, precocious and useless. For a moment, she wonders what it would have been like if Sasuke never left to go for revenge and Naruto never gone to train and they grew up together these three years. Sakura closes her fist and feels the strength in her arms, she dig her toes more deeply into the ground and feels the muscles in her legs, she breathes in deeply as the chakura inside her runs as wild as the river before her, and she smiles into the rain without regret or sorrow.

"Let's go have some ramen, Naruto." She opens her eyes exactly five-minutes later, coming back to the real world that she wouldn't change for anything, despite its many tragedies.

"Yeah!" Naruto cheers and stopped his fidgeting on the grass. They run the rest of the way to Ichiraku, even though they're both already drenched to their bones. They spend the rest of the afternoon laughing and chattering, living the mundane aspects of life that would keep them strong through harsher days. Sakura suddenly notices that though, in general, Naruto's still immature, he has also grown up in many different and unexpected ways, as well. And Naruto cannot deny that Sakura's also become far stronger, scarier and more beautiful than ever before - more than he had ever thought her capable of.

She's not in love with him yet, but that time will come. She trusts him already and even if she doesn't realize it, she's living the life she's always wanted. And one day, despite the tragedies, she'll smile in the rain and think back to the past. She never feels guilty when she indulges herself on the perfect times when broken boys and a helpless girl gathered at a bridge and dreamed impossible dreams while waiting for their sensei to arrive with excuses from his own haunted past. And when those moments pass, she'll just tuck the box away into the past where it belongs. In the end, Sakura would never trade her present for anything.

Her heart is far stronger and far happier after she mended the pieces from the one Sasuke broke a million years ago.

The End

Damn it. I always end up only voicing half of a really good idea...

God, I nearly died of a heart-attack when I realized I accidentally replaced this fic with Teacher's Pet when I was editting it!! Well, I'm putting the proper tale back with its proper title.