Yo! Welcome to the final chapter of What it Means to Live Forever!

Not sure why, but for some reason, my formatting got destroyed last chapter, and all bolding and italics were entirely ignored by Fanficdotnet. Kind of annoying, hopefully that doesn't happen with this chapter. If it does I'll see if I can't edit and reupload it. Basically if you see this chapter without any italics or bolding (it has both, I assure you) then please let me know with a review or something.

I don't actually have a ton to say about this one at the beginning, but I'll have a bit in the AN after the chapter.

Anyways, this is it, so without further ado!

Chapter 10: Orochimaru

Orochimaru could pinpoint the exact moment he knew the attack was coming.

The air simply changed. The birds in the sky stopped chirping, the insects in the trees ceased buzzing. Cats and dogs hissed and barked, sensing what a few of the stronger Shinobi of the village certainly could as well.

It was coming.

Even if not a one of them other than him knew what 'it' was.

He was moving before he really knew where he was headed. He simply couldn't allow himself to not do something. Not when he could taste the danger upon the wind, sense the way that the world had stilled.

And then a second later, the world exploded.

White engulfed the sky, smoke and mist serving to shield a massive object. It wasn't far from Orochimaru's position, perhaps only a few blocks, but even still, he swore as he kicked off a wall to his side to gain momentum.

He still wouldn't make it in time to save them all.

A piercing, wailing howl shook the night sky, and he could hear the first few people scream as they realized what was happening. Just what it was had been placed right in front of them, without a care in the world for their lives.

He heard as well as quite a few of those screams, with a single sickening slice, were snuffed out.

He ground his teeth together and snarled as he forced his legs to carry him faster, farther, and he arrived on top of a nearby building just in time for the smoke to finally clear.

For the hulking, monstrous form of the Nine-Tailed Fox to be unveiled.

It wasted no time in decimating his surroundings, even as Orochimaru tried not to focus on the screams and wails beneath him, the ending of so many lives that he felt he should have saved. Even still, he forced himself to work.

Because ultimately, as much as he'd wished to save every person he could, he'd known he wouldn't be able to. Not unless he'd been able to catch Madara before he could utilize his newest toy by sheer luck. No, this had been the most realistic scenario. The monster loose in the Leaf, with no one and nothing to hold it back.

Other than him.

He bit down into his right thumb, drawing more blood than was perhaps strictly necessary, but he felt he could be forgiven given the tension of the moment. In the next, he slammed his hands down, and shouted out…

"Summoning Jutsu: Rashomon Prison!"

He'd planned for this. That was what he told himself over and over again as three massive, metal gates rocketed out of the ground surrounding the horrid creature, locking it in a triangular cage.

He had designed this Jutsu with the express intent of using it to contain the Nine-Tails. Something he'd been cooking up for the last two weeks. To anyone else, that would've been too short a timeframe, but he was Orochimaru, the greatest Jutsu inventor that had ever lived. Really, all he'd really had to do was orient the summoned Rashomon a little bit differently, and all of a sudden, he had a makeshift prison for something the size of a building.

It would not be enough to hold it. He'd not held any illusions it would. But, at the very least, he could contain it for a moment, for a minute or so as it struggled with tooth and claw. The Nine-Tails, as powerful as it was, likely wouldn't open with one of its more powerful abilities.

No sooner had he thought that did the sound of gathering energy hit him, and he realized what was about to happen just before the world shifted. The sky changed from a smoky black to a blinding white for no more than an instant, before the entire village seemed to shake.

He was forced to his knees, even as he swore, and rocketed up the side of one of his Rashomon.

The cage was still in one piece, thanks in large part, he imagined, to the fact that the creature didn't have much room to gather strength for its Tailed-Beast Bomb. It would be cramped within the confines of its prison.

Still, though, the fact that the Nine-Tails had opened with a Tailed-Beast Bomb of all things was telling. It had not bothered to try and escape its confines with any weaker attacks, and instead targeted his walls with raw power, the one thing that could reliably break through the Rashomon at all.

That painted a very frightening picture.

Madara was controlling it.

It wasn't a surprise, and he'd even factored in the chance that it could happen, but it was far from good news. The Madara of old, they said, had tamed the Nine-Tails so completely that he could summon it at will, so the fact that the man here could do the same leant some credence to his claims of being Madara Uchiha.

Still, he was not about to give up and surrender. From what he'd seen, the man was strong, but not overwhelmingly so. And he wasn't here, either. At least, not that he could tell.

Once more, no sooner had that thought passed through him than he felt a chill run up the back of his spine, and he dodged backwards, narrowly avoiding the hand that had threatened to grab onto the back of his black cloak – which had, up until the Nine-Tails' bomb went off and thrown back his hood, been to conceal his identity – and tear it off.

"Well, well, well." The cocky voice of Madara Uchiha smarmed out, eyeing him with an obvious intrigue. "So, the dead still walk the earth. Hah, I suppose that makes two of us."

He said nothing. He could not afford to.

The two of them were positioned around halfway up one of the Rashomon, clinging onto its sides with chakra control. Inside the Rashomon jail, the Nine-Tails raged, roaring its discontent as it began to charge up for another Tailed-Beast Bomb, this time, taking far longer to gather energy.

Smoke seemed to blanket the sky, even with the small amount of land that the Nine-Tails had managed to rampage across, it had still been, likely, thirty or so buildings entirely destroyed, and at least a hundred or so people either heavily injured, or dead.

He forced himself to swallow down on the anger threatening to boil over from within him at that. It would do him no good, not in this fight, where he was not even sure he was the stronger of the two combatants. Instead, he made his mind analyze what he assumed would happen in the next minute or so.

He wouldn't be able to stop the Nine-Tails breaking out, not now that Madara was busy looming over him the entire time. No… He'd simply have to hope that he got a moment to execute his plan to halt it in time, when Madara had either been dealt with, or gave him a moment.

He wasn't sure which seemed more likely, but it wasn't like he had any great options, he'd simply have to take what he could get.

As much as he'd have liked to have the serpent's power, Manda wasn't going to be summoned here. Not in the middle of the Leaf Village, where any of the surrounding villagers could easily be crushed by the snakes massive bulk.

And knowing Manda, he'd demand to devour quite a few of them as payment regardless.

No. He'd have to go without any such summons. And as much as he'd have liked help – well, as much Orochimaru could admit wanting help before his pride clamped down on the idea – aside from the few Kage-level ninja in the Village, it was likely anyone else coming to aid him would only get in the way.

He was on his own for now. That much was certain.

He would not waste time, then. Not when time would mean more and more of the Leaf would be destroyed.

…More and more of his people slain.

He charged in without a word.

Blades connected near what had once been the center of their two points, a brief exchange that was punctuated by Madara letting gravity carry him over one of Orochimaru's strikes, before landing a way's away, and laughing.

"Somehow I'm unsurprised that you're so much better, even after only a month. I suppose you got this strong all to handle little old me?" The man taunted. "I'm touched."

Orochimaru himself said nothing, just dodging back into the man's guard and continuing their duel.

As he made to reconnect with his opponent, he heard the telltale sound of the Nine-Tails having finished charging up it's bomb. He swore under his breath, backing away as the sky flashed white once more.

This time, his Rashomon didn't hold.

It was not the surface that the two of them were using as a battlefield, likely influence from Madara, but the one off to Orochimaru's right, facing towards the cliff that housed the Hokage's faces. The blast, as muted as it was through having had to break apart the Rashomon prison first, still blew away the remnants of buildings for a block or so, and with it, the people there.

He bit down on the feeling in his stomach as he disengaged from Madara using that small moment, letting himself fall from the wall and into open air.

Madara mirrored his action, detaching from the wall a second later and falling after him, but he had a head start, and he intended to use it.

He brought a scroll out of his cloak, summoning from out of it a set of large shuriken. He whispered a small Jutsu under his breath, before he threw the demon windmill shuriken at the Nine-Tails, watching as it sailed forward, only a moment or two away from striking the beasts upper arm.

It distorted before it could arrive, however, erased from existence as he looked up to see Madara's single exposed Sharingan trained on the blade. In another moment, before it could meet its target, the shuriken was fully erased, seemingly into the man's eye.

A Mangekyou Sharingan ability? He found himself wondering, even as he held his hand up, and made a rather simple 'activate' seal. Well, let's see if he can do it twice…

The second shuriken, which had been hid inside the shadow of the first, struck true a moment later. The Nine-Tails didn't notice it, and really, how could it have, when it would be akin to being stung by a mosquito, but that was honestly better for him.

