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The chapter that comes after the chapter that came after the chapter that came before that one.

10-Years-Later

Sakura was walking through the forest.

…Well actually she was more tripping than walking. Her feet kept getting caught on hidden snags, rocks and dead branches and only her amazing skill as a fully trained Ninja was keeping her on her feet – but I can't really say she was 'tripping through the forest' because that just sounds dumb. So, for all intents and purposes – Sakura was walking through the forest.

…Well actually it wasn't really a forest. It was a grove of sparse trees that lined one edge of the inside wall of Konoha Village, but I can't really say 'Sakura was walking through a grove of sparse trees that lined one edge of the inside wall of Konoha Village' cause seriously, how cumbersome. And besides, the grove was connected to the forest, so I'm sure we can gloss over minor details.

Sakura was walking through the forest.

She wasn't really walking with much of a purpose – she just wanted to get some relaxation time and taking a quiet walk through the forest had seemed like the perfect idea.

All was peaceful around her as the trees waved to their friends, birds chatted to each other some daily gossip and the wind gently caressed a few low-lying bushes, receiving a sound smack upside the head for its audacity. It was quite calming, really. …or at least it would have been if the sounds of running and occasional yelling would bugger off.

Sakura spun on her heel as the sounds came towards her, ready to deck whoever was destroying her peace and quiet, and rant quite extensively – all she managed to do though was stand stunned.

"…leave me the hell alone!"

Sakura froze as a black and blue blur shot passed her and then disappeared into the trees, heading towards the village. Was that just…? B-but it couldn't have be-

"…Look what I've become!"

A brown coloured, longhaired blur raced passed her suddenly, knocking her back a step, and then disappeared again; heading straight after the first blur.

That had been…that had been…

"Teme! Leave him alone!"

An orange blur shot out of the trees with a black and red blur right behind it.

"Naru-chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!"

"Teme! Leave me alone!"

"Naru-chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!"

"Argh!"

They disappeared in the same direction the first two had disappeared in – heading straight for the Village.

Sakura stared after them for a moment, her mouth hanging open. There was no doubt about it, after ten long years, Sasuke and Naruto had come back to the village…and they had brought Orochimaru and Itachi with them.

Sakura clenched her fist for a moment and took a step forward to go after them but was suddenly hit from behind and knocked out completely by Neji as he ran through the forest in carefree joy with his Pineapple and a small puppy.

-

Sasuke ran.

No really, he was running. His legs were moving and everything.

He ran clear of the trees, dived around a corner, flipped rather dramatically over a cart filled with chickens that was parked randomly in the middle of the street and then carried on running.

That freak was right behind him; damn that Orochimaru – ten years was a long time to run for and the stupid snake-man just wouldn't let up.

Sasuke slid around another corner and spied a flight of stairs out in the middle of the street. Of course! That's where he'd been going wrong! When you were being chased by someone that creeped you out completely and who might, or might not, be planning to kill you, you run up a flight of stairs! Sasuke changed the direction of his running and virtually flew up the stairs.

He counted exactly 107 steps before he reached the top, which turned out to be a narrow walk-bridge that spanned over the length of Konoha with no real point and, once he thought about it, he couldn't even remember it ever being here… But of course he'd been gone for a long time, so who knew what had been built in his absence.

Pausing when he reached the top, Sasuke turned enough to see if anyone was coming up behind him and he froze completely, his expression going curiously flat. Yes, there was someone behind him alright. Three someone's in fact.

-

Orochimaru paused at the bottom of the flight of stares, being knocked to his knees almost instantly as first Naruto, and then Itachi slammed into him. A few seconds later, after a half fist-fight, half-singles dance, the three managed to locate all their correct appendages and climb to their feet.

Naruto stared at Orochimaru suspiciously while making sure he was standing out of easy grabbing distance of Itachi.

"Why'd you stop?" he demanded. "Where's Sasuke?"

Orochimaru shrugged and peered up the extensive flight of steps before him.

"Hey, where do these stairs go?" Itachi demanded.

"They go up." Orochimaru answered and shot away from the group, hightailing his way up the stairs with the certain knowledge that Sasuke was at the top of them. After a brief pause Naruto took off after him.

"Orochimaru! Teme!" Naruto put in a burst of speed to catch up to the longhaired snake-man in ahead of him and managed to pull abreast of him, nearly pushing him over the side of the staircase.

