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Close To My Heart

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Light breeze messes up my hair. Standing atop the Hokage Monument makes a ton of memories flash through my mind. I feel tired. I feel old. The slight wrinkles on my face and grey streaks across my hair do nothing to help.

But still...the memories make me smile.

I remember him being there for me from the beginning. Nothing reminds me that there was a time before it.

"Boruto! Stop messing around."

"Don't tell me what to do!"

"You're causing troubling to Nanadaime!"

"Of course, I am. I want him to say sorry to me! I'll beat him someday."

"Heh. As if."

"Hey! Don’t underestimate me! Sarada!"

I remember us talking about our dreams and fears, about what we wanted our future to looks as. And it made my heart beat when I thought of how our goals intertwined with each other’s.

“Thank you... thanks to that I was able to reach my own goals.. so it's really I who should thank you"

"When you become the Hokage, I'll be your right-hand man! I'll guard you well!"

Little laughs and their consistent bantering was a medium to strengthen our bond. We faced different kinds of hardships. But we never faltered. We grew up faster than what our parents wished, thanks to those who wanted to disrupt the era of peace.

We fought. We struggled. We won. And we moved forward.

As the time passed by, our feelings began to change. Our friendship was as strong as ever but something about our dynamics morphed into an uncharted territory.

I realised how broad his shoulders were. His blue eyes... The ones which reflected the entire world were older. He grew tall.

But still there were a few things that still remained the same. His bright blue eyes which made attracted me were same as always. So was his smile, sunny enough to brighten up anything.

After a number of trials and tribulations we achieved peace. And then came an awkward proposal.

...

Sarada panted heavily. Her body trembled with exertion. Damn, he's gotten so strong. But she wasn't the only one tired. He was on his knees gasping for breath as well. Then he looked up, a feral grin upon his face and his eyes shining.

"God, Sarada, marry me."

Sarada rolled her eyes. She had been aware of the fact that their relationship had progressed into an unexplainable situation. They have danced around the subject, always finding excuses to evade their feelings. But with the peace and tranquillity back in the land, there were not enough of the good excuses. She knew that.

"I hope you're not drunk this time." She laughed remembering a certain incident when he had proposed her because of being drunk silly.

"I'm not." He said, his voice held strength that churned Sarada's stomach. He was still on one knee when a pulled out a small black velvet box from his pocket and offered her a ring with Ruby on its centre.

"I know I'm not the best guy to be with. I've done things which I shouldn't have. But Sarada, I, I love you, I have loved you for a long time and I don't think I can stop anytime soon. It's still not enough, I know, but...Uchiha Sarada, will you do me the honour of becoming my wife?"

Sarada couldn't breathe. He...he was serious. After a few moments of silence which she was taking to gather herself, she realised he was becoming nervous. The intensity of this proposal and the change that will occur in their lives if she accepted this made her throat dry.

But she raised her hand towards him, smiling the most beautiful smile ever in acceptance.

...

Married life for them wasn't easy, especially with their busy schedules and his trips. They had arguments, broken promises, hurt and struggle.

...

"Hey! Are you ignoring me?!" Boruto yelled in her ear as he swiped the papers off her hands.

"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Sarada screamed, frustrated at him.

"'What the hell is wrong with me?!' I just returned back from a month mission but you're the one ignoring me!"

"Argh! Shut up! Stop whining like a kid, will you?!"

"If you didn't want me home back then I would have stayed there." He said softly before jumping out of the window of her office.

...

But at the end of the day, we would always come together with apologies.

I was happy, with the little things we did for each other. When he would make me breakfast or carry me home after a hard day at work.

Nothing changed between us but yet, everything did.

...

"Sarada, wake up. Or you'll be late for today."

Boruto shook her lightly but she snuggled closer to his warmth, burying her face into his shoulder. 

"No. I'm not going today. I took a break."

A few beats of silence before he yelled, "Really?!"