He forced chakra to his legs as he hit the ground, ignoring the way the muscles flared with pain as he flung himself forward, trying to outpace anything Madara could do to respond to him.

"Fire Style: Fireball Jutsu!"

He heard the man shout, and instead of trying to dodge the strike, he melted into the earth below, allowing the street above him to tank the blow. It would manage, if only barely, and he took the time to get a little farther from where he'd sunk in to emerge, atop a mostly destroyed building.

He might not win against Madara in a fair fight…

But who said anything about fighting fair?

He looked out over the Nine-Tails as it tried to continue its rampage. Luckily, it seemed his secret weapon was having an effect. The lumbering beast tried to move forward, but it's right arm wouldn't budge. It stumbled forward, kicking up a huge cloud of dirt and dust as it failed to gain ground. It roared as if to challenge its own unresponsive limb.

Orochimaru himself smirked. It appeared Shido was as good as his word when it came to his 'display piece'.

Madara located him, firing off two of his wooden stakes, both of which sailed through where his head had been a second or so prior as he leapt from the roof, and landed on the dirt road beneath him, dashing towards the Nine-Tails handicapped form.

The Nine-Tails was large, easily towering over every building in the Leaf Village, but Shido's poison, normally, would've been enough to paralyze the entire thing then and there. It wouldn't, however, not because of any of its shortcomings, but because of what the Nine-Tails itself was.

The Nine-Tails, even if he somehow killed it here and now, wouldn't die. Especially not to a poison coursing through its veins. It was both a fox, and a being of chakra. It had a physical body, surely, but it would reform itself in time if it were destroyed, or if its Jinchuuriki were to perish with it inside of them.

Which meant a single application of Shido's display piece wouldn't quite be enough.

Another, then.

He brought out, this time, a set of kunai positively drenched in the toxin, throwing the five at the Nine-Tails' lower body. One was absorbed as the first windmill shuriken had been, and another two were knocked off path by two more wooden stakes. But two got through, impacting against the Nine-Tails' right thigh and burying deep.

This time, the creature paid attention, growling his way as it tried to paw out at him with it's left arm. It didn't work, largely because it didn't quite have the range of motion required to allow it to strike at him on its right side with both limbs on that side entirely inert.

After ten or so seconds, it roared again, trying to inch its way forward despite the fact that the entire right half of its body limped behind it. Orochimaru sneered victoriously, before swearing profusely as a wooden stake struck his lower abdomen.

His entire body exploded outwards, though, luckily, he'd managed to vomit out another body for himself before his last one was entirely annihilated. Still, that would be the last time he took his eyes off of Madara, who'd used his intangibility to take one of Orochimaru's blind spots.

He juked away from the man's line of sight, ducking into the ruins of what had to have been a small shop. He melted into the ground, for as good as that would do him, given Madara would know his intent here, whether he liked it or not.

He needed to fully immobilize the Nine-Tails, leave it nothing more than a giant, harmless lump of fur laid motionless in the middle of the Village. After he'd finished off Madara, they could deal with it then.

But, well, that relied upon Madara not stopping him.

He wouldn't let him, that much was certain.

He let the upper half of his body peak out from a mostly hidden spot, and he spat two coated senbon out of his mouth. As he'd expected, both were intercepted mid-flight by Madara, who growled angrily as he tried to take out Orochimaru himself.

He smiled, even as he dipped back beneath the earth.

One of the things that Orochimaru had learned about moving beneath the earth was that it wasn't really feasible to fight there. Even if two people possessed the ability to slither beneath it, like both he and Madara did, the only thing his opponent could really do to fight him was try and remove him from the ground.

Battling one on one without eyesight, without any real hearing, without touch, or smell, or any sense besides chakra, wasn't easy even for the best of them. Hell, Orochimaru didn't so much as bother himself.

Which meant that was his play. Don't engage Madara on the field of battle. Engage only the Nine-Tails but do so in a way that left very little room for retaliation.

Guerilla tactics. Hit and run. Things he'd gotten quite adept at over his decades long experience as a spy, and as a black ops ninja, trusted with the highest security missions.

Eventually, he wore Madara down. It took roughly ten minutes of kiting him around the Nine-Tails' body, forcing him to be constantly at the ready, his Sharingan active the entire time, but eventually, he managed a feint, sneaking a snake, whose venom he'd replaced with Shido's concoction, through his guard as he distracted him with another set of windmill shuriken, allowing the creature to bite down on the Nine-Tails' neck.

The subsequent roar the beast tried to let out was muted when it could no longer feel its throat. Its head fell to the ground a moment later, and Orochimaru snarled triumphantly. It wasn't the most heroic thing, but then again, he'd never been, either.

Of course, Madara wouldn't have wasted the moment he'd had to overplay himself to get that opening. He flung another stake, forcing Orochimaru to abandon his current body, and then that second one as well when it began to distort wildly, that Mangekyou Sharingan ability from earlier reappearing.

He grimaced as he realized his chakra was already at 50 percent, and he'd not yet made a dent in Madara at all.

Still, he was not the concern.

It would've been better to be able to fight his opponent outside the Village entirely, even if this part of town had been almost entirely destroyed, he could still hear the screams and yells of several survivors all around them, begging for help as they clawed at the wreckage locking them in.

If he could draw the man away somehow, he could perhaps save them as well, but he had no idea how he was meant to do that, when the man's objective was right in front of him.

The Nine-Tails, even immobilized, would remain the primary piece they were playing for.

No sooner had Orochimaru thought that then the Nine-Tails, the entire creature, vanished without a single trace.

Both he and Madara seemed stunned, though his opponent recovered quickly, sneering as a loud crash erupted from outside the Village, likely the beast itself crashing down somewhere.

A figure appeared just in front of him, though he didn't have the time to make out any defining features or characteristics. The only thing he could register was a hand on his shoulder…

And then the entire world shifted.

A second before, they'd been clashing in the middle of the Leaf, and now, there he was, stood in the middle of one of the forests surrounding the Leaf Village, staring around him as he tried to find just what the hell had happened.

Was it some trick of Madara's? It didn't seem to be, given how the man was nowhere to be found.

What he could see, however, was the towering form of the Nine-Tailed Fox, completely immobilized by the poison coursing through its veins. Any other creature would've been dead, but the Nine-Tails, half physical creature, and half chakra being, wouldn't die just because its lungs no longer took in oxygen.

A kunai held to his throat had him freezing in place, even as the voice that poured out afterwards allowed him to relax just an iota.

"Orochimaru!?" Minato Namikaze, the Yellow Flash, sounded shocked. "You were the one who…"

"Minato." He turned himself around, his hands held up in the air, and Minato must've known there was no point in slitting his throat, for he made no motion to do so. "It's good to see you."

"You…" His eyes narrowed, and he looked completely ready to cut him down where he stood. "Are you with that masked man?"

"No." He cut the man off before they could waste time trying to murder one another. "I'm here for the express purpose of stopping him. You could see that, couldn't you?"

"What? You–"

"I knew he was coming. I would've informed you, had I thought there a point. You've likely seen his Jutsu. That which allows him to phase through anything?"

"Yes. He…" Minato swore, looking away. "He got Jiraiya sensei with it."

His eyes bulged, and he rounded on the man with bile in his throat. "Jiraiya, is he –"

"Alive. Critical, but I could still feel his chakra. It's… we were attacked suddenly, and Jiraiya moved first. He went right through him, though, and the man wasted no time stabbing him right through the back, and up into his stomach. I… I rescued Kushina, and Naruto – my child – but… my wife is in critical condition given the Nine-Tails' extraction. If she were not of Uzumaki heritage, she would certainly be dead already."

He nodded, knowing what the price for having one's Tailed-Beast extracted out of them was.

"Where is Jiraiya?"

"He's… still on the floor in the sealed chamber. I… as cruel as it is to say, I was far more focused on my wife and child."

He could understand the man's position, knowing that if he himself had been in that position, he'd have prioritized Jiraiya himself over Kushina.

Still, as bad as Jiraiya sounded, potentially gutted, bleeding out on the floor, the man likely didn't have long. Unless he made it to a powerful medic – Tsunade would be a good option if she was available, though with the carnage in the Village she might not be – he very well may die.

He shuddered at even the thought, forcing himself to not focus on that possibility as he looked Minato in the eye.

"Go. Only you're fast enough to save Jiraiya. Take him and your family to safety, and then move to protect them. If you're lucky, you may even be able to keep Kushina alive."

Minato looked like he wanted to argue against that.