Orochimaru's face bore a look of comic horror as he realised he could see the top of the flight of stairs no more than ten steps away and that Naruto had finally caught up with him.

Jerking an arm out, Orochimaru attempted to force Naruto behind him but Naruto, still short even after ten years of growing, ducked under the arm, pulled down one of his eyelids at the older man and then shot on ahead, catching Sasuke in a full tackle as he reached the top of the stairs and sent them both sliding across the bridge for a distance.

Behind them Orochimaru reached the top of the stairs and stopped to catch his breath, ignoring Itachi as he dived past him to stand defensively, cloak flapping dramatically, in front of his Naruto-chan.

Orochimaru finally caught his breath and eyed the black haired man standing before him.

"Itachi." He stated.

"Orochimaru." Itachi stated back.

"Itachi."

"Orochimaru."

"Itachi."

"Orochimaru."

"Itac-" Orochimaru paused as a phone began to ring and then rummaged around in his pocket pulling out a small cell phone. "Just a minute." He said distractedly and turned slightly to answer the call. "Hullo?"

The phone answered in a hissing whisper. Seven days…

Orochimaru ripped the phone away from his ear, screamed and threw the phone at Itachi who caught it, puzzled. He put the phone to his ear for a second and then, just as Orochimaru had, he ripped the phone from his ear, screamed and threw the phone away. Naruto, having finally let Sasuke get up, caught it.

"What the he-" he muttered and put the phone to his ear briefly before hurling it from him, his eyes wide with horror.

Sasuke glared at everyone in general and then picked the phone up from where it had landed near his feet, putting it to his ear. There was a pause as he was stared at in mute horror… and then he nodded, made a small sound of agreement, said, "Okay, then. Thank you." And then pulled the phone away from his ear and hung up, hurling the phone in Orochimaru's direction.

The tall man yelped and leapt out of the way of the idly thrown object, letting it clatter to the ground near his feet.

Sasuke glared at the man in disgust, "She said your dry-cleaning will be ready in seven days. Bakayarou."

Orochimaru blinked at Sasuke for a moment, then purposefully turned his gaze away from him and back to Itachi.

"Itachi." He stated.

"Orochimaru." Itachi stated back.

"Itachi."

"Orochimaru."

"Itachi."

"Orochimaru."

"Itachi…" Orochimaru held up a hand in Itachi's direction, his expression turning pained, "Itachi, do you plan to…betray me?"

"Orochimaru…I will do what I have to, to defend Naruto." Itachi said firmly.

"They will never accept your help!" Orochimaru said fiercely. "You are a traitor, an S-class missing-nin!"

"Yes…I know. But…but…" Itachi's lips quirked up briefly into a small smirk and he suddenly leapt up onto the banister of the bridge and, cloak flaring around him in the wind and hair whooshing around his face spectacularly, he began to speak, his voice full of dramatic emotion. "Ninja-kind…that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can't be consumed by our petty differences anymore; we will be united in our common interest.

"Perhaps it is fate that today is the Fourth's Birthday and you will once again be fighting for our freedom. Not from tyranny, oppression or persecution; but from annihilation. We're fighting for our right to live, to exist. Should we win the day, the Fourth's birthday will no longer be known as just another day; but the day we declared in one voice, we will not go quietly into the night, we will not vanish without a fight. We're going to live on; we're going to survive. Today, we celebrate our self-determination day!"

There was a moment of silence as Itachi stood where he was, one arm raised and the other over his heart and the wind dancing a rather risqué lambada with his cloak – then slowly Orochimaru began to clap; his face alight with awe at Itachi's oratory mastery.

Off to the side, Sasuke and Naruto looked at the two men flatly until finally Naruto could stand it no more. Stomping across the intervening space between he and Orochimaru, Naruto kicked the man in the shin.

"You're not supposed to clap for him, you're the one he's planning on defeating!" He yelled.

Orochimaru clutched at his pain filled shinbone and glared at Naruto, "Credit where credit's due!" he snarled out, "It was a good speech!"

Naruto stared at Orochimaru incredulously and then growled out the first words that came to mind.

"Sugoi kinjutsu! Yubi utsu hitai no Jutsu!(1)" And then he flicked Orochimaru very precisely, smack between the eyes.

Orochimaru staggered backwards, his eyes wide with shock. "No! I've been defeated!" he exclaimed, "Goodbye…cruel…world…" and he began to fall backwards slowly, one arm outstretched as if reaching for something that could somehow save him.