"Hai."

She let a lazy smile curl upon her lips and he felt his heart soar. 

...

With him, even the laziest mornings were happier and even mundane tasks like grocery shopping was fun.

We'd go out on dates and movies at times, no, not enough like a normal couple would but rather in our own way.

When I was finally appointed as the Hokage, he had the biggest grin on his face.

...

"Hey? Are you okay?"

"I-I don't know Boruto. It's finally happening."

"Yes, it's finally happening. It’s great, right?"

"I am nervous. My dream is about to come true and I don't know how to feel about."

"Sarada. Look at me."

"You've worked so hard for this. You deserve it. Never doubt that."

As her eyes flicked at him, she was overwhelmed with all the love and warmth in his eyes.

The conviction in his voice burned through her conscience, quenching her doubts and demons.

When she stood on the stage, accepting the Cape with pride and reverence, she could feel his spirit seep through herself, illuminating.

...

With Boruto by my side, I felt I could conquer skies. Being a Hokage wasn't easy, but the satisfaction of knowing that he was here was my greatest strength.

But, I forgot, we're shinobis. And shinobis are meant to endure.

...

She had never before experienced this much terror. As far as her eyes would go on the battlefield, there was nothing but a sea of blood and corpses. Her own people were dying and she was utterly helpless.

Her body was littered with fresh wounds and bruises. One of her lungs was punctured and her femur was broken and had torn out of her flesh, making her immobile in such a crucial battle.

"I'm the Hokage! Dammit Sarada! Get up! You have to protect everyone! Shannaro!"

She screamed at herself, as she barely managed to stand only to have her brain burned with searing pain as she collapsed on to the ground. Again. 

"Please move." she sobbed and begged to her body to not give up on her, hoping to get that little amount of strength to get up and fight, but to no avail.

As she saw the enemy forming a large concentrated mass of chakra like bomb, she felt whole body going cold with fear and horror. His aim was Konoha. And it was definitely large enough to obliterate the entire village. Her entire body was paralyzed.

It was over.

And at that moment, a flicker appeared right in front of her and a familiar black cape entered her field of vision.

“Boruto…” tumbled out of her mouth, as if her prayers have been answered. But still, the dread in her heart didn’t ease up. Something was wrong, very wrong.

Suddenly he turned towards her, giving her a brilliant smile, but there was something reflecting in his blue eyes – happiness, pain, sorrow, contentment? She was not even able to name them all. But above everything, his bright blue eyes were shining with determination. But there was something that surpassed even that.

It was love.

His eyes were glowing with love.

“Sarada. Tell my parents that I’m proud to be their son. And tell Hima that I love her. Say thanks from me to Sasuke oji-san and Sakura Oba-san for everything they've done for me. And also let our friends know that I'll think of them.

"B-Boruto?"

"I love you." And he gave a smile so wide that his eyes closed, "--and them too."

And right in front of her eyes, the chakra bomb was released, burning everything in its wake hurtling straight towards Konoha. And Boruto stood right in front of its path, undaunted.

A glowing light blue colour aura enveloped his entire body as he gave her one last smile before vanishing and letting himself be engulfed by the eruption.

Konoha was safe. The earth shattering explosion had never reached it. Boruto had not only suppressed the explosion but also destroyed the enemy.

The battle had ended and they were safe.

But Boruto...

Never returned.

Sarada had been hysterical. No matter how hard Mitsuki had tried to hold her to stop killing herself in a desperation to search for him in the mass of rubble, she wouldn't listen. So, he knocked her out.

The skies had cried that day as she had begged them to return him.

Later, she learned that the incapacitated enemy was brutally murdered by Uzumaki Naruto. ...

When she woke up, a week later, she had begged to see Boruto, knowing that he will not be there. Her father was there, though.

And after being properly fed and bathed, she was informed of something she had never imagined.

She was pregnant.

And it flashed across her mind.