"I will handle this one." He spoke in a way that left no room for argument. "That is the only option that saves all of them and you know it. Go now. Be with them both. Leave this to me."

The man before him hesitated for just a moment, seemingly unsure of what to make of him. Orochimaru couldn't be wasting time, though, and Jiraiya couldn't afford it.

"Please." He practically begged.

Minato's eyes widened, before he took a deep, quivering breath, releasing it with a terrible sigh. He stepped forward, placing a hand on Orochimaru's shoulder as he stared him directly in the eye. "Alright. I'm placing my trust… no, I'm placing the entire Leaf Village in your hands."

Orochimaru felt the weight of those words settle atop his shoulders, felt gravity push him down into the dirt beneath him. Even still, he managed to stay standing.

"Go get him, Lord Forth."

Pride swelled through him, and he didn't try to hide the proud look upon his face as he nodded to the man.

"I will. At any cost."

And then, with a rush of wind, Minato was gone.

For just a moment, the clearing was entirely bereft of sound.

A moment later, it was filled with Orochimaru's breathing, deeply intaking oxygen as he prepared for round two.

He'd unquestionably won the first exchange. He'd used guerrilla tactics to completely immobilize the Nine-Tailed Fox, striking out at it from the shadows and using its massive bulk and size against it. Even Madara, for as much as the man may have been his superior in single combat, had possessed no answer to his decades experience in such deceitful tactics.

Still. It wasn't over. The poison placed upon the Nine-Tails wouldn't last forever. More than anything, he had to separate the Nine-Tails from Madara. If he didn't, the man would be able to repeat this attack whenever he wished. To summon the Nine-Tailed Fox in the heart of their Village at any time, or even to use it to annihilate the surrounding towns in the Land of Fire.

Thousands, tens, or perhaps even hundreds of thousands would die if he could not accomplish that.

He might not have cared, as he once was. But the Orochimaru stood there now…

It mattered. Those lives on his shoulders, the lives of those in the Leaf Village, of those in the Land of Fire, those who he'd once been trusted to protect…

They mattered more than anything.

And here, out in the middle of nowhere, he could duel unaffected by the people of the Village. All of his tricks, all of his traps and Jutsu would be utilized without fear of hurting any bystanders.

And so… he waited where he knew Madara would come.

It didn't take as long as one might have thought, given in large part to the fact that both Madara and himself had seen where the Nine-Tails had been moved to thanks to the rumbling crash it had caused when it had been set down. With a swirling distortion, Madara arrived, humming discontentedly.

"Well, I must admit, you've certainly annoyed me, Orochimaru." Madara leered his way, his earlier bravado gone in favor of what was abjectly irritation. "I'd intended to bait out the Fourth Hokage with that little trick… but lo and behold, you rose from the dead to challenge me. How utterly–"

A snake bit down where Madara's foot should've been, but it phased right through it, and he clicked his tongue along the roof of his mouth as Madara sneered, before crushing the reptile beneath his heel.

"Not even going to let me finish? How uncouth."

So, judging by how his opponent wasn't rushing back into combat, it seemed he was still confident, at the very least, that he'd emerge from this victorious. Unsurprising, but still useful information. It was likely he still had a hidden ace up his sleeve, or perhaps simply skill he'd not yet shown.

He pulled something out a moment later, a chain with a cuff at the end sliding out of his sleeve. He took it from off of the ground and locked it onto his other wrist, before charging right at Orochimaru, Sharingan blazing.

He couldn't quite tell what it was the man intended to do, but that was fixed the hard way not even thirty seconds later, as the man passed right through him, but the chain, pointedly, did not.

He swore as it tightened down on him, though he'd substituted himself beforehand, the log that had been in his place being rent in twain.

Madara shook the chain cockily, and Orochimaru himself cracked his neck. He was still at around half of his chakra, though it'd dipped a tad bit in that exchange. His opponent, meanwhile, likely had to have used some of his chakra. There was no way that intangibility of his was permanent, or inexpensive. If anything, it was likely some other Mangekyou Sharingan ability, perhaps even the same as that which allowed him to teleport from location to location.

Still, for the moment, that wasn't his focus. Madara wasn't playing things slow anymore, the man blitzing towards him. His eye tensed, and Orochimaru had just enough time to dodge to the right before a massive shuriken, easily the size of a person, shot out at him. It whizzed right past him, sawing its way through a tree or two before embedding itself into the earth.

Madara didn't give him a moment, however, forcing Orochimaru to dodge away from a wooden stake, this time to the left, back just where he'd been before. He knew it was a trap before he'd so much as moved, and so he was ready, even if not entirely willing, to vomit out another body as the ground beneath him glowed with chakra.

The paper bombs placed there exploded a second later, even as his new form landed nearby, panting somewhat at the raw aggression shown.

35 percent. He could only create a body double another two times before he'd be out of chakra, and he wanted a good amount of said chakra to use in combat, not just as insurance.

They charged in once more, and this time, Orochimaru allowed himself to more closely study his opponent. For the next three or so trades, neither of them gave or lost much ground. Orochimaru himself had taken a bit of a beating, blows on his arms and legs as he blocked or dodged, but he'd come out without needing to create another body, so that was at least a good sign.

Madara hadn't gotten away untouched. Orochimaru had managed to hit the man with a noxious gas trap, but only the barest bit of it. It seemed the man's intangibility had allowed him to avoid that, too, coughing a few times and slowing down, but otherwise not reacting to what should've been a deadly toxin entering into his system.

This time, as they wound up for another exchange, he had something prepared. Madara charged forward, as did he. A snake shot out of the ground beneath him, passing through Madara's path, forcing him into his intangibility. He'd not had long to study it, but from what he'd seen, the simple fact was that while he was intangible, he could not make contact with anything else.

The chains still could, once they passed through one another, but he could not.

Which meant that normally he wouldn't have to risk anything.

But that was only if Orochimaru played the man's game. If he allowed the man to run through him, to trap him with his chains, to play his own reactions against Orochimaru's. If he were someone like the Yellow Flash, he might take that gamble.

He was not. He was Orochimaru. He was a snake, venomous and deadly.

He fought dirty. After all, he was an ambush predator.

And he had an idea.

Madara charged at him, and Orochimaru feinted that he'd play along. He stepped into the man, throwing a kunai forward. It passed harmlessly through Madara's frame, even as the man himself did the same. he tossed two shuriken as well, arcing up and around as they too sailed right through the man.

He had a theory. It might not have been much, but it was worth, at the very least, an investigation. He didn't think the man wanted to stay intangible for very long, and, truthfully, for him to actually attack Orochimaru with anything but his chains, he would need to become tangible.

Play into that, then. Or, well, trick the man into thinking he had him.

He dodged, instead, backwards. Madara seemed to expect that, harrumphing arrogantly as he stepped forward.

The man had his own theories, it seemed, as he aimed for Orochimaru's head. It he severed his brain stem, he could kill him instantly, before Orochimaru could fabricate another body for himself out of his chakra, and that would be it. It was a fair theory, and a correct one, even if Orochimaru himself had almost wanted him to believe it.

He couldn't have been Madara Uchiha. That fact was reinforced again. Too headstrong, too assured. Madara had been all those things, but he'd had raw, unearthly power to back it up.

This man had none of that.

And so, as he fired his wooden stake forward, Orochimaru activated his plan.

He elongated his neck, dodging the first stake as it fired up at him, even as Madara drew back his right hand, and aimed his blow right for the space Orochimaru's head now occupied.

The distance between them was as nothing. It couldn't have been any more than half a foot. It needed to be close. He needed to sense victory. Needed to smell it, know he couldn't possibly lose…

Madara's eye widened with glee, as the tip of his stake carved through the outer cartilage of Orochimaru's face, into flesh and bone and blood…

Just as Orochimaru yanked the rug out from under the man.

The kunai, the one he'd redirected with the two shuriken he'd fired off earlier, embedded itself in the back of his opponents neck. Orochimaru felt a small hint of relief as the stake that was burrowing its way into his sinus cavity was drawn down, slashing down his face, and causing him quite a sharp pain, but, pointedly, not killing him outright.

Madara gasped, and moved, or, well, he tried to. Probably would've as well, had his spinal cord not been cut. As it was, he could do nothing as Orochimaru let out a long, pained breath, leaning back against a tree behind him as he let his muscles relax.

"Gah…" His opponent tried to breath, but his lungs would've frozen up by now. He'd been rather thorough as well, of course. He'd coated that kunai in a rather fast-acting, and equally as deadly neurotoxin. It would be working its way through his system then, shutting down anything and everything.

