"Garden of Sanctuary"
By Nes Mikel
I herby acknowledge that the work of fiction presented here is for my own personal amusement and entertainment purposes alone. Most of the story, characters, place names and other etc stuff in this fiction are copyright Naruto, Kishimoto Masashi, Weekly Shounen Jump, and any others I might have forgot. Enjoy.
(For non up-to-date readers, this fiction contains characters and events introduced post-timeskip and spoilers up to Chapter 293, however minor it may seem.)
"Garden of Sanctuary"
"Using the powers of the Jinchuuriki and still only at that level?"
"You're still below Sasuke-kun."
"I will now hand out the final verdict."
"Uzumaki Naruto, you are hereby sentenced to eternal imprisonment."
"Naruto, run away!"
"I can't hold them back any longer… leave the village! Hurry up and go!"
The Heavens describe the Garden a peaceful paradise.
The Hells describe the Garden a baneful prison.
Which is it?
"Naruto, are you awake?"
He was dreaming. It was a dream he hasn't seen in a while, plunging him back into the memories of events that had served to originally bring him to this forsaken place.
"You were sleeping? Sorry, I shouldn't have woken you…"
"Naw, it's ok. Sleeping is pretty much the only thing I can do all by myself around here."
It was the decision of the village. The secret mission of that ANBU man he only knew by the name Sai had revealed itself when Naruto had lost control. Orochimaru had pushed him over the edge at the not-so humble reunion at the Tenchikyou Bridge, and the Kyuubi had pretty much taken over and he went under a violent, uncontrollable rampage. Sai was there to observe and recorded the entire incident to the smallest detail, and handed in the report stating that he was a danger to the village if they continued to let him roam free. Using this as leverage, Sai's superior, a Village Advisor by the name of Danzou swiftly seized control over the Hidden Leaf's Village Council that had governing rights and power that over a Hokage. He forced a court martial concerning the issue, and the decision was made. In a village that already resented him – or rather, the thing inside him – the result was not that surprising. From that day onward, Naruto's home was the long-forgotten dungeons far below the sewers that ran underneath the Hokage Tower.
Naturally, when the decision of imprisonment came about, many of his friends, comrades, even his 'granny' had told him to leave and run away from the village. The opportunity was there, and they even offered to lend him a helping hand in the escape, but Naruto politely declined. For Naruto, no matter how resented he was, no matter how much he was hated, the Hidden Leaf was his home. He loved the village. Leaving the village was simply not an option.
"Did you… get used to the life down here?" Sakura asked as she slowly sat down on the cold dungeon grounds in front of him. She put the dimly lit lantern to her side, and stared at him with sad eyes.
"Hmm… how long has it been?" he asked.
"Almost a month."
The dungeon was a rather large place, the least Tsunade could do. She told the Village Council that Naruto was still 15 years old, still a young teenager, and it would be so heartless to keep him in a small cell isolated from the rest of the world entirely. Her speech was so touching it had moved some of the hardliner elders and they had granted this request, and one last wish. Naruto could choose only one person, and one person only to visit him periodically in the dungeons. They put up some fancy excuse that it was 'dangerous' to have him in contact with too many people.
For him, the decision on who was obvious. He chose Sakura.
He didn't know how exactly the dungeons worked. There was a dumbwaiter in the far corner of the room that had brought him his daily nourishments, and one small window high up in the ceiling that for some strange reason only admitted moonlight and nothing else. Other than that, there was no such source for illumination, leaving him in the total dark. He didn't know if it were natural talents or the one of the many effects the Kyuubi had granted him, but he had good eyes in the dark so the lack of light really didn't bother him that much. Sakura of course didn't have that ability, so she always brought a lantern down into the dungeons with her to navigate through the sealed corridors in order for her to visit him. Whenever he saw the light, it was a sign that she was coming to visit him, and immediately brightened his day. The sad thing was, it literally did so.
"I guess I got used to it." He replied to her earlier question. "It's kind of fulfilling, too. Can read books and indulge myself in hobbies all day long without nobody interrupting."
Sakura recognized the sarcasm and laughed uneasily. "Haha, is that so?" She then turned to the side and stared at the strange plants that were growing in the dungeon. "It amazes me how they can grow here… with no light or water."
"My love is all it needs to grow, Sakura-chan!"
She rolled her eyes. "Right, right. Here, I brought some ramen for you from Ichiraku."
The one thing that Naruto disliked about living down here was boredom. The few books Sakura had brought down with her were the only sources of entertainment he had. He was so bored, he picked up one of the Gardening books Sakura had brought down with her (Ino was apparently the one that suggested that book to Sakura), and a somewhat amusing idea formed in Naruto's head. Using his chakra as the plant's nourishment and tweaking it so that it photosynthesized with moonlight, he filled the otherwise desolate dungeon with unique plantlife. When Sakura had questioned him why he had taken up gardening, he replied that flowers reminded of her. He had received a good punch for that lewd comment. Nonetheless, she came here everyday. He really appreciated her company.
After eating in silence for a while, Naruto spoke. "Sakura-chan, don't you have training to do with granny?"
Sakura laughed. "If shishou ever hears that from you she'll give you a punch stronger than mine! Tsunade-sama knows where I am, don't worry about it." Her smile then died, and her face turned serious. "It's not like you to ask that kind of a question, Naruto."