Itachi's eyes widened in shock as Orochimaru began to fall and for them both time seemed to slow down.

"Orochimaru…NoooooOOooOooOOooOOoooOOooOOooOoooooOOOOOOoooo!" Slowly Itachi began to run forward, his arm outstretched towards the defeated man. "OooOooooOOoooOoooooooOoooo…!"

Time resumed it's normal speed suddenly as Orochimaru landed in Itachi's arms, with an 'Oomph!' sound.

"Orochimaru, don't die!" Itachi begged earnestly, "You can't leave me!"

"I'm sorry, Itachi. I can't…go on…" Orochimaru took a shallow breath, "Good…bye…"

"Don't you do that, don't you say your goodbyes." Itachi said desperately.

"I'm so cold." Orochimaru whispered and shivered for effect.

Itachi clutch Orochimaru closer to his chest, smoothing his hair back from his face, "I don't know about you," he said, his voice sounding strained, "but I intend to write a strongly worded letter to the Hokage about all this." He continued to absently pet Orochimaru's hair, "You're going to go on…and have lots of babies and raise them. You're going to die an old woman warm in her bed, not here, not this night. Do you understand me?" he brought his hand to Orochimaru's jaw, making the man look into his eyes, "Killing my family was the best thing that ever happened to me, it brought me to you…and I'm thankful for that Orochimaru, I'm thankful. You must do me this honour, promise me you'll survive. That you won't give up, no matter what happens, no matter how hopeless. Promise me Orochimaru, and never let go of that promise."

Orochimaru looked up at Itachi adoringly, his eyes wobbling slightly with intense unshed emotion, "I promise."

"Never let go!"

"I'll never let go Itachi, I'll never let go!"

They looked at each other adoringly for a moment until Orochimaru finally broke the silence. "Itachi…there's something I've been meaning to tell you…"

Itachi gently brushed a strand of fringe out of Orochimaru's eyes. "And that is?"

"Do you…do you remember a few months ago, when we were passing through the mountains?"

-

Itachi leaned on a wooden fence, his left foot resting on its bottom slat. "Nice flock of cows." He said conversationally, looking out at the farm animals a few feet away.

Orochimaru turned his head slightly to look at Itachi, "Herd of cows." He corrected.

"Yeah." Itachi said superiorly, "Heard of chickens?"

-

Orochimaru looked up at Itachi, his eyebrow twitching slightly. "No…the other time." He said.

-

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…and the Itachi-tachi were camping in the mountains.

Itachi sat on a log near a roaring fire, his leg pulled up before him as he watched Sasuke and Orochimaru fighting over how to cook their dinner. The fight went on for some time before Naruto, fed up with the bickering, or maybe just hungry, stormed in between them, grabbed the pan of bacon and stomped over to the fire to cook it himself.

Itachi smirked slightly as Naruto walked passed him and reached out, scoring himself a free grope.

Naruto spun around furiously, "What the hell are you doing!" he demanded.

"Nothing." Itachi said smoothly.

"Oh, you're right," Naruto said sarcastically, "my arse must have jumped out and grabbed your hand!"(2)

-

Orochimaru tried to suppress the twitch above his left eye that was growing ever so slightly more pronounced. "No." he said in annoyance, "The other time."

-

It had been a long days running and Sasuke had decided to take a bath in a nearby river. Moving away from the camp where he and his group had set themselves up, Sasuke was delighted to find that the river had a serviceable waterfall further upstream and he quickly stripped down to enjoy the rare commodity of a shower.

Diving under the water, Sasuke came up and ran his hands back through his hair and then froze completely as he realised that there was a hand already there.

Silence seemed to stretch for a while and then tentatively Sasuke said the only thing he could think of to explain it. "…Itachi?"

"Yes?" Itachi questioned pleasantly.

Itachi spent the rest of that night running.

-

Orochimaru pulled himself up into a sitting position and grabbed Itachi by the front of the shirt, shaking him hard. "Not that time either, you idiot! The other time! The other time!" he exclaimed.

-

"Wow." Itachi said and rolled onto his back, trying to catch his breath. "Wow." He repeated.

Beside him, Orochimaru sat up, leaning on his elbow as his long hair fell down around him, caressing his shoulders and the soft grass beneath him with its soft strands. He smirked.

Itachi stared upwards, his dazed expression barely noticing the bright yellow fruit in the lemon tree they lay under, "So you really can strangle a full grown man with just your tongue!"