Orochimaru could admit he was impressed by how his opponent seemed to readily accept his death, simply allowing his face to slump down onto the forest floor beneath him. It was a noble end for an ignoble man, even if Orochimaru certainly wasn't going to tell his corpse that it was a 'good fight' or any such drivel.

He stepped forward, content enough to burn the body away, and then return to the real root of the problem, the Nine-Tails, when he heard a whizzing sound coming from behind him.

His muscles tensed, his body reacclimating itself to battle, his brain falling back into combat, but he was just the slightest bit too late to entirely dodge the hit. At the very least, he'd managed to avoid having his brain stem cut, but…

Pain blossomed across his body as a sharp object pushed through his chest. It stabbed in through his back, and out through his left pectoral. It had, likely, pierced straight through his heart.

He wretched up blood, even as he forced himself to move. Just because his heart had been perforated, didn't mean this body was dead. He ripped himself off of the weapon, and flung himself around, trying to identify the new attacker who'd–

Standing there, Sharingan still blazing, was 'Madara Uchiha', his mask still in place, his body looking unaffected. In fact, dare he say it, it was like he hadn't killed the man at all.

But he had. He could remember doing so, and in fact, the body of the man still laid where he'd left it, the kunai embedded in his neck still dripping with both blood and neurotoxin.

His eyes widened, however, as, in the next moment, the body seemed to fade away, as if it had been some hallucination.

Genjutsu!? His mind immediately tried to rationalize what had happened, even if he shook his head a second later. No, I've had myself prepared mentally for a Genjutsu this entire fight. I wouldn't have fallen to something like that. This was…

He mentally identified what the problem was, even as he swore, and dodged another two branches incoming. They struck the trees behind him, ripping the thing asunder as it fell to the ground behind him with a loud crash.

This was the Uchiha clan's forbidden Jutsu.


I underestimated him. Orochimaru realized as he bit down on his bottom lip, accepting the fact that he needed to create a new body.

His jaw unhinged, and another copy of himself stepped out, cracking its neck as it dripped mucus all around the forest floor around him.

His chakra was low. Painfully so, now. He had maybe twenty percent remaining, and that was, honestly, overestimating it. He could make, perhaps, one more body double, but…

No. If he did that, he'd have no chakra remaining to actually attack.

He had no choice. He had to end this, and fast.

He dashed in, but was almost blindsided when the Madara in front of him went up in smoke. From beneath him, a kunai shot up and out of the wood, and he was only narrowly fast enough to force his head backwards. Even still, it scratched his chin, and he swore as his opponent shot out of the ground like a missile from off to his left, leg primed to strike him.

He didn't even have time to guard as it connected with the side of his jaw, smashing him into a nearby tree and causing his vision to double. In the next second, before he could recover, a massive fireball was streaking right for him, and Orochimaru cursed as he channeled chakra into himself, and slammed his hands down.

A mud wall came up to intercept the Jutsu, but it wasn't enough. He was too out of it from that blow to the head, and because of that, he'd channeled far, far too much chakra into the little wall that had sprung up. He had less than enough to create a body double, and the wall itself hadn't even fully tanked the hit for him.

Flame washed over his skin, and he grimaced as he smelt himself burning. He allowed himself to be carried away by the flames, before being launched backwards into the dirt as they cleared.

He panted horribly, even as Madara Uchiha laughed at his plight, speaking for the first time in roughly ten minutes.

"Oh? Is the great Orochimaru finally finished? How droll."

He tried to force himself up… tried to force himself to at least sit up… but everything… everything hurt. His entire being felt like it was on fire, and hell, some parts of him actually were.

He… he had a thought then. A treacherous, miserable thought that was so like him it was painful.

He could run, and he would live.

Some part of him understood… If he kept fighting… if he didn't leave now…

He could die.

He might die.

He would die.

If he ran now… he'd escape. He could melt into the earth beneath him and be halfway across the Land of Fire come morning. He didn't have to do this. He was Orochimaru, he was supposed to be immortal!

"One's colors are at their truest when they are backed into a corner."

…And how many would pay for it? How many thousands would this man kill if he had the Nine-Tails, how many more Villages would end up like his, without people like himself, Jiraiya, Tsunade, Hiruzen, and Minato to protect it?

He found himself picturing Jiraiya and Tsunade, both smiling his way as they laughed at some asinine joke the former had made. He pictured Shizune of all people, bowing her head to him as she took the other path off towards her apartment. He pictured the children who asked him for advice on their shuriken Jutsu, thanking him profusely as their parents watched on with proud smiles.

He thought of his teacher, Hiruzen, smiling brightly at him as they discussed nothing of import.

And he felt just the smallest bit tougher.

Somehow, he found strength enough to stand, even past the way his muscles screamed at him to just stay down. He felt his heart beating out of his chest, even as he spat one of his molars out of his mouth, trying to ignore the horrid ache that was radiating out from where the tooth had been knocked loose in his mouth.

He would not give up.

He refused to.

"Oh? And still, you stand?" Madara had gained back his earlier swagger, laughing rambunctiously as he took one cocky step forward, and then another. "Once more, you surprise me. From the research I'd done, I gathered that Orochimaru didn't care about anything more than himself, and yet, here you are, doomed to die at my hand… and for what?"

He let out a laugh, nay, a cackle at the man's words then. How idiotic he must've been, to try and assault his Village, to kill his people, to threaten his friends.

"…Something far more important than I."

He would pay for that.

Madara simply sneered, before charging forward once more.

It was coming. That same pattern he'd been dealing with this entire time. The man would go intangible, the chain would wrap around, and he'd be bisected at the waist, forced to vomit out another copy of himself.

Except he didn't have the chakra to do such a thing anymore. Now, if he tried, he'd come out half-formed, missing half his internal organs, and he'd die in minutes regardless.

No. He could not be injured any further. His entire body already ached with the pain the last exchange had left him with, but he couldn't let that slow him. Couldn't let it stop him. No… he needed to power through that feeling.

He had to be strong. Not just for himself, but for the people relying on him.

For Jiraiya, and Tsunade. For Tondo, Akari, and Yugao. Even for Minato, and his wife and son. For the young children who looked up to him, for every damned person that called his village home!

He phased through Madara's body, and brought a kunai into his hand as the chain threatened to rend him in twain.

He lodged the implement into the chain, forcing both Madara and himself back-to-back as it tightened on the man's wrists. The man could've simply phased through the chain itself, and freed himself, leaving Orochimaru trapped… but he'd already gathered that when his opponent was feeling cocky, thinking himself invincible, he didn't always make the smartest decisions.

He'd been betting on that, and once more, it seemed to be one that would pay off. His opponent sneered, trying with all his might to tighten the chain even through the lock the kunai had effectively put on it, to bisect him and end this fight once and for all.

Orochimaru knew, then, something he didn't want to admit to himself.

He wasn't going to win if this continued.

He wasn't sure the limitations of the Izanagi. He wasn't sure the limits of his intangibility, or of the Mangekyou Sharingan he seemed to hold. He didn't know if his opponent had come back with more chakra than he'd had before, or less. He didn't know what more his opponent could do. And that meant…

That meant he needed to go for the jugular.

No matter the cost.

Madara couldn't see the expression on his face, not when they were back-to-back like this. He couldn't see the way Orochimaru's expression hardened into one of firm determination, couldn't see the way his face tensed, as if in deep concentration…

And he couldn't see the moment Orochimaru mouthed 'forward'.

The pain was nearly blinding. It hurt, by the gods did it hurt. It hurt more than anything ever had in his life. The Kusanagi Blade, wreathed in poisons that would've been enough to bring down an entire army, angled inside his stomach not to emerge out of his throat, but out of his own back, pierced through him, and straight into the back of Madara Uchiha.

He felt the man behind him gasp, and hack out a horrid cough, even as he buried a Kunai deep into Orochimaru's back in some attempt at revenge, or just to try and separate the two of them.

It didn't matter. Not anymore.

He was immune to most poisons. Immune to nearly every venom in existence, he'd seen to that himself across years and years.

But that was only in small concentrations. The kinds of concentrations that were normally used by interrogation teams, or an amount on the tip of a kunai that the average Shinobi would coat onto their weapon.

His system wouldn't be able to handle more than a few kinds all at once, and in the amounts he'd put on the Kusanagi Sword…

It had been a last-ditch plan. Something… something he'd prepared just in case.

He was glad he had, now.