"Sakura-chan, it's just…"
"What is it?"
"Well… you know… the rest of the village… might not approve of you coming to see me."
There, he said it. He knew he was asking too much from Sakura when he asked her to become his only visitor in his life imprisonment sentence. It came with a horrible cost, too. Although she didn't say anything, Naruto knew that the villagers were talking behind Sakura's back for coming to see him everyday. A sympathizer of the demon fox was not looked on kindly.
"If you're that worried, maybe I should live here then?"
"…Sakura-chan, that's not funny."
"I know, sorry. Okay okay, I'll go. I'll admit, though." She flashed a smile. "Tsunade-sama is sometimes really harsh on my training, so coming here to get away from it is sometimes kind of nice."
They both shared a good laugh.
"Goodnight, Naruto." She stood, and picked up the lantern.
"Goodnight, Sakura-chan." He said, unmoving from his sitting position. The two always ended the meeting like so, and Naruto never had his eyes moved away from the light that was slowly drifting away from him.
Inside, he was slowly tearing himself apart. He knew what he had just said to Sakura was for her own good. Even though she held a prestigious position as the personal apprentice to the Fifth Hokage, she could be in danger if she had continued her visits regularly. However, in truth he didn't want to see her go. He wished that days like this would never end.
Naruto sighed, and went back to sleep.
From the sealed corridors a small light, and the loud voice that he could've sworn shook the surrounding walls. "You're so loud, Sakura-chan!" he replied in an almost equally loud voice. He immediately regretted it and gritted his teeth, for he knew what was coming.
"Idiot! Naruto! I'm soooo pissed!"
He struggled to get back up from the ground, still a little dizzy from the hard punch that had knocked him back a good few yards. "Please, Sakura-chan. Not too loud. It might affect the plants…"
She didn't seem to be listening. "Arrrgggh, dammit! Those old geezers, they need to die!"
Ever since he was imprisoned, the days started to get more desolate than ever. He could never tell if it was night or day unless the moon shined through the window, and unless he asked Sakura he couldn't even tell what time it was and how many days had passed since 'that day', or be aware of events happening in the outside world.
"What is it this time?"
"They're questioning how Tsunade-sama runs her office, and accuse me of being lazy! Those bastards! I'd like to see them try do what I do! They're already all so old anyway, they should just go home and live the rest of their short remaining lives out!"
The tasks of his days were rather simple. Wake up, maybe read a bit, eat a little, and tend to his garden. However, unfortunately for him, he found himself handling another task: listening to Sakura's rants. It has been 3 years now since Tsunade first took office, and as her apprentice and personal assistant Sakura had to deal with something very troublesome called politics even if she liked it or not – which she didn't, obviously. From what she has been telling him, although Tsunade herself was handing the job very well, the relationships between the Village Elders and Tsunade was not meant to be. With Tsunade dragging Sakura to almost all of her meetings, Sakura was beginning to really hate these old men who had nothing to contribute to the Village in terms of ninja skills and wondered why they could hold so much power. She sometimes came down to the dungeons, slightly drunk (a recent trait; he had hoped that she didn't pick that up from her teacher but, alas, it became reality), rant, and (often) punch him with all of her monstrous strength. If he ever was thankful for the Kyuubi for something, it was perhaps how he was able to not die from her fists of fury.
"I wouldn't worry about it, Sakura-chan!" he tried to cheer her up. "Just wait like 5 more years or so, I'm sure they'll all be dead by then!"
And thus the rants continued.
Still, speaking with Sakura was the only way Naruto could get information of the outside world. Sometimes, he would teach her a few tips and techniques and give advises on her life, the latter of which was often turned down but it really made him happy when she thanked him for it. It was his way of feeling still useful.
"But geez…" She ceased her warring attitude and casually glanced around at the plants that surrounded her. "So many now."
"I planted many seeds of fruits and vegetables too. It should be blooming into flowers soon!"
"Already? Isn't it a bit too early?"
"Eh, really? Its spring so… should be. Been only half a year, right?"
Naruto could've sworn Sakura's figure had suddenly frozen over.
He decided to indulge into another topic. "Oh yeah, how are they doing?"
"Like, Shikamaru, Iruka-sensei, the rest of the rookie-nine… oh yeah not rookies anymore. Everyone was Chuunin when I got thrown in here… so how are they? Any of them Jounins besides Neji?"
"…" She didn't reply.
Naruto had a sinking feeling coming to him. "…Don't tell me they-"
She chuckled. "What's with that look, Naruto. Everyone's fine, and they're all okay. They're still all Chuunin though, although we're all planning on taking the Jounin exams soon."
"Ah, that's good. You had me worrying there, Sakura-chan!"
"You're such a worrywart." She suddenly stole a glace to her behind. "Ah, I should get going."
Naruto pouted. "Awww… okay."
"Good night, Naruto." She approached Naruto and gave him a small comforting hug, and waving her free hand in farewell she disappeared across the sealed corridors.
"Good night, Sakura-chan."
The conversation they shared today was just like all the other conversations they held since she started visiting him. So why did she freeze up like that? Did he say something wrong? Maybe… asking about the rookie-nine dug up memories about Sasuke? He didn't question Sakura about it though, not that he really wanted to. They both knew that topic was taboo.
That was the first rift.
A few months passed.