He knew.

He knew that she was pregnant.

His eyes and his words blazed her conscience and she felt herself loosing her sanity.

She clutched her head as the faint shouts of "Sarada!" and "Sarada, sweetie, calm down please." echoed all around her. And then, the darkness enveloped her once again. ...

If there was a time that I could call the darkest period of my life, then it would be that. It hurt more than I could bear. My tears would not come out, no matter how much people wanted me cry.

I had not only lost my husband but also my best friend, my team mate, my rival and my pillar of strength.

I felt so alone that it wounded my heart beyond repair. 

...

During her entire pregnancy, Sasuke didn't leave his daughter's side. He had accepted his prosthetic arm in order to assist her. Sakura regularly checked upon her and looked after her requirements. Maybe it was the constant support and love from her parents and friends that Sarada was able to live through it. 

Sasuke might have been absent for a large part of Sarada's life. But he was here now, never leaving Sarada alone for a moment.

It was one day when Sakura entered their home, she fell straight into Sasuke's arms. 

"What happened, Sakura?" Sasuke rubbed her back in an attempt to ease her up.

"Sasuke. I-I analysed her recent reports. She's...she's pregnant with twins."

There was a thud and Sasuke and Sakura raced to the kitchen only to see Sarada collapsed on the floor. She was clutching her stomach, trembling. 

"He said, he said, 'I love you. And them too.' He knew. He knew that I was going to have twins and he still left me?! Why?!" She screamed at her parents as they looked upon her with sympathy and pity. 

"Papa! Mama! What did I do to deserve this?!" 

Sakura gathered a devastated Sarada in her arms, running her fingers through her hair and Sasuke crouched down as well, wrapping his arms around both of them. 

"Sarada." His voice was heavy. "Boruto did everything he could to save you and his children. He didn't want to leave you. Remember that, child."

...

Mitsuki and Chouchou would always visit me regularly and everyone else would definitely drop by once a week. 

Sometimes, I would remember that I'm not the only one who had lost someone important to me. They all have lost their sun. The man who inspired them to move forward and give their all. They had lost the person whom they viewed as a personification of courage. 

... 

In a few weeks’ time, Sarada grew larger. And sadly, to her parents' concern, her condition deteriorated. Her feet were swollen and her eyes looked sunken. Her pale skin had turned even paler.

Unlike Sakura, who glowed when she was pregnant, Sarada was a broken mess. 

One day, Hinata Uzumaki rang their doorbell. 

"I'm sorry Sarada. I'm sorry for not being there for you when you needed someone. But don't worry. I'm here now."

Her lavender eyes shine with warmth as if trying to placate not only Sarada but herself as well. 

... 

Boruto's death had left a gaping hole in the Uzumaki family as well. If there was someone who was hurt as much as I was, it was Tou-san Naruto.

The man was shattered and devastated more than he let on at the death of his son. Every moment of his life was spent cursing himself for his failure in protecting his child. He had changed a lot since the incident, becoming an empty shell of his former self. He had resumed his position of the Hokage again as Sarada was is no condition to do so.

His smiles did not hold its usual glow but rather turned damper. His words were still inspiring but now they sounded hollow.

And the entire Konoha was aware of these changes now.

During the last trimester of her pregnancy, Sarada was bed ridden. Her vitals were getting weaker by each passing day and it became frustratingly hard for her parents and Hinata to feed her any solid food.

As merciless rain striked against the ground, Naruto moved lethargically to the hospital to see his daughter-in-law. He froze dead in his tracks when he saw Sakura hunched over her knees, sobbing beneath a tree.

“Sakura-chan?!” he exclaimed, wrapping his cloak around her to shield her from the harsh rain.

“N-Naruto…” she sobbed, burying her face into his shoulder.

“Sakura-chan! Are you okay?!...Is it about Sarada-chan? Or the babies?” despite everything he could not hide the tremble in his voice.