Still, the force of the kunai pushed him forward, enough to snap the chain in two and for him to fall onto his front with a ragged breath. Pain lanced through him once more, and he pushed himself up with the last remnants of his strength, leaning against the trunk of a downed tree. Just in case the man behind him wasn't done. Just in case he had more, somehow had survived even that.

He needn't have worried. He'd been more than thorough enough.

"You…" The masked man, 'Madara Uchiha', grated out between his teeth, already some of the stronger toxins working their way through his system. "You'd… you'll…"

His voice changed, now. No longer was it the voice of 'Madara', as he claimed to be. No, it was that of a boy, not yet even a man, who could barely speak at all. It was squeaky, and raspy, and not at all like one he might've expected.

He'd lost. And he knew it. Even if he used Izanagi again, he'd still be dead. He'd be blind, without any of his abilities, and in the middle of enemy territory. His only hope was to somehow cure himself of his affliction before it killed him.

The mask came off a second later, and he got a good look at the boy's face as he tried to pull a pill from his pocket, probably some standard anti-venom. He was young, he couldn't have been much older than sixteen. Even still, he didn't recognize him, and he certainly wasn't Madara Uchiha.

The lone Sharingan on his face dimmed ever so slightly as he swallowed the pill, and, seemingly, nothing changed.

He was still dying. He'd still die.

Orochimaru let out the tiniest of laughs at that. "You think I'd poison you with something… common enough that you could cure it?"

"You…" The boy rounded on him, trying to work his way over but unable to move a single step, even as he fell to his knees, barely able to support himself with his arms. "YOU! I'll… I'll kill you! I'll kill you!"

"No… I don't believe you will." Orochimaru murmured quietly past the pain, past the dulling of his senses that was caused both by adrenaline and the horrid amount of chemicals coursing through him. "Nor… will you ever again try and hurt my home."

"I… It would have been… perfect…" The boy spat, crawling his way across the ground as he seethed, grinding his teeth together hard enough that Orochimaru could hear the noise. "A perfect world… a world where… Rin could be… where… EVERYONE… could be happy…"

He cared not what delusions the boy had acted under. Cared not why he had come here, why he had sicked the Nine-Tails upon their Village.

Such things didn't matter to him in the slightest.

Besides, they weren't for him to worry about anyways. Not anymore.

"You…" The boy sputtered, spittle flying every which way as he hobbled towards him. "Ruined… everything…"

"Good." He answered honestly, smiling down at his opponent with a vindictive sort of glee.

"RRRARRGH!" 'Madara' screamed out, and, through some sheer force of will, managed to push himself into a standing position, managed to move towards him, a kunai in his right hand poised to end Orochimaru's life as his Sharingan blazed…

And then in the next, as his legs seemingly gave out, he fell forward, his entire body landing hard on the earth below him.

And he laid incredibly still.

Finally… finally Orochimaru let his head fall backwards, a deep sigh pouring out of him on reflex.

It… it was done.

He'd done it.

No sooner had he thought that then a figure appeared just beside him, appearing in a small flash and kicking up dust.

"Minato." He smiled up at the man, finding such things coming easier to him now that it was over. "Hah… you marked my shoulder earlier, didn't you… when you told me to protect the Leaf…"

Minato looked at him, down at his injuries, and closed his eyes, biting down on his bottom lip as if grieving. He let them open again as he looked back towards the other figure, who laid face down in the dirt.

"You got him?" Minato asked.

"I did." Orochimaru answered. "He… had the Sharingan… just in case… mark him."

Neither of them could see his face any longer, but Minato just sighed, before walking over and placing his hand against the boy's neck. When he pulled away, it was marked with his unique seal.

"You're hurt." Minato said, addressing him once more as he stepped back over to him. "You're hurt bad."

He could only smile.

In the next instant, he found himself laying not against the trunk of the downed tree he'd been leant against, but on a hospital floor, surrounded by people.

Outside the room, nurses and doctors ran in haste, evidently inundated with injured, even with the amount of damage Orochimaru had managed to prevent.

Somewhere nearby, a baby was crying.

"Minato," He heard a familiar voice. "You're–"

He heard a gasp, and he recognized it as he was hauled up off the ground, his body entirely limp, and forced into a nearby bed. It wasn't comfortable at all, but…

The pain was beginning to fade away now.

He knew from experience that such wasn't a good sign.

That was fine, though. He'd accepted what was about to happen. The fact that he might get to see them all again…

That was more than he could've asked for.


Tsunade was next to him in an instant, her healing now split between himself, Jiraiya, and Kushina. The other two… well, he couldn't really make out how their chakra was, his senses beginning to dull, but they both looked pale.

One of them, however, was awake.

"Orochi…maru?" Jiraiya tried to sit up to get a better look at him from his bed nearby, but he winced when he tried to bend his stomach at all.

"That's enough, Sensei!" Minato said, moving over towards the man and pushing him down onto the bed. "You can't move around."

"But Orochimaru's back, what–"

"Orochimaru defeated the man who attacked us." Minato explained for him, which was good, since he hadn't the energy to do so himself. "He incapacitated the Nine-Tails and killed the man responsible for unsealing it."

"W-what!?" Jiraiya suddenly cried out in pain, and Orochimaru heard the man's bed rustle somewhat, likely his friends movements atop it.

"The… Nine-Tails…" He murmured out, causing all eyes in the room to turn to him. "It needs… needs to be sealed away…"

"Don't worry about that!" Tsunade urged him, pushing him down onto his bed as her healing seemed to amplify somehow. "You're in no condition to be worrying about anything else right–"

"Please…" He muttered without any real fight left in him, looking right at Minato. "I can't…"

I can't seal it. Not me.

"It's immobilized… by a poison… don't… do it yourself…" He spoke after a moment, gritting his teeth as Tsunade's healing brought some semblance of pain back to his body. "Sealing corps… get help."

Minato hesitated for just a moment, before throwing a marked kunai into the hospital wall by the entrance and stepping towards Kushina's bed. The woman murmured her husband's name quietly, before the both of them blipped out of existence, the only evidence they'd been there at all a small wisp of white smoke.

And a baby crying, who he assumed was their child, who laid in a cot nearby.

There was a period of complete silence, interrupted only by the childs's wailing, and the sound of Tsunade's healing Jutsu, a dreary hum.

"How are… Jiraiya… and Kushina?" He asked, his voice sounding weak even to him.

"Jiraiya's going to be fine." Tsunade said, seemingly as much for her own sake as his. "I healed his major injuries. He's out for the count for a few weeks though. And he'll be out longer if he keeps trying to re-open his wounds," that last part was directed behind her, where the man trying to get a good look at him winced and laid back down. "Kushina… I did all I could. No one can do anything more for her, other than the initial chakra injections I gave her."

"What if… the Nine-Tails were placed… back inside her?"

"I… that might work." Tsunade admitted, shaking her head. "But… stop worrying about other people! You're–"

"Tsunade." He interrupted the woman with more fire than he really had. "Please. Don't waste your strength."

A small droplet of water impacted against his chest a second later, and then another, before, with a ragged scream, Tsunade slammed her hands down on his bed. He knew there hadn't been any chakra in the hit, for she hadn't sent him spiraling to the floor.

That would've made for a rather ignominious way to go.

"Heal Jiraiya… please. Enough for him to… to see me" He smiled up at her as gently as he could manage. "I want to… tell you both something."

Tsunade shook her head with an aggrieved sob before she slammed her fist down one more time and went over towards Jiraiya. The sound of something wheeling his way was all he had as warning before a figure was right next to him.

It seemed she'd wheeled Jiraiya's bed directly next to his own, leaving only a small gap for herself in the middle.

"Hey, wait, hold on," Jiraiya spoke as he tried to lean towards him, and he managed it a second later, even through what had to have been horrendous abdominal pain, judging by the stitches along his ribs and stomach. "What do you mean… why won't you let Tsunade heal you?

"SHIZUNE!" Tsunade shouted out into the hallway, even as he tried to smile over at one of his two real friends. "SHIZUNE, COME QUICK!"

"Ah, well…" He let out a weak chuckle. "I'm afraid… I'm…"

Jiraiya seemed to realize it a second later, looking down in horror at the already drying blood that had pooled onto his sheets below him.

It was not a dark red, as it should have been, but a horrid, messy brown.

"Oh gods…"

He wished he could say something to help his friend, but there was truly nothing to say.

He was dying, after all.

"No, no, no, no, no, no…" Jiraiya practically whimpered under his breath as he somehow forgot about his own pain, leaning over Orochimaru, and trying to inspect him for wounds.