"What is this?" She asked, startled.
Strangely, the flowers Naruto grew never seemed to wither and lived a long life. He figured it was thanks to his massive chakra capacity and perhaps the magic of moonlight. The dungeon was now full of flowers.
"It's almost like… a garden."
"Welcome to the garden closest to hell." He said sarcastically, of which her reaction was a deep frown. "By the way, Sakura-chan, what's that you're holding?"
It was unusual. Of all the times she came to visit him daily, this time she was carrying luggage.
"It's just for your medical checkup. I was ordered by Tsunade-sama."
"A medical checkup?" Naruto asked, startled. "I look healthy, don't I?" He waved his hands in a sweeping arc front of him as if to prove his point.
"But you're living in… well, here. Food too, the stuff they give you from the dumbwaiter is all canned, and the only meat or vegetables you're eating are the ones that I bring you. We're all worried for you. You've become taller and more like an adult, so Tsunade-sama asked me to check up on your health as well as your growth progress." As Sakura explained, she cooked out the contents of her bag. A few small pieces of strange machinery and many different varieties of medical tools and equipment were laid down in front of her. She then ordered him to lie down on his back, and as he followed her command she suddenly looked as if she remembered something.
"How long has it been? Since you were imprisoned." She asked.
"Eh?" Naruto racked his brain and he calculated the answer to her question. "Umm… about a year or so?"
"Ah, right." She said flatly before she returned her attention back to her medical tools.
"Sakura-chan, please don't tell me you've become senile already!"
"Idiot! I'm still young dammit! It's just been so busy these days, I've lost my sense of time."
"I may not look like it, but I'm a capable medical ninja now thank you very much! Alright, show me your chest…"
She began handling her tools with professional ease as she started her checkup. The inspection lasted minutes, then dozens of minutes, then eventually rolled into hours.
"Umm, Sakura-chan?" He asked as she stuck a thermometer in his mouth.
"Do you have to be so… um, through?"
She had listened and recorded his pulse rate, poked his skin with some sort of glass looking stick and had essentially massaged his entire body asking him if any parts she touched hurt. Naruto so would've enjoyed the 'checkup' she gave him if she didn't look so serious doing it. Instead, he was awed at how grown up she acted despite her youthful appearance. He was about to ask another question until he saw her hands going for the machinery. She then took a needle, gauze, and a tube. She was going to take some blood.
"Awww, that too?"
"Of course. Don't want to discover you sick but already too late. This is for your own good!" With that, she stuck the sharp needle in one of his veins in his arm and extracted blood. The red liquid made it's way through the tubes and into the small machine. It seemed the purpose of the machines were to record various data, as Sakura observed the output screens she scribbled a few things in her notebook with her pen. A few minutes later she shut it off and took the needle out, the gauze wiping his wound clean.
"Going to need some of your cells too."
Sakura quickly plucked one of his hairs from his head. She stared at the blonde strand for a second, and then looked at Naruto. "Your hair grows slowly."
"Ah, now that you mention it, yeah. Always been like that, though."
She carefully tucked away the hair in a small plastic folder then stored it away in her medical bag. Cleaning her equipment, she put away the rest of the medical tools into her bag and with a little help from Naruto she was soon all done.
"Alright, one last thing." She said. "Mold a bit of your chakra, and let me see your stomach."
"Sakura-chan, you know about the seal?"
She nodded. "Tsunade-sama and Jiraiya-sama taught me. Now lemee see them."
He took off his shirt and molded a bit of chakra. The previously invisible seal slowly started to illuminate itself, and Sakrua stared at it serious, prodding some parts of the seal with her fingers. "Hm, nothing seems to be wrong." She concluded.
Naruto put his shirt back on. "It'll be bad if it is, no?"
"Well, I thought some parts of the seal were weakened, but it turns out its not at all."
He tapped his fist in front of his chest. "Don't worry, Sakura-chan. Even if the seal is gone, I'll hold him in place!"
Her lips twisted into a rather forced smile. "I'm counting on you."
There was nothing much to converse about today. After she was done with her checkup, she seemed fresh out of topics. They decided to call it a night early.
"Good night, Naruto."
"Good night, Sakura-chan."
The rift widened. A rip could be seen.
"Oh yeah, that reminds me, what were the results?"
"The medical checkup! Sheesh, Sakura-chan, are you sure you haven't gone senile?"
Naruto was bracing himself, but much to his surprise the blow never came. Lowering the arms that shielded his face, he stared at Sakura quizzically.
"There was nothing wrong with you." She said. "It was boring."
"Hey, what's with that? Shouldn't you be more happy?"
She smiled weakly. "Of course I am. It means you're going to live a long life."
At around this time Sakura stopped taking advices from Naruto. It seemed that she was getting more confident with herself and her skills, and in a way Naruto was sad but at the same time was happy for her. Instead, their talks drifted towards him and the garden he grew that blossomed flowers all year long.
Naruto stared at Sakura as she ate a bowl of Ramen she had gotten for the both of them at the Ichiraku. "You know, Sakura-chan, you don't have to eat here with me."
She stopped eating and put down her bowl. She smiled again, this time more genuine. "I figured you'd be lonely. Aren't you?"
"O-of course I am!" He blushed and immediately dived into the ramen, trying to hide his embarrassment. They resumed eating, and finished the remaining meal in total silence. Afterwards, they lay down on the floor, staring at the ceiling's only window and the moonlight that shone through.