“S-Sarada’s health is getting worse with each passing day. I’m scared Naruto. I’m scared. What if she doesn’t survive childbirth?”

Naruto felt his whole body going numb. First his son and now his daughter-in-law. Life has never been kind to him. Everything he held dear was always taken away from him.

“I-I’ll-save her. You can count on me.” The faltering in his voice turned into something a little more determined, just a glimpse of the conviction he had always known to display. He refused to lose anyone he loved ever again. He might have failed Boruto but he will definitely protect Sarada, Himawari and his grandchildren.

He’s not going to give up! Not now! Not ever!

And Sakura felt ease in some corner of her mind.

...

Those days were scary. Even when I had so many people by my side, none of them were capable of filling up the void left behind in my heart because of Boruto.

I can faintly remember the first kicks of my babies. Back then. My mind was so muddled that it all felt unnecessary to notice and cherish, but I do regret the past.

Finally, the day came. Sarada went into labour a day earlier than expected, but Sakura was completely prepared. The entire lobby was filled with friends and well-wishers, all of them anxious. Naruto was there along with Sasuke outside as well, his senses completely trained on Sarada’s fluctuating chakra, ready to use his abilities to stabilise her life force if necessary.

“Sarada. Calm down sweetie. You’re going to be fine.” As her eyes flicked over the monitor displaying Sarada’s vitals, she wondered if she was saying this to reassure herself or her daughter.

After a labour period that lasted for about hard twenty four hours, surrounded by her mother and her best team as well as Hinata, she finally gave birth to two infants.

A boy and a girl.

The boy was her first born, older than his sister by ten minutes, born with a tuft of black hair and eyes in the same shade as hers. Onyx of his Uchiha grandfather.

Her daughter, the younger of the two, was a baby with golden hair and eyes that resembled her father so much that it made everyone shiver.

When Sakura and Hinata handed her over both the babies, the tears that had been held back for so long poured out freely. She clutched her infants to her chest carefully, relishing their warmth and existence.

At that moment she understood her father’s words more than she ever had.

‘Because you exist.’ The man had said.

“Yes, because you both exist.” She whispered this in her head over and over. Knowing that they were both a token a love from Boruto.

...

That day I realised that I had to live. For my children. They had already lost their father. I couldn’t abandon them. They deserved the love and support of at least one parent. And their presence slowly, but definitely filled the hole in my heart.

Yuriki Uchiha.”

Sarada proudly declared, holding her son close as she nuzzled her baby softly. Then she bent down to scoop her daughter from the crib and rested the sleeping infant against her chest, smiling lovingly.

“Aiko Uzumaki.”

“Those are beautiful names.” Mitsuki smiled as he stepped forward and held his arms out to take Yuriki from his mother, who was curiously looking all around.

“Courage and love.”

Sarada spent next five years raising her children with the help of her parents and friends. They would question about their father just like any other child would. People told them to be proud of the legend their father was but Sarada’s heart ached knowing that they’ll never know the person there father was. They’ll never know about his pranks, or his stubbornness except for the stories that their Grandma Hinata and Aunt Himawari would tell them.

Weirdly enough, her father was closer to Aiko whereas Naruto was closer to Yuriki. She never understood the reason behind that but they both were merry and doting grandfathers.

Raising twins was not an easy task, especially when you’re a single mother. There were times when she would be at wit’s end but one call would be enough to get Himawari to her rescue. The children had a strong bond with their aunt. Sarada knew that Himawari wanted to be the light in their life what Boruto what in hers.

It warmed Sarada’s heart.

I remember a particular day when we had went on a trip to the nearby park. Yuriki was pushing his sister on the swing and she was giggling. And then it suddenly hit me out of nowhere. Yuriki, despite, his black eyes and hair looked so much like Boruto that I felt like loosing my breath. And Aiko, had inherited her daddy’s blue eyes, which nostalgically were bluer than her father.