"That… won't do you much good, I'm afraid. It's not… the wound itself. Well…" He had the gall to laugh. "I suppose the wounds aren't helping, but… the reason I'm dying is the poison."

"Aren't you immune!?" Jiraiya cried, shouting loud enough to make his ears ring. "C'mon man, you can't… you're…"

"I'm not fully immune. The amount coursing through me right now… with as little blood as I have, and as weak as I am?"

Jiraiya looked up at him with red eyes, tears coursing down his own face. He could do nothing but smile helplessly.

"…It's enough."

His greatest rival looked like he'd been gutted then and there.

Another figure entered into the room, though from the look they gave him, he could tell they understood immediately what was happening. Tsunade took her place by his side a moment later, still not quite able to look his way.

"Mr. Orochimaru." Shizune cast her gaze downwards, shuffling awkwardly in the doorway. "I'm… I'm sorry."

His smile came easy. "Don't be."

Now then… he supposed since they were all here… he should probably say something, shouldn't he?

Yeah… that sounded good.


"Y-yeah?" Jiraiya looked up at him uncertainly, sniffling as he tried to keep himself from sobbing.

Tsunade had no such luck, just covering her face with her hands as Shizune hugged her close to her body, rocking her back and forth lightly. She tried to look his way, though, tried to meet his gaze, despite the puffiness.

"I'm sorry. For… everything." He admitted, feeling some small weight leave his chest. "I wish… I wish so badly that I could've been a better person. Even now… I find myself thinking back on what I did and just… just hating it. Hating… myself."

"You shouldn't–"

"Please." He asked quietly, and any further interruptions ceased. "I… I have no one to blame but myself… and so I shall. Because… gods, I wish… I wish I could've spent more time with all of you." He smiled up at each of them individually, before turning back towards his rival.

"Jiraiya… ask Tsunade out."

He watched as the man's eyes widened somewhat, shocked by such an odd request, but he must've remembered back to just before his coronation, to the question he'd asked of him all that time ago.

"I mean… Tsunade, man. You think I should ask her out?"

"This again? What makes you believe it would go any better than the other thousand or so rejections you've already received?"

"No, no! I mean, like… I don't know. Just… Should I?"

"…I see no reason to. Surely, she's here now, but if your heart were to require you to ask, you could always simply track her down later."


"Besides, you've all the time in the world, do you not?"

"…Yeah. I guess you're right."

"And this time… do so without any jokes. Without any way to throw aside the pain if you fail. Don't pretend you don't care. Be serious. Be… be polite, and approach with your real feelings laid bare. Because… maybe you won't get to say it if… if you keep waiting."

Jiraiya's mouth hung open for but a moment, before, with a resounding breath, he answered. "I will."

"Oh, and… do kick those perverted habits of yours, or I fear Tsunade will send you after me sooner rather than later."

The man actually laughed at that, and he felt a small iota of pride within him that he'd managed such a feat on death's door.

"And Tsunade…" He turned towards the woman he'd spent more time with than any other. She met his gaze in turn, trying her best to smile for him, even if she couldn't quite manage it. "If you don't return Jiraiya's feelings, then… tell him honestly. And if you do, well, then… I wish you two all the best."

Tsunade nodded, clearly only just keeping it together.

"And… please… don't leave the Village. Not when… not when you're hurting. I… I might not be around to help you this time, but… but that doesn't mean no one will be. Lean on Jiraiya, and Hiruzen, and little Shizune here."

She nodded her head, biting down on her bottom lip as she sniffled horribly, before burying her face in her arm to muffle the wracking sobs. Shizune looked like she wanted to hold the woman once more, and she'd be allowed to in just a moment.

"Little Shizune," He spoke, and the girl jumped as if surprised he'd even bother with her. "I think you've got quite the knack for poisons. Perhaps one day you'll surpass even I."

The girl, for the first time since she'd arrived, actually looked teary-eyed, nodding her head as her lip trembled.

"And… do me a favor…" He beckoned the girl forward, and stage-whispered into her ear. "Look out for the two of them for me, I've a feeling they'll need it."

Both Jiraiya and Tsunade laughed, but it was a feeble, brittle thing on both counts, managed only for his sake.

Shizune, to her credit, gained some small determination then, even as she wrapped her arms around her master. "I will, sir."

And with that… he put his head back on the bed.

He wished he could've said more… that he'd had more to say. Funny, he'd never once considered what his last words might be. He'd never had to consider them until a few days ago, when he'd realized he might not survive this fight. Before then… he'd been an immortal, or at least, he'd always considered himself such. So, what if everyone around him would die? He would remain.

Now… now it all seemed like such a waste of time. He'd have traded it all away, the knowledge he'd gained, the Jutsu he'd created, the poisons and toxins he'd concocted, for just a single day with them.

For just a little while longer.

Alas, the Shinobi World was wrong. It was cruel, and painful, and it took and took and took even when one had nothing left to give.

But he'd accepted that an awful long time ago.


He supposed it was time to face the–

The kunai embedded in the wall vibrated, and then, Minato was standing at the entrance of the room, right beside it. In his arms was Kushina, the seal on her stomach restored, and, from the looks of things, heavily reinforced.

"The Nine-Tails has been sealed once more. As things are… the Leaf is safe."

He let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding, feeling just a little bit of life leave his body now that the last of the threats had been neutralized. Still, he had no more things he wanted to say, and–

And there was someone else there, too.

He stood at the entrance to the hospital room. His gaze looked uncertain, unfocused, and filled with grief. And then it connected with his own.

The small, sad smile that overtook all of those things brought just a little bit of warmth to his dying body.

"Hello, master." He managed.

"Hello, my pupil." Hiruzen murmured as he took a few steps forward.

"I figured… since this was it…" Minato muttered respectfully. "That you might want to speak to one another."

He found himself laughing, even as he shook his head.

It seemed he still had something left to do, after all.

"Might I ask… has anyone been made the Fifth Hokage while I was away?"

Hiruzen shook his head. "I retook my old position while we tried to find a replacement. The council deliberated for quite a while, and with Kushina still pregnant, well…"

He nodded, even as he looked up at Minato. "Then… does that mean that I still carry the power to declare a successor?"

All eyes in the room widened, even as Hiruzen himself looked only pleased.

"I believe you technically lost such a right, but, well… I shall use my power as Acting Hokage to grant it back to you."

"Then… Minato Namikaze… you will succeed me as the Fifth Hokage of the Village Hidden in the Leaves."

To his credit, this time, the man didn't deny it.

"I accept, Lord Fourth." Minato said with a bow, before taking Kushina in his arms, and turning away. "I… thank you. For everything. I do not wish to intrude upon what you have to say."

He appreciated that.

"I've left Naruto alone long enough." Minato spoke as he tightened his grip on Kushina, and walked over to the cot in the corner, with his child still wailing away. "I…"

The man looked like he had so much he wanted to say to him in that moment but knew that any time he took was time the others wouldn't get. And so, ever the gentleman, Minato simply said…

"It's been an honor, sir."

"Likewise." He fired back.

And then Minato, and his family, was gone.

"Ah," he remembered suddenly, laughing to himself even past the dullness of his limbs. "Could someone do me a favor… pass a message to Tondo Uzuki, my chief guard, and his wife and child, Akari and Yugao. Let them know that I'm eternally grateful for their hospitality."

Hiruzen gave a soft smile. "I will."

"And Anko… tell her I'm sorry for what happened to her. I… give her enough of my inheritance to get by. Enough to… enough to afford counseling. She needs it."

Another set of nods, and he found himself sighing quietly.

He felt like there was a lot he could've said, really. A lot he wished he could. Instead, he settled for what he must.

"You were right, you know."


"About the sunset."

"The sunset is never quite the same as it was yesterday, and once more, it will never be quite the same as it is right now. If you never stop to drink such things in, Orochimaru, then you will find nothing in life has any 'value' at all."

He laughed as he found himself admitting, "…And about more than just the sunset. You were right about… about a lot of things."

"I am old, Orochimaru. I had experience on my side."

He nodded, even as he found some small semblance of sadness encroach upon him.

"I wish I could've grown old with all of you."

He felt the atmosphere dip quite a bit, just that little sentence enough.

"Those six months in the Leaf… as the Hokage… together with you all… I wish they could've lasted forever." He spoke, before, with a tiny smile, he looked over at Hiruzen again. "But didn't you say something about living forever as well, Sensei?"