"I like this place." She said suddenly.
"It's like… time has stopped."
"…I don't want to go back up." She admitted.
Naruto titled his head towards Sakura, who continued to stare blankly at the ceiling window as if she were in a trance. "…Did something happen?" He asked.
She didn't seem to hear him. "No winter, no summer… an always spring garden."
He shrugged. "Well, it is underground."
Sakura rolled to her side and snuggled up to Naruto. She was crying a little, a tiny tear could be seen in the corner of her eye.
She barely choked out her words as she cried softly in his chest, and Naruto held her close. He didn't ask what was wrong. He had a good idea.
"Every time… I come here… it… it reminds me of back then…"
She was struggling with the pain, all by herself. But eventually, it was time for her to go.
"Good night, Naruto."
"Good night, Sakura-chan."
The rip in the rift widened.
There was a period when she didn't come for some time.
"Hey, Sakura-chan! Been a while."
"Sorry Naruto. Been busy."
It had been a while indeed. He missed seeing the lantern light that came from the sealed corridors, and the pink-haired woman fittingly named Sakura that carried the small lit devise.
"Been about two weeks? What happened?"
"…Ah, yeah. There was an emergency conference, and we all had to go to the Sand." She flashed another one of her depressed looks before it faded into her normal face. She sat down next to him, looking a little tired. She carried a blanket with her, and wrapped it around her entire body as she leaned her head over his shoulders.
"Sand, eh? How was Gaara? He's like, what? 20, 21 years old now?"
"…Yeah, he was doing a good job as Kazekage."
"Oh yeah, by the way how are those geezers doing?"
"You know, the ones that you wanted them dead! Some of them are gone now, right?" He grinned.
"…Heh. Well, two or three of them are gone now, but most of them are still alive and kicking."
"Tsk, stubborn ones, aren't they?"
He didn't miss her flinch. She hastily stood up. Naruto was about to say something, but Sakura beat him to the punch. "…Sorry Naruto. I'm not really feeling well."
He didn't quite understand what was wrong with her, but he decided he would let her be the one to tell what her problems were instead of him prying the problems out of her. He didn't want to be the one to rub salt in old wounds. "Awww. Ok, get well soon then!"
"Good night, Naruto."
"Good night, Sakura-chan."
The rip steadily widened.
"Sakura-chan, you're here a lot nowadays."
After that day, she seemed to stay in the gardens for longer periods of times. She looked at him with a mischievous glint in her eye. "What, Naruto, you don't want me here?"
He shook his head vigorously. "No, no! It's just… I'm worried, you know? I mean… the village…"
She laughed uneasily. "Don't worry about it, Naruto. They don't talk about that nowadays."
His eyes widened. "They don't?"
She grinned. "I'm the Fifth Hokage's apprentice. No one dares to go against her, and so no one dares to goes against me too. Even if they do have something to say." She hoisted her fist up in the air. "Then they'd have to answer to this!"
"Ahhh…" Understanding slowly dawned on him. He shuddered. Women were so scary. Sakura truly was the successor of Tsunade.
Their topics of conversation drifted towards their friends and comrades.
"Everyone's still doing good." Sakura said. "Working hard for the sake of the village."
"Ahh, that's good. Everyone's probably all Jounin or ANBU now huh… did Hinata inherit the Hyuuga House? Or did Neji? Oh, and did Shikamaru get a girlfriend yet?"
Suddenly, Sakura head dropped into the ground, and before he could ask what was wrong she embraced him in a tight hug. "Sa-Sakura-chan?" His startled voice echoed across the walls of the garden.
Naruto waited. Perhaps she was about to tell him what was bothering her now. "Sakura-chan…"
She slowly got off him and stood up, leaving behind a confused Naruto on the ground. "…No, it's nothing. Sorry."
Nodding once in understanding, they went back to staring at the moonlight at the ceiling. After she seemed to have calmed down a bit, Sakura returned to the conversation topic. "The Hyuuga House… was inherited by Neji just the other day. Shikamaru apparently does have a girlfriend. You'll be surprised who."
That was a surprise indeed. "Wow… not Ino?"
Sakura nodded. "Ino's dating Chouji. They'll probably get married."
"Wow, really? Chouji's a good guy, I'm sure he'll make her happy!"
A rather awkward pause settled over them. They continued to lie in the middle of the moonlit flowers for a few hours.
Without warning, Sakura suddenly gave him a quick peck on the cheek.
"Good night, Naruto."
Before he knew what had just happened, she had already closed her eyes and was fast asleep next to him. Naruto, smiling, softly covered her with a blanket and watched her sleeping face. The faint moonlight illuminated her figure, and he had truly thought right there that she was beautiful. He backed away from her, not wanting to ruin her peaceful slumber.
"Good night, Sakura-chan."
Naruto had no way of knowing what Sakura was going through now. She was fighting a battle; to run to reality, or to run into imaginary. It was slowly destroying her within.
The rip was now impossibly wide.
There was another period when Sakura didn't come to visit him.
He saw a faint light, a sight that he hasn't seen for some time. Someone was coming through the corridors. It was Sakura.
"Been out of the Village again?" He asked.
"Yea, another sudden conference between the Five Shadows. Been away at the capital for a long time."