Both of my babies had inherited so much their dad that it made my heart throb.

“Mommy?”

“Yes, Aiko. Do you need more noodles?” Sarada asked, as she cleaned the counter. Both of her children had demanded noodles today. Her brother was still at the dining waiting for the dessert.

“No.”

“Is there anything else you need?”

“Did…did daddy love us?”

Sarada felt her heart crack at her daughter’s words. Her hands wouldn’t move but she was also aware for her son’s gaze at her back, paying attention to her reply.

‘I love you…and them too.’

Sarada crouched in front of her daughter, also signalling her son to come closer. She placed her hands on their shoulder pulling them closer to herself.

“He did. You two, he loved you, a lot.”

More than you’ll ever know.

Her fingers raised and poked her children right in the middle of their foreheads.

After they turned five, Naruto stepped down and Sarada resumed her duties as a Hokage once again. Her children were adored by the entire village and were spoiled by their overly doting grandparents and Aunt.

Another figures they loved were – Grandpa Kakashi and Grandpa Iruka.

Those two men held them close, babysat the little devil duo and bought them treats. They also educated them in ways of life. It was thanks to them that her children turned out to be just like their father – mischievous and stubborn but with a golden heart.

Aiko had definitely taken up on Boruto’s mischievous streak whereas Yuriki was much milder in comparison. Together, the pranks they played made their grandpas tear their hair out.

The earned them the nick name – ‘the devil duo.’

Sarada, at times felt that Boruto would be so proud of them.

Sometime later I realised that Yuriki had wind chakra and sharinghan, whereas Aiko could use lightening and was a possessor of byakugan. Both of her children were blessed with potent chakra and powerful and a keen mind, and they soon gained fame as formidable shinobis in later life.

When they turned twelve, Aiko declared that she wanted to be a Hokage in future and I felt my heart swell with elation. Her daughter aimed big. Yuriki was not sure but I knew that he still had plenty of time.

At the age of sixteen, they faced their hardest battle, being targeted for their rare lineage and their influential families, Yuriki had no other choice but to unleash his mangekyo in order to protect his sister after their team mate had died.

When they returned home back, the first thing he said to me was that now he knew what he wanted to be.

“I want to be like dad.”

He had said. Proud of his father and the sacrifices that he had made in order to safe guard the village and his family. Yuriki saw his dad as a symbol of peace, strength and courage. And it made Sarada content.

Well…

Time has passed, and with intense hard work, I’m sure that they have made their father proud.

The reason , I’m standing here at the top the Hokage monument currently is to finally take a moment of peace and live it.

Today, Aiko was inaugurated as the tenth Hokage, with her brother by her side and both of them complete with their families.

And I had literally been never prouder.

My children were my hope and joy, and Boruto’s memories had continued to guide me down the right path. His way of living inspired me to become not only a better person but also a better parent.

After my parents and my in laws left the realm of living, it was a struggle, but their love and teachings always surrounded me and my children like a warm blanket.

If there is something I learned being alive it’s that-

Life is completely unpredictable, cruel to happiness and kind to sorrow. And fate is a mighty river – which at times, would flow gently and calmly, nurturing life. But sometimes, it would be raging and brutal, not hesitating to destroy the same life it had nurtured.

All she understood was that the only way to live was that you can get up, look ahead and move forward.

It was night when she entered the cemetery. She kneeled in front his grave and brushed her fingers against the cool marble, letting it seep through her skin.

“My work is done here. I want to see you again, Boruto, please.”

She leaned her forehead against the stone, breathing in the nightly scent.

“It’s been so long, you know, but I still…”

Her voice was drenched in emotion when she whispered.

“I still hold you close to my heart.”

The next day, Keito Uchiha and Yuki Uzumaki found their grandma, hunched over their grandfather’s grave, body cold and eyes closed, but even then, the most prominent feature on her face was her peaceful angelic smile.