Hiruzen's eyes, glassy and unfocused, instead found his own gaze, and a twinge, the smallest bit, of mirth filtered into them.

"Life isn't about how long you can manage it…" Hiruzen stated now, somehow remembering word for word what he'd spoken months ago. "It's what you can do with the time you're allotted that matters."

He let his head sink a little further into the cushioned bed beneath him.

"It's far more meaningful to make something of your life, so that those you leave behind will remember you forever." He stated simply, finding speaking growing harder and harder. He could tell his body was shutting down. "I understand that… even if I still wish, even now, that I didn't have to go."

He had to have mere minutes… if that.

…Best to not have any more regrets.



"Are you…"

By the gods, to ask for such a thing… he never would've lived this down.

He wouldn't have to, whether that was a lucky break or not.

"Proud of me?"

The man stood next to him opened his mouth to answer, his lips parted for nary a moment before, with some small finality, he spoke his next words in one breath.

"…More than I've ever been in all my life."

That felt…


He couldn't feel his extremities anymore. That would've been his brain cordoning off 'expendable' areas of his body, trying to keep his major organs functioning, even at the cost of his arms and legs. That, too, wouldn't be enough, but it wasn't like he blamed the thing.

It had done its best.

It was time to face the music, now.

He understood some of what his master had been trying to extol on him that day. Some piece of wisdom that was, paradoxically given the subject matter, something one could only truly understand when on the brink of death.

One could not live forever. That much was certain. Death came for everyone, whether or not they tried to run from it, or faced their ends with a smile. But… The bonds one made in their life, the connections they forged, and the people they inspired, the memories they made…

Those were their legacy. They existed while they were alive, surely, but also far beyond it. And as long as people remembered them… then perhaps that, in some small way, was the immortality he'd always sought.

Perhaps that was what it meant to live forever.

He breathed, and some part of him understood it was his last.

"I… know I never… never said it… but… I hope you knew that…"

All of them gathered around him at that, and Tsunade reached down, gripping onto his hand, and squeezing it firmly. Jiraiya rested a hand against his shoulder. Shizune tensed up somewhat, arms still wrapped around her master. Hiruzen just nodded. With the last of his breath, with that last piece of life still within him, he spoke four final words into the world.

"I… love you all."

They didn't look shocked, or surprised. That was good. That meant…

That meant they'd known already. Known before even he had.

Perhaps that was for the best.

And he smiled, a warm, honest thing that was so terribly unlike the person he'd always been.

It fit on his face, however. Somehow, some way, it didn't look odd, or out of place.

Orochimaru, the Fourth Hokage of the Village Hidden in the Leaves, passed quietly, surrounded by his friends, with a smile forever etched onto his features.


"Are we ready to go?"

"Coming! Naruto, where are you, did you get dressed!?"

"I'm just getting my socks on!"

"Well, hurry up! We're going to be late!

Minato himself could only laugh as he heard a quiet thump from one of the back rooms. His son was a handful at the best of times, though, luckily, Kushina was rather similarly personality-wise, so she at least understood how to curtail some of his worser behaviors.

…She also bickered and argued with their son like she was a child herself, but that was just Kushina, and he'd always loved the woman's fiery temper.

A minute or so later, and Kushina wheeled her way into the room, laughing at something Naruto had said as he laid in her lap.

"Can I steer? Can I? Can I!?"

"Naruto, the last time I let you steer us, we crashed into a rose bush."

"Awww, but that was just one time!"

"The time before that, my knees hit a wall."

"…This time will be better."

"Yeah, I'm sure." Kushina rolled her eyes, even as she looked up at him from her wheelchair with a warm smile. "Shall we go?"

Kushina had never quite recovered from having the Nine-Tails taken from her, even after having it replaced. It was like the original pathways that the chakra had built up when she was a child had been ripped away and had never quite grown back the same. She was always tired, and she slept often. Despite that hinderance, paradoxically, she managed to be just as loud and rambunctious as ever, even if she could only get around in a wheelchair most of the time.

More than anything, though, she was alive. And because of that, Minato still had his wife.

Naruto still had his mother.

It was more than he could've asked for, after what had happened that night. After Obito – and knowing it had been his student, his dead student who'd attacked the Leaf never got any easier – Had ripped a piece of her out without so much as a care in the world.

If Orochimaru hadn't told him to get both her and Jiraiya to safety, to someone who could heal them – and hell, if Tsunade, arguably the greatest healer in the world, hadn't been in the Leaf at that very moment – then it was likely both would've died.

Hell, Minato himself might've joined them.

And because of him… because of his sacrifice, they both still lived.

"Alright, Naruto," he said, causing the young boy who'd been bickering with his mother to look up at him. "Are you ready to go see Uncle and Auntie?"

"Yeah!" Naruto shouted out. "I wanna' see 'em! I wanna'!"

And he laughed along with Kushina as he pushed the wheelchair carrying his two favorite people out of their front door, and down the lightly trafficked streets of the Leaf, towards where Naruto's 'Uncle and Auntie' lived.

Tsunade and Jiraiya, Orochimaru's teammates and greatest friends.

They arrived perhaps ten minutes later, knocking on the door as quietly as they could to still get the attention of the residents inside. It opened a few moments later, a tired-looking Jiraiya greeting them with a quiet cheer.

"Hey, if it isn't my favorite Godson!"

"Nuh-uh!" Naruto complained, placing his hands on his hips. "I'm your neffew!"

Jiraiya got a kick out of Naruto's not-quite-there pronunciation, laughing as he picked the boy up, and brought him into his house. "Y'know, technically I am your godfather."

"Nope. Uncle! Dad said so!"

He laughed again, more boisterously, and Minato heard a quiet crying come from somewhere up above them. His master winced, even as he heard a horrid groan from above them, and then the crying was growing louder. A few moments later, a woman stepped into the room carrying a dramatically wailing child, who she was rather unsuccessfully trying to soothe.

"Oh, hello everyone," Tsunade smiled at the three of them, before rounding on her husband with a dirty look, "And YOU, you woke her up!"

"Ah… sorry." Jiraiya laughed, rubbing the back of his neck as he reached down and kissed the baby's head. "Uhm… hush, sweetums?"

The baby, as if in response, only cried louder.

"We just came to get you." Minato spoke, deciding to cut off the inevitable argument before it could begin. "We were all going together, weren't we?"

"Mhm." Tsunade nodded, even as she yawned into her hand, evidently not getting enough sleep with a young baby to look after. "Gods, I'm tired. Shizune'll probably already be there by the time we make it."

"I invited Tondo and Akari, too." Minato provided. "Hopefully they'll come as well."

"They will. They usually make it as long as Tondo doesn't have a mission. Is Anko coming?"

"She may. She sometimes does. Others…"

Anko had always possessed complicated feelings for her old master, especially after he'd become the hero who'd saved the Leaf Village. Knowing it was her fault he'd been removed from the Village in the first place… well, it hadn't been easy on the girl, even with some of Orochimaru's inheritance paying for therapy.

Still, she was doing better these days, so Minato hoped she'd show.

"Ready to go, then?" He asked, earning a series of nods from all of them, and then a minute or so later, they filed out of the door, walking not deeper into the Village, but towards the outskirts.

Towards the cemetery on the outer edge of the Village.

It was a quiet day, all things considered, and he supposed that made sense. It was only because it was so quiet that Minato had been able to get a day off work, and even then, he imagined he'd be paying for it later. The life of the Hokage was not an easy one, especially with tensions among the Village and the Uchiha rising by the day.

He'd fix that, though. He wouldn't allow the problems that had festered ever since the Second Hokage's reign boil over into anything even resembling conflict.

Still, those were thoughts for future-Minato – aka him, tomorrow – and so he did his best to force them to the back of his mind as they arrived at their destination, two young adults and a small family unit waving their way.

"Hey guys!" Tondo shouted out boisterously.

"Yo." Anko waved lazily.

"Good to see you all!" Shizune, whom he'd gotten to meet more closely in the years following the attack, waved to their group. "And how are you doing, my little goddaughter?"

"Rambunctious little squirt." Tsunade let out with a sigh, even as the baby in her arms let out a tiny giggle. "How is it that you're able to make her calm down so easily, and can I pay you to babysit more often?"

"Maybe it's my natural charm," Shizune giggled herself, twiddling her finger back and forth and causing the baby to try and teeth on it. "And as for babysitting, I'm busy with work at the hospital, you know that."

"Ugh, I know…" Tsunade let out a quiet groan. "But this child… I love her more than I thought I could love anything, but there are some days where I just want to hold a pillow over my face until I die."