"Hmm, something big coming up?"
"…Yeah, sorta." She said dismissively as she stared at the pale flowers blossoming in the darkness.
"Sakura-chan, you don't look well."
She coughed once before she giggled at his concern. "Oh really? You haven't seen the sun in years now. I'll bet you'll look more worse for wear."
Naruto's concerned gaze never faltered. "No, but really, Sakura-chan. Be careful ok? Especially in the battlefield, don't be too reckless-"
"Oh come on, Naruto. I'm no longer the helpless little girl you once knew. I'll bet I can kick your ass a thousands times over."
Naruto took a step back. He was frightened if she was going to carry out her threat. "S-sorry…"
Sakura barked a loud "Hmph." before she returned her focus to the surrounding flowers.
"Hey, hey, Sakura-chan? What are you doing staring at those flowers for?" He asked as he approached her once he was sure that she wasn't out to kill him anymore. "It's not like it's anything new…"
Sakura turned away and looked at him in the eye. Then she did the most unexpected thing he ever thought she would do. She kissed him on the lips. It was just a light peck, but Naruto felt as if a thunderbolt had struck him on the spot. His hands immediately went for the lips, touching them as if to confirm it were still there. It was still warm. Looking at his reaction, Sakura giggled.
"Naruto, I really do love you."
His eyes were impossibly wide. "W-What's this all of a sudden?"
She slowly embraced him from behind and leaned her head over on his shoulders. She said nothing more. They shared in each other's comforting warmth for a moment longer before she let go.
"Are you going to leave?" He sounded disappointed.
"Yeah, it's real busy."
He sighed. "Alright, take good care of yourself, ok Sakura-chan?"
"Yeah… you too Naruto."
She picked up her lantern and turned away to leave. She was meters away from the corridor before she stopped.
"Naruto?" She said with her back still turned.
"…I've always felt… that I belonged here. No matter what happens, I'll be back, ok?"
He didn't quite understand what she meant, but he nodded at her words. "Ok."
"Good night, Naruto."
"Good night, Sakura-chan."
He never knew then that it was last time he would ever see her again.
The rip was complete. It had now completely torn apart the two worlds.
A long time had passed. He had guessed it had been over a year now. He had pretty much lost all hope for seeing that light ever again, but was surprised when a sudden brightness came from the sealed corridors.
The light approached.
Illuminated by that light, it was an old man Naruto had never seen before.
"Naruto bro…?" The elderly man said.
"Who… are you?"
"…It's been a while… Naruto bro. It's me… Konohamaru."
"W-what! Konohamaru?" To say Naruto was baffled would be an understatement. He was so surprised he dropped the fruit he had been holding just moments ago to eat.
Even now, he could clearly remember. Konohamaru was the little bratty and a little perverted kid that had been one of the very few that had looked up to him. However, the man in front of him was wrinkled, had a creased back and used a cane to support himself and possessed pitch-white hair. However, those drooping, sleepy eyes… they were the same eyes he knew the boy from his memories once had.
"What… what the hell…?"
Naruto wanted to stop thinking. His mind was racing though his memories, recalling each and every single event since his imprisonment, and the pieces of the jigsaw were slowly falling into places. No, he didn't want it to fall into place. What he was thinking was impossible…!
"It's… hard to say this, bro…"
Naruto stared at the elderly man.
"It's been 90 years since you've been imprisoned."
The old man who called himself Konohamaru claimed he was 98 years old this year.
"The Seventh Hokage Haruno Sakura-sama passed away 30 years ago."
Never before had his head hurt more than this moment in his entire life.
"I inherited the title of the Eighth Hokage… although I have already retired. Heheh… I told you I'd make it, bro…"
"Eighth…? Who was the Sixth?"
"Hatake Kakashi-sama was the Sixth. Unfortunately, he too, has already passed away."
"Then, who's the current…?"
"That will be the Eleventh. He is Inuzuka Kiba and Inuzuka Hinata's grandson."
"…90 years? …You've got to be joking… it still hasn't been 10 years… right?"
Naruto was desperately racking though his memories.
When did it started spiraling out of control?
It's only been a year since she last came… right?
Unconsciously, Naruto found himself checking his own body with his hands. He traced his face, combed through his messy hair, and checked every single part of his body. Indeed, ever since he was imprisoned here since he was 15 years old, he had changed. But not one part of him showed that he had aged significantly.
"Is… anybody still alive?"
"…Everyone else you probably knew is already dead." The old man in front of him replied solemnly.
His mind feverously rushed for an answer to what had caused all this. And when he heard the small bellowing laugh that echoed in the back of his mind, he reached a conclusion. He glared at his stomach as the seal slowly became visible.
"…So it's you. You, you stole my time…!"
The nine-tailed demon fox: Kyuubi no Youko.
The old man in front of him shifted uneasily. "The entrance to this place was sealed by Sakura-sama 70 years ago, the day when Tsunade-sama, the Fifth Hokage, retired. I was then instructed by Sakura-sama to come here when the time was right.
70 years ago? Granny Tsunade retiring?
This was too much.
The elderly man cautiously approached him and took out a small notebook from his robes, and handed it to him. "This is Sakura-sama's diary. From the day you were imprisoned until the day she had passed away when she was 74 years old, her memories of that 59 years are all written in here. In her will, there were instructions for the last survivor of the person Naruto knew before he was confined to be the one to give this to him."
