Warnings: spoilers and theories for/in regards to recent chapters.

thy mother's loving cage

oOo

Sakura is seven and, today, she has decided that she wants to be a ninja. This is because, beneath her veneer of charming girl-child and good manners and sheer pinkness, Sakura has a deep-seated need to be somebody. She cannot sing, so she cannot be an idol and her stupid forehead means that she isn't pretty enough to be movie star. She has brains a-plenty, but school, then university, then a job just sounds so…boring.

She tells her parents that she wants to enroll at the academy, just like cousin Hoshi (who is a role model based on the fact that she has long, black hair, a perfectly normal forehead and is eleven.) She does this without worrying too much because her parents have made it a point to give her free reign and deny her nothing, preferring instead to let her learn from her own mistakes.

Her father looks worried, but her mother smiles and pats her on her pink little head.

"It's just a phase – she can do whatever she wants," she says, because she is an adult and adults know best.

Sakura is allowed to join in the autumn.

oOo

Sakura is in love with Uchiha Sasuke.

Okay, she is only eleven, but she's still absolutely positive. Cross her heart and hope to die positive. So positive that she'd jump off of a cliff if he asked her to because she knows (knowshopesneeds) that he will catch her on the way down.

She tells her parents that she has found the boy she wants to marry.

Her father gets a funny look on his face and starts to say something, but her mother's face is sweeter so Sakura only looks at her.

"It's just a phase - she can love whomever she wants," she says, because she is an adult and adults know best.

Sakura asks him out the very next day. And the next. And the next…

oOo

It is the summer after Sasuke leaves and Tsunade has been Sakura's mentor for nearly a year now. The months have snuck by, insidious in their passing, and it still only feels as if he left yesterday.

It is only now that she has thought to tell her parents that she is working with the Hokage – is her personal student, in fact.

She expects them to be proud.

Her father just looks old and she suddenly sees the wrinkles forming around his eyes and mouth. He is worried about her, she can tell, just as he has been ever since she's started taking harder, more dangerous missions. Her chest goes tight with love and she all she wants to do is hug him, just for taking her seriously. Just for caring enough to worry.

She cannot say the same for her mother who just smiles, all saccharine condescension.

"It's just a phase - she can study under whomever she wants," she says, because she is an adult and adults know best.

Sakura has a bitter taste in her mouth as she goes back to her dusty medical textbooks.

oOo

Sakura finds out that it is a painful thing to be sixteen.

This is because Sasuke is back, but not the same, and Kakashi is dead and Shizune is dead and Hinata is crippled and the list just goes on and on…

But she is alive, and this…this is because of Naruto.

Haruno Sakura is sixteen and she is deeply, irrationally and oh so rightly in love with Uzumaki Naruto. It is something that she thinks has been there for a long time and he isn't her first love, but he's the true one.

In the middle of the crater that was once Konoha, he lies there in the dust (half-dead, with her sobbing herself blind as she shoves healing chakra into him) and asks her to make sure she marries someone who loves her half as much as he does when he's gone.

She swears at him and tells her to marry her himself when he's better.

Granted, the marriage thing was kind of a heat-of-the-moment thing, but the idea's still there. So in the reconstruction that follows Pein's destruction, she grabs Naruto in the middle of a half-rebuilt house and kisses him.

She tells her parents immediately.

Her father, hair definitely graying now, is the one who smiles this time and gives her his blessing.

Her mother on the other hand…

"It's just a phase – of course she can date whomever she wants," she says, because she is an adult and adults know best.

But her eyes are haunted and too wide at the edges, and the urge to forbid her daughter to get involved with the Kyuubi's host dances on the tip of her tongue with the assumption that her little girl will grow out of it.

That is desperation in her mother and, for the first time, Sakura draws herself up and looks the other woman in the eye.

"It isn't a phase," Sakura says, quietly, but with her heart in her words. She is fierce as well and it makes her mother take a step backwards.

They are of a height, Sakura suddenly realizes.

…but that's probably because she's an adult now as well, and has been for a while.

"It isn't a phase," she repeats, even more softly. Then she kisses her father's cheek, gives her mother one more glance and walks away without looking back.

She finds Naruto leaning on the fence of her parents' house and, with his large, earnest hand in hers, she discovers that she did not need to become a ninja to be somebody. She just needed a ninja; this one in particular.

"Alright?" Naruto asks her.

Sakura takes a breath. "Yeah," she says.

She means it.

oOo

Lell says…

A DRABBLE THAT ISN'T ABOUT INO. SHE ISN'T EVEN MENTIONED. WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO.

I remember when I realized my parents weren't infallible. I think it was about that time that I started to hate growing up.