Jiraiya snickered. "Same."

"Oh, don't you start!" Tsunade rounded on her husband. "This is all your fault in the first place! All 'aw, but babe, I don't want to wear a condom, it hurts my–'"

Kushina, red-faced, covered Naruto's ears with both hands, even as the boy crowed loudly that he had no idea what they were talking about. When Akari tried the same thing on Yugao, the girl just complained that she was a teenager, and that she knew what sex was.

"Well, I just–"

"And then you–"

"And it was you who–"

"That wasn't on me and you–"

"Uhm… everyone?"

All eyes turned towards Minato, who coughed awkwardly, and pointed to the small crowd that had gathered nearby, definitely trying to pretend they weren't hanging off every word of the argument and failing rather heavily.

"…Sorry." Both parents muttered.

"It's fine. But we have some people to visit, don't we?"

That was enough to get them all moving, headed up the small cemetery hill, and towards the graves near the back.

They weren't all in one centralized location, unfortunately, but that was fine. They could visit them all.

They stopped at Dan's and Nawaki's first, which were luckily pretty near one another, and Tsunade introduced her child to her former love and younger brother. Jiraiya stood beside her the entire time, smiling down at the woman he loved and supporting her as best he could.

They visited a few members of the Uzuki family, Tondo's parents, apparently, and Kushina stopped by at Lady Mito's grave to offer a few words to her departed mentor. And then… finally…

They arrived at another grave, one no more ostentatious than any other around.

Minato was glad, he was fairly sure the man wouldn't have wanted to stand out.


Born October 27 – Died October 10

Aged 38

"Will live on forevermore in the hearts of those he loved, and those who loved him"

Minato smiled upon seeing it, even as the others went up and said their hello's. Jiraiya and Tsunade introduced their child to him to, telling the story of how they'd gotten together. Anko knelt down in front of it, talking about her time as a newly promoted Jonin, saying she was going to be an instructor. Shizune placed her hand on Anko's shoulder, offering support and saying a few words herself about poisons of all things. Even Tondo and Akari had something, a plate of food that looked to have been prepared as an offering to the departed, which they set at the foot of the grave.

Minato himself… well, he'd never really known the man. He'd met him from time to time, he was, after all, his master's teammate, but up until that night, when he'd saved the Leaf from the Nine-Tails' attack, he'd never really thought much of him.

After that, though… well, it was hard to be unbiased in his judgement of the man, not after he'd saved his wife, his master, and his entire Village.

He looked up at the cliff face that hung over the entire Village and looked to see where stone had been carved into the images of the Hokage, forever immortalized. His own face was there, now, having finished being carved a few years ago, but there was another there that he himself had fought to have added on, between his own, and Hiruzen's. It had been a rather polarizing decision, but…

He heard the small shuffling of feet, and turned to see Naruto standing beside him, following his gaze, and staring at the stone monument.

"Whose face is that Dad?" Naruto pointed. "The one next to yours."

The stone face of Orochimaru stared out over his village, a small, proud smile forever engraved onto his face.

He found himself laughing softly, regarding his son's question with some small pause. It wasn't an easy question to answer, after all.

"That… is Mr. Orochimaru. He is – or was, the Fourth Hokage."

"There was a fourth Hokage?" Naruto sounded surprised. "How come no one ever talks about him?"

"Hah… it's complicated. I'll tell you when you're older."

"Awww, c'mon dad."

"Listen to your father, Naruto." Kushina bopped Naruto on the nose as she wheeled herself into the conversation, earning an indignant pout from the young boy. "Some things aren't made for kids."

"'M not a kid…" Naruto pouted, before seemingly recovering in half a second. "Well… what was he like?"

That… that was a question and a half, wasn't it?

Still, he knew enough about him from talking with Jiraiya and Tsunade.

"I'm told he was anti-social at the best of times, and a rather closed off person." He spoke, still staring at Orochimaru's carved visage. "He didn't really enjoy hanging out with people, other than those he truly cared for, and instead preferred to spend all his time inside. But… I think, in the end, despite all the hang-ups… he was a good person, or at least, he tried to be."

"…Tried to be?" Naruto asked, sounding confused.

He could understand why. Naruto was young. He still lived in a world of black and white.

And Orochimaru had always existed rather firmly in the middle.

"Yeah. He… let's say that he tried to change from a bad person to a good person."

"Oh." Naruto sounded even more confused now. "…did it work?"

Another complicated question.


"Yeah. I think it did." He answered with a small smile. "In the end, he died to save the Village from the Nine-Tails' attack… and what's more, he saved Mommy, and Uncle Jiraiya, too."

"Woah!" Naruto seemed awestruck, suddenly looking up at the stone face carved into the cliff, and then, a second later, he shouted out. "I wanna' be the Hokage, too!"

He laughed, even as his wife rolled her eyes. "Yes, I'm sure you do. Last week it was a baker, and then a fireman, then you wanted to work at a flower shop–"

He found himself zoning out as his wife and son bickered amongst themselves, chuckling quietly as he looked up towards the cliffside.

Staring back at him was a man who had committed some truly heinous evils in his time. Had done things that Minato himself had not even wanted to go near with a five-foot pole. But even despite that…

He'd tried to change. He'd tried to do better.

He'd tried to be a good person.

And perhaps that was what mattered.

And, even still, at the end of the day…

Maybe that stone face said it best.

"He really was an oddity, wasn't he?"

He turned, almost unsurprised to find the old man standing parallel with him had managed to sneak up on him.

Hiruzen had always been one of the best.

"I was just thinking the same thing myself." He said in answer, even as the Third Hokage simply nodded his head.

"I hope one day that I may be as strong as he was in the face of certain death. That I may greet the end with a smile on my face."

"Mm… same here."

And so, the two of them, Predecessor and Successor to the man they spoke about, watched as their friends and families laughed and played, sending the departed their best wishes as they eventually retired later in the evening.

And even so, as the evening turned to night, and as those he'd loved retired to sleep, Orochimaru never stopped watching. The monument hanging over the Village would, as much as it could, work to protect it even then.

Because no matter who he'd been, no matter what anyone said about him, no matter how much people still debated on his impact on the Village to this very day…

He'd been the Fourth Hokage of the Village Hidden in the Leaves…

And he always would be.


End Chapter 10

End What it Means to Live Forever.

That's all, folks!

I'd love to hear thoughts and opinions on the ending here. I had more than one person predict how it would end in reviews. Did you suspect this kind of ending? Did you think it would be a happier sort of ending? I think this is a decently happy ending, Orochimaru did, after all, protect everyone he cared for, and they got to live long, fulfilling lives, even if he couldn't be there to see them.

Or, well, I guess in some ways, he was, wasn't he?

Anyways I don't really get emails from FF anymore, which sucks, but I'll try and respond to reviews, so if you have a question or anything, or wanna just say hi, or "that sucked" or something, then gopher it.

Funnily enough, I don't have a ton to say. When I finished Trip Down a Hill, I wrote like 1.5k words in the Author's note alone. Here I'm at like... 200? maybe 300? Eh, that's just the gravity of the situations I guess. I've been working on this story for a far shorter period of my life, only four months. I'd been writing Trip for 2 and a half years when I finished that. Plus, Trip really got me into writing in general, even if I don't think Trip is particularly good. I've since written and uploaded two full fics and a oneshot across here and my AO3 account (of the same name, if you're curious, I don't know why you would be but I felt I would mention that) and just in general grown as an writer.

Still, I liked this story. I am happy to be moving on to ones that inspire me to write more thoroughly, however.

Amazing and subtle segue...

Alright, so as I mentioned in chapter 8, this is probably my last Naruto story, unless I come up with an obscenely good idea at a later date. Just a little Naruto'd out, and while I like some of what the Boruto Manga has going, it's not really inspiring me to write anything. Going to be working on two RWBY ideas, one tentatively titled, and with a first chapter already complete (and maybe even uploaded when this chapter is? not sure how I'll be feeling come another few days or so from the 26th, which is when I'm doing all the editing and stuff on this (this is me on the 29th when I'm uploading this, and no, I didn't upload that fic yet)), and another that's in the planning phases still, but will probably be about as long as this one is. I'm sure that like less than 1% of the people who will read this will have also watched RWBY, and even less than that will want to read fanfic about it, but if you happen to fit into that very tiny demographic, then hey, come read those when they come out! I'd love to hear feedback.

For now, I suppose I'll see you all later! Have a good day, and I hope you enjoyed What it Means to Live Forever!