He stared at the notebook.
He stared and stared, and continued to stare.
The old man turned around. "I have to go. Hopefully I can come again… see you later, bro." With that, the man disappeared to the insides of the sealed corridors, never to be seen again.
Never had Naruto been more frightened of the outside world than today.
His hands were shaking as he stared at the notebook he clenched tightly in his hands for the longest time. He didn't want to look. But, he HAD to look. But if he looked, he will know the truth, to everything. If he did… if he didn't… if… if…?
There was no other answer.
He turned the first page.
Reign of the Fifth Hokage, Third year. October 5th.
15 years old.
Today, Naruto will be imprisoned despite the valiant efforts put in by my shishou, Tsunade-sama. The least she could do was for her to change the location of his imprisonment to the beneath of the Hokage Tower instead of the Forest of Death outside. She ordered a construction of an underground dungeon, the place where Naruto will be forced to spend the rest of his life. Before he was imprisoned, he was given one wish, to select just one visitor that had the permission to see him. He had chosen me. At first I was startled, but I knew how important that request was for him so I accepted.
I gave him a few books for him to read, and he seemed to take interest in the one Ino gave to me, about gardening.
I have decided that in my Diary I would write my daily visits to Naruto's cell.
He flipped a page.
Reign of the Fifth Hokage, Third year. November 5th.
15 years old.
It's been a month already.
There are still some people who ask me what had happened to my teammate, although his records and his existence had been wiped out according to the official records. Naruto seems to be accommodating to his new life in the dungeons and he's growing plants. He seems to be using some sort of special method to grow them.
The Village Council has been constantly harassing and pressuring me and Tsunade-sama, trying to not let me go down to the dungeons to visit Naruto. Apparently they were worried that I'd succumb to the charms of the fox. Pfft. Whenever I'm there, though, I forget all the bothersome things and just relax carelessly. I will not leave him down there all alone. I will go visit him everyday.
He skipped a few entries and turned a few more pages.
Reign of the Fifth Hokage, Fourth year. June 17th.
17 years old. Year 2 of Imprisonment.
I kind of feel sorry for Naruto. He has to put up with my rants about the Village Elders. I will never forgive them for stuffing Naruto into such a miserable predicament. Bunch of idiots. I hate to admit, but relieving my stress on Naruto is actually pretty helpful.
In fact, Naruto has been pretty helpful as well. He gave me some tips and tricks for me to learn, and a few convenient jutsu's he'd picked up in his travels with Jiraiya-sama. He even sometimes gives me life advice. Who would've thought? The garden Naruto is growing is coming along nicely. He is full of surprises.
There was one thing that bothered me though. I asked if it were too early for the flowers to blossom and he thought he was spring. He seems to be misunderstanding time. I've talked with him a little bit more, and he seems to be off in a few places. He thinks he has only been imprisoned for half a year. I now realize that his sense of time has been skewered. I had thought of telling him the correct time, but somehow, I couldn't.
I am worried about him.
"I remember…" He muttered to himself.
He did remember. Clear as day. It was the day he'd asked Sakura how his friends were doing, if they'd been promoted to Jounin yet.
His shaking hands turned another page.
Reign of the Fifth Hokage, Thirteenth year. February 20th.
25 years old. Year 10 of Imprisonment.
It was the day my suspicions turned into confirmation.
It has been 10 years now, and Naruto's changed quite a bit, and he became quite the adult. I thought it was amazing for such growth to take place in an environment where normal humans would already have gone insane from pure isolation. For years I have been suspicious about something concerning Naruto, and today I decided to check.
I have been visiting the dungeon for years now, but I had always thought strange that the flowers were constantly in full-bloom, even out of season. I had thought that this was one the reasons his sense of time is askew. I lied to Naruto saying that I was performing a medical checkup on him and collected some data. What I wanted to know was about Naruto's growth and his process of aging. I had brushed the thought aside for the longest time at first thinking it had to do something with his natural hereditary genes, but I can no longer ignore it. I checked it over with Tsunade-sama as we studied his cells taken from his hair, and we reached a conclusion. Naruto's growth was indeed slower than that of a normal human being. According to these calculations, he would not age even a year when I had already died from natural causes. Just in case I also checked the seals on Naruto that sealed the Kyuubi. No change.
According to further analysis, it seems the DNA levels of Naruto and the Kyuubi had merged. If he had done this unwillingly or unconsciously, I don't know. I concluded that this was the reason why he has an askew sense of time.
A footnote: Naruto thinks only a year has passed since he has been imprisoned.
I had asked Tsunade-sama to teach me her jutsu that kept her youthful form in exchange for me staying quiet about the discovery. She agreed. I decided I would use that jutsu permanently. I did not want Naruto to see me age.
He remembered that day too. Sakura had been checking all over him, saying it was a medical checkup.
He never realized. Already, at that time, 10 years had passed…
Reign of the Fifth Hokage, Eighteenth year. April 2nd.
30 years old. Year 15 of Imprisonment.
It was over.
The Sound was defeated, and Orochimaru killed. The War that had been raging for over 18 years had finally come to and ended.
I killed him.
I kept on telling myself that it was Orochimaru that I killed, not Sasuke-kun. But he had Sasuke-kun's body. His body. When I stabbed him through the heart with my kunai, I just… I just…
(The next few paragraphs were unreadable; some sort of water smudged the ink writing.)