"Easily." Orochimaru said smugly.

"So what else can you do with that thing?" Itachi asked curiously.

Orochimaru's smirk grew wider, "Well, there is this one thing…"

-

"Yes! That time!" Orochimaru said with relief and sat back slightly.

"Well?" Itachi said.

"Well, what?" Orochimaru asked irritably.

"Well, what did you want to tell me." Itachi said.

"Oh." Orochimaru said dismissively, "I'm with child."

Itachi blinked and then looked around them, noting that Sasuke and Naruto were staring at them with something amounting to horror, "Who's child?"

"Your child."

"No, I'm Itachi."

"No." Orochimaru frowned, "Your child."

"Orochimaru, My name is I-ta-chi."

"Yes!" the longhaired man said exasperated, "But I mean your child."

Itachi put a hand to Orochimaru's forehead, "Are you feeling alright, Orochimaru?"

Orochimaru slapped the hand away and stood up, "I'm pregnant with your baby you dumbarse!"

"Oh." Itachi said, his face getting that slightly dazed look of someone either told something they can't quite comprehend, or hit in the back of the head with a board. "Oh…well…that's uhmmm…"

Orochimaru sighed a sigh of the long suffering and then pulled Itachi to his feet. "Come on, we're leaving." He stated and began to drag the dazed man away.

"Hey! Wait!" The yell came from behind them, "No leaving till we defeat you!" Naruto exclaimed and appeared in front of them.

"Get out of the way, brat." Orochimaru said haughtily.

Naruto glared and then brandished his finger, "No way!" he exclaimed, "Sugoi kinjitsu! Yubi utsu hitai no Jutsu!"

Orochimaru managed to dodge out of the way of the terrible technique, but Itachi, standing right behind him, wasn't so lucky.

Staggering backwards, Itachi put a hand to his forehead and then looked at Naruto menacingly, his mentality fully restored.

"You!" he said, pointing at Naruto dramatically, "Don't you dare touch Orochimaru, the mother…father…mother…person containing my unborn child!" he leapt back up onto the rail of the bridge and glared down at Naruto for a moment before turning to Orochimaru; the wind around them whipping his cloak around him spectacularly.

"Missing-nin. That word should have new meaning for us both today…"

-

Sasuke sat bolt upright in bed, his chest heaving as he struggled to pull air into his lungs. His eyes were wide as he stared blankly ahead of him into the darkness of his room.

"Sasuke?" A sleep blurred voice inquired and Sasuke turned his head slightly in its direction. The sound of the voice was enough to settle him and, after taking a deep, calming breath, he settled back against his pillows and put his arm around his lover, pulling them closer.

"It's nothing, Naruto. Just a dream." He murmured into the blondes hair and pulled the boy closer. "A creepy dream." He added, but Naruto no longer heard him, having drifted back into sleep.

Sasuke looked up towards his night-darkened roof for a while before finally shaking the dream from his mind and closing his eyes. A few moments later he was soundly back asleep.

Meanwhile, deep in the forests of Konoha, where even the most agonised death screams of tortured victims would never be heard, two dark shadows stood in the…shadows. Well one stood, the other was lying down. Kind of lying down. Probably more sitting up actually; but lying down really because they were being propped up so it was probably more like lying up involuntarily.

The other wasn't even standing either, they were kneeling, but not since they were kind of crouching, but bending over, but not kneeling cause there weren't much in the way of knees involved, but they weren't really standing so…

One was half standing, the other was half lying.

The moon, hiding behind a cloud, didn't shed any light at all on the two shadows so they were lucky they could even see each other much less anything else; yet somehow The Shadow had a hold of the Shadow Marc II's hand and was whispering gentle words over the pain filled, rasping sounds of heavy breathing.

"Remember your classes, breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out." The Shadow was kind of close to hyperventilating himself but…he just knew that when this was over, there'd be a little 'Shadow Mark III' running around…


Name that Fik: END…or is it!
(1) Secret technique, Finger to forehead technique.

(2) This line was taken from a dream co-authoress Justice-hime had. The ass-grabber was Emenim o.O

Author Notes: Third chapter of this fik (of which there was ever only supposed to be two chapters at most o.O). We've had it mostly written for a while, just needed to finish it off – today was the lucky day.

And go vote for us at the NFA (Naruto Fanfiction Awards)! We're losing! (url in profile)