Oh my gosh...this is it! This is the actual end of this story! I'm kinda sad :'( But like I've said before, there will be a sequel. I'll probably post a summary and maybe a preview of it later on. I still have to finish my other fic, "A Flame in the Desert"; I've left those poor people hanging even longer than everyone who's reading this fic. Oops!

My technical difficulties are still not worked out, but I managed to trick everyone else's computer into letting me get my stories, so yay. Hopefully though, I will get my laptop sent out sometime this week and hopefully the guy will be able to get everything off my harddrive saved. I've spent the last 3 years building up my sweet music library and I will be devastated if I lose it all.

Thanks so much to everyone who has supported me and this story; it really means a lot to me! I hope you will all come back for the sequel and will take some time to read my other works as I write and post them! Special thanks goes out to HopeoftheForgotten for all of the awesome music suggestions! As you can see, I've used many of them, so thanks!

Anyways, enough rambling! On with the epilogue! Please leave me any thoughts, comments, predictions or whatever in review form! It's always appreciated!!

-Keita

Music: Title Track & End Credits: "The First of Me" by Hoobastank

Epilogue

The First of Me

I hear a voice inside

It's grown into a scream

I'm not the next of them

I am the first of me

--"The First of Me"


Six Months Later


Mariko came to a halt on a slick tree branch; the bark was so saturated that it had turned the tree nearly black. The dark-haired girl took care not to slip as she took a few steps forward to look off in the distance.

A gentle breeze caused the light, silky fabric of her Akatsuki cloak to billow around her like the clouds that were printed on it. Mariko couldn't resist looking down at the ring that rested on her left index finger; it was Hidan's ring, Three. When Leader had told her that she was going to be taking the priest's place in Akatsuki, she had been instructed to wear his ring. At first, she wasn't sure how it was going to fit her, but the problem took care of itself when the ring shrank to fit her significantly skinnier finger.

She wondered where Kakuzu was; she scanned the area, first with her normal, silver eyes, then with crimson Sharingan, and finally her pale Byakugan eyes. Not only had she inherited Hidan's ring, but his partner as well.

Kakuzu hadn't shown any sort of intense aversion to having Mariko as his new partner - after all, she could hold her own in battle and she was strong and a quick thinker - but the girl still couldn't shake the feeling that she was a burden to him. After all, Hidan had been immortal; if one or more of his limbs were severed in a fight, all Kakuzu had to do was sew them back on. However, Mariko was not quite so easy to repair and she knew that Kakuzu was careful with her because she was Itachi's daughter, which had to be frustrating to him since he wasn't used to having to babysit while on missions.

She inspected her blackened fingernails - they had changed color when she had put on the Three ring - and then scanned the perimeter with her Byakugan once again in search of her partner.

She started when her black-flecked eyes revealed to her that he was standing directly behind her; apparently, he had snuck up on her sometime while she had allowed herself to be distracted.

"Don't freak me out like that," she said accusingly.

"You're just lucky that it's me and not some ANBU or bounty hunter," he retorted.

"Speaking of bounty hunters... how did we do on that last capture?" Mariko asked with interest. Since becoming an official member of Akatsuki, Mariko and Kakuzu had mainly been going on their own, money-seeking missions capturing and turning in other criminals for large bounties. The last criminal who they had collected a bounty on was an S-class murderer from the Cloud village; he had tried to grab Mariko's ass at one point, so he had been handed over to the authorities with a very broken face.

"Only seventy-thousand this time," the miser said, not bothering to mask the disappointment in his voice.

"For all the crap that we put up with with that guy, we should have at least gotten a hundred thousand," Mariko grumbled, a pout crossing her face.

Kakuzu's mask moved in a way which indicated the possibility of a smile, but Mariko was never sure exactly what expressions the older man allowed to cross his face.

"Let's keep moving," he said to her, "It's going to be getting dark soon, and your father will be very upset if you're not back before then."

Mariko rolled her silver eyes. "I'm a big girl; he's going to have to learn to deal with me being gone sometimes," she replied.

"Well, I'd rather he didn't take it out on me; now let's go." Kakuzu said, taking off through the trees again.

The Uchiha girl lingered for a moment though, looking off in the direction that she knew Konoha was in. She let a longing sigh escape her lips; the breeze kicked up again, yanking her long, dark hair away from her face.

"Don't worry, Hidan," she whispered, "I haven't forgotten about you."

She turned and pushed off of the tree branch forcefully, running and jumping at a breakneck speed to catch up to her partner as they headed in the direction of the setting sun.


So when the waiting's done

And it's time to face the truth,

You know you're good enough

Deep down inside of you

You've finally woken up

If only just to prove

You were born to lead the way

And be the first of you

--"The First of Me"