I went down to visit Naruto. Out of the blue he decides to ask about the checkup I had performed on him 5 years ago. It seems his sense of time was getting slower and slower. Around this time I start to decide to share meals with him. He was the only one I had left in my team. Kakashi-sensei was always busy with missions. Also, I had decided to stop giving Naruto correct information regarding the outside world. Especially now that…
The garden. Naruto's garden. They are beautifying things. Whenever I'm there, it feels like time slows down to a crawl. Surrounded by the enciphering flowers that never withered, I thought I was in the garden of the heavens for a few moments. That reminds, Naruto did once say it was a garden closest to hell. The irony is beautiful.
"Sakura-chan… those words…"
"Every time… I come here… it… it reminds me of back then…"
He had thought she was still suffering from Sasuke's betrayal. But the truth was it went past that. Sasuke was dead, and Sakura was the one that killed him.
A sense of nostalgia; his memories of Team 7 flooded back into him.
And his teammates by then were already 30 years old…
Reign of the Fifth Hokage, Twenty-eighth year. December 15th.
40 years old. Year 25 of Imprisonment.
Tsunade-sama retired as the Fifth Hokage today. She chose Kakashi-sensei as her successor. Due to the ceremonies and trying to find Kakashi-sensei in the first place and convince him to take up spot as the Sixth, I was away from Naruto for three months.
Naruto thought I was gone for two weeks.
Our senses of time have definitely drifted apart.
At the time, I lied to him saying that I had visited the Sand, but during that conversation another disturbing revelation was brought to light. Naruto thinks it's only been 5-6 years since he was imprisoned. I never mention to him that Gaara had already retired and the Village Council members that had imprisoned Naruto in the first place were already all dead. Too bad their successors shared the views of the old ones.
It is mentally stressing. It's been real difficult for me to continue lying to Naruto. I still continue to lie to him, unable to look him in the eye. Also, it is getting rather difficult for me to maintain my youthful appearance. I had released the In seal on my forehead and performed Souzou Saisei twice to recover from my otherwise fatal wounds in my battle with Sas…
(The rest of the line is quickly scribbled out.)
The after-effects of the technique had been more staggering than I had originally thought. Despite treatments from Tsunade-sama, I never had fully recovered.
About the plants in the garden: Naruto explained to me that he combines the light from the moonlight with his own chakra to let it grow. It seems its DNA has been altered too, so much so that it shares Naruto's properties of longevity.
After Tsunade-sama retired, I placed several high-level personal seals of my own to the entrance in the corridors leading to Naruto's garden. There was no telling who would get in now that I wasn't working in the Hokage Tower full-time anymore. I would let nobody else disturb Naruto.
He had indeed thought she was gone for two weeks.
So that was why Sakura could spend more time with him. She was free from her duties as a personal assistant of the Hokage.
Slowly, the pieces started to fit in.
Reign of the Sixth Hokage, Tenth year. March 4th.
50 years old. Year 35 of Imprisonment.
I told Naruto that I still was the apprentice of Tsunade-sama, although I have long since learned everything from my shishou and had even taken up students of my own.
In his mind, he and I are still 25 years old after all.
He talks a lot about his friends he made during the Genin days nowadays. Although he had gone through harsh times, it was probably the best days of his life.
He then asks about the Hyuuga family and if Shikamaru had a girlfriend. I felt really sad then and reacted in a way I shouldn't have, because out of all of my friends I was the only who still yet to have any family of sorts, although I'm already too old for that. My students, and Naruto, are the only things closest to a family that I'll ever have.
After I had calmed down I told him that Neji had just inherited the house, and Shikamaru and Temari were just seeing each other along with the revelation that Ino and Chouji were dating. The truth was, the Hyuuga just exchanged another set of heirs and Shikamaru and Temari had been happily married for over 25 years, while Ino was still the same love-struck lovebird with Chouji and had been married just as long as the other couple. The oldest kids from each of their families were planning on attending the Jounin exams this year.
Kakashi-sensei approached me the other day asking if I was interested in taking up the job of Hokage. He seemed old when he talked, but he was still the same man I knew since I was a child. He still had that damned mask on his face and I still have yet to see his true face. I agreed, perhaps as a Hokage I could arrange something to help Naruto out. It was going to be busy again.
At this point, he was at a loss for words.
Naruto flipped through a few more pages.
Reign of the Seventh Hokage, Tenth year. November 21st.
60 years old. Year 45 of Imprisonment. Tenth year of Hokage.
Despite my best of efforts I still haven't managed to usurp the stranglehold of power the Village Council held, although their hold was starting to weaken. However, I predict it would take several more decades before some future Hokage can veto the Council decisions and ultimately free Naruto, but definitely not during my lifetime. Perhaps my successor can.
On a related note, I'm starting to feel the full blunt of the effects from the double Souzou Saisei I preformed 30 years ago, and have already been hospitalized a few times by collapsing. Combined with my duties of Hokage and the treatments I've been getting from my apprentices, it has been years since I've gone to Naruto's. I can now barely maintain my youthful form and I predict I can withhold this state for only a year more.
Still, in Naruto's Sanctuary, he was still probably the same age.
I wanted to go to his garden.
I started developing the drug I have been planning on making.
Reign of the Eighth Hokage, Second year. July 7th.
73 years old. Year 58 of Imprisonment.
So far it seemed like my decision to give the Hokage name to Konohamaru after I had retired from the position 2 years ago was the correct decision. He's a feisty one, but I was sure he'd do great although he's an old man himself already. I had done this because I could no longer stand to be around my aids in my withered old appearance and I wanted more time to myself to spend some time on the drug I have been developing. 13 years and almost no progress, but I think I might have finally found a solution.
I wasn't planning on developing a drug that permanently retained a youthful body. Even temporarily would've been just as good, but the side-effects of the experimental drug I have developed were…
I am, however, already 73 years old. I have done all I could for the sake of the Village. I'm sure Naruto would be proud of me. Just this once, I wanted to do things my way.
I still need some time before I can reach my final decision. I do need to say my goodbyes, after all.
The last page.
The next entry was her last entry.
Reign of the Eighth Hokage, Third year. March 28th.
74 years old. Year 59 of Imprisonment.
I turned 74 today. It wasn't really a cause for a celebration, but my students and old friends still threw a party for me anyway. Theirs sons and daughters; even their grandchildren all came and celebrated the birthday with me. It was one of the most recent happy days in my life.
Everyone, thank you. From the bottom of my heart.
After I saw them off, I made my way towards the Hokage Tower with the small pill in my pocket. It has been over twenty years since I last entered the sealed corridors. It will be the last time.
I took the drug, and it worked beautifully, I was the same 25-year-old woman I once was again.
Naruto was still the same. The flowers were still a breathtaking sight. He questioned why I was staring at the flowers so intensely. I couldn't tell him because it was the last time I would ever see them again. He even saw through my unease and asked if I was feeling unwell. I told him not to worry.
Now that my death was near, I was faced with a decision that had plagued me for over half a century: To tell him the truth, or not.
As I looked at the shadowmoon flowers, I came to the conclusion that the world was a beautiful place. But for Konoha, Naruto and his garden of sanctuary was a forgotten entity, a beauty never to be enjoyed and never appreciated. And Naruto… would he be able to live happy with the knowledge that he will be forever cursed to see his loved ones die around him while he aged ever so painfully slow?
In the end, I ran away. I couldn't tell him. So I was still the helpless little girl Sasuke-kun and Naruto once knew after all.
I had considered just going to sleep next to him and let the effects of the drug take over as it robbed me of my last breath. But I couldn't do even that. In desperation I had confessed my feelings, my love I felt for him. He seemed confused, and I doubt if he understood. It was so like him. Naruto was still the stupid hyperactive blonde haired blue-eyed kid I fell in love with.
I left the garden of sanctuary, with promises that I will someday return.
As I write these last words, I realize I do not have much time left. When I close my eyes, I know it will be the last. I changed my will to include specific instructions to give this diary to Naruto when the last survivor of the person Naruto knew before he was confined to this sanctuary expects his or her death is near.
Again, thank you everyone.
And thank you, Naruto.
I will always wish for your happiness.
- Haruno Sakura
The diary ended. Her long, 60-year long diary ended.
It has been 90 years since tears rolled free across Uzumaki Naruto's cheeks. He couldn't stop. They were just flooding. He couldn't… oh god… he just couldn't stop…
All this time… all this time…
Head in his hands, his mind was full of turmoil.
What… what should I do?
"Good night, Naruto."
His head snapped back up. It wasn't an illusion. He had definitely heard it.
He then recalled her words.
"…I've always felt… that I belonged here. No matter what happens, I'll be back, ok?"
Did Sakura come back here?
Did Sakura come back to this garden of sanctuary he had once called the garden closest to hell?
When Sakura was here, the garden was indeed a sanctuary.
But, now, he wasn't so sure.
Was it a peaceful paradise?
Or was it a baneful prison?
He hugged the diary close to his chest.
He was getting sleepy.
"Good night, Naruto."
He heard her voice again.
So she did come back, after all.
There was nothing more to fear.
"Good night, Sakura."
He slowly closed his eyes.
"Garden of Sanctuary"
What did I just write?
I was practically in tears as I wrote the last few parts. Dammit. The author himself! I'm such a sucker for teary sappy stories; I actually never thought I'd be the one writing that kind of stuff.
I got the idea of this one-shot as I was reading through a few Japanese fanfictions sites. The idea inspired me so much I dropped everything I was doing and I just had to write this. Took me about… five hours? I think. Wrote it all in one sitting. Anyway, I think it came out half-decent. All and all I enjoyed writing this story.
It actually has been posted already, but to clarify, this story has now been serialized. I have finished working on the companion fic to "Garden of Sancturary" titled "Medusa Javelin", a story that deals with a more in-depth, closer look at the ten days written in Sakura's diary, revealing a large, dark secret Sakura slowly starts to unravel. The sequel, "Empyreal Paradox", which I'm currently working on, deals with Naruto's life once he leaves the garden, as well as Sakura's. Please give it a try to both stories if you are interested. The link to the story can be found through my profile.
Again, thank you for taking your time in showing interest this story. As an author, the best complement that I can ever hope to receive is by people reading my stories. I give my sincere appreciation to all of you.
Thanks for reading!
- Nes Mikel
(Last Edit: Janurary 4th, 2007)