A/N: Written for the April round of flashfics on LiveJournal.
This is me filling in the blanks between when we last saw Anko and one possible future. It does contain spoilers for recent-ish manga chapters in regards to Orochimaru, so be warned.
30.) Sanskrit. m. close connection as with a consequence , close attachment to any object ; (in phil.) the consequence or result of an act (which clings to it and causes the soul after enjoying the temporary freedom from transmigration to enter other bodies) ; repentance , regret ; hatred ; ancient or intense enmity.
She kept walking, looking straight ahead, completely ignoring the generic messenger-nin frantically trying to catch her attention.
"You are summoned to the Hokage's office! I was instructed to inform you as soon as you returned to the village! Please come with me!"
Anko stopped abruptly. The messenger-nin nearly ran into her, but managed to catch himself barely in time. She turned to glare at him. "You can fuck right off," she said. "I just got back from my sixth goddamn mission in a row. The Hokage can wait til I've had a fucking nap. Get the hell out of my way or I'll kill you."
The messenger got out of her way.
She stalked past him towards her apartment, nothing more on her mind than a can of beer and her comfortable, neglected bed.
It wasn't that she resented Tsunade for what she was doing. Anko understood her motivations perfectly. That did not, however, mean she agreed with the Godaime's decision to send her on mission after mission in countries far away from Konoha or the Sound or anything at all connected to Orochimaru.
It did save her from having to decide which side to fight for, yes, and she appreciated the thought behind that. Without Orochimaru nearby to stir up her past and her uncertainties, she was a damn fine Konoha kunoichi. She accomplished missions quickly, with minimal fuss and complication, and she was adaptable enough that she was rarely drawn into an all-out fight and wounded because of it. The hospital almost never saw her.
However, she was reaching her limit. No shinobi could work successive missions forever without burning out, getting careless and dying. The usual rest period between missions of high difficulty or those requiring long travel distances was at least a week. She'd been given none for the past half-dozen missions. The Godaime was keeping her moving, not giving her time to consider her options. It spoke of fear on her part, and Anko got it. She really did. But was it so much to ask for a day or two to sleep and recover her strength? At this rate she was going to die, and then she'd be of no use to anyone, Konoha included.
There was a fine layer of dust over everything in her apartment. Opening the door made it swirl off the furniture closest to it and clog the air. She strode through it unheeding.
There was dust on her bed too. That amused her for a moment, but she was too tired to laugh out loud. Her clothes clanked as they hit the floor, full of unsorted shuriken and kunai and various weapons she hadn't had the energy to put back in their correst holsters after the last mission.
Dusty as it was, the bed was blessedly soft. She let out a helpless sound of bliss as it half-swallowed her into its mountain of blankets and pillows. It was the one luxury she allowed herself beside dango, and it was more than worth it.
Anko crawled under the covers, closed her eyes, and was asleep in moments.
In the morning, she obstinately insisted on eating breakfast at her leisure before obeying the summons slipped under her door in the middle of the night. She even cooked it herself just to delay a bit longer. She was an awful cook.
It was nearly midday by the time she reluctantly locked her apartment behind her and turned towards headquarters.
The Hokage was insultingly unsurprised at her tardiness. "You're late, Mitarashi," she pointed out, but it was more for the sake of reminding Anko that the Godaime was actually paying attention than real anger.
"Well, allow me to apologize," said Anko sarcastically, and swept an exaggerated bow. "I was only half-dead, I should have tried harder to get here and kill myself for my village sooner."
"Don't snap at me, kid," Tsunade growled. "You're a hundred years too early to take me on. And I didn't call you here to assign you to another mission."
Anko abruptly felt stupid and petty. "You haven't?" she asked after a moment. "Then why?"
Tsunade sighed and rested her chin on her steepled hands. "We've received new intelligence from Team Seven."
Team Seven. Naruto's team. Sasuke's team. Sasuke, Orochimaru's chosen replacement body. Team Seven had been chasing him in the attempt to bring him back to Konoha. If the Godaime was calling her specifically, then this had to be about... "What is it?"
"As of two days ago, as closely as our agents could ascertain, Orochimaru passed away. Uchiha Sasuke apparently defeated him in one-on-one combat. There has been no evidence of survival thus far, and it seems unlikely that there will be any in the future. I hesitate to make blanket statements whenever possible, but I really think that's it for him, kid. Thought you should know."
Anko stared at Tsunade, uncomprehending.
"I know he was your teacher, and you were close to him. I personally think he was a crazy bastard and am glad he's dead, and I won't apologize for that, but to each their own. I know you cared, so I wanted you to be the first to know."
"I'm going home," said Anko slowly, turning on her heel and heading for the door.
"For what it's worth," Tsunade called behind her, "I'm sorry for your loss."
Wrong. Wrong. Anko was glad, too. She was. Honestly.
Orochimaru had torn her apart as an apprentice, broken her bones and made her bleed until she felt like a shattered lump of flesh rather than a real person. He had crushed her and shaped her into a form more pleasing to him, but had decided in the end that she would never reach the level he was looking for. Then he had thrown her away like a piece of impure scrap iron, unfit for creating a weapon from. She'd crawled back to Konoha on bleeding hands and knees, sightless with pain and weariness by the time she arrived. It had been raining, and in the middle of the night, and the gates had been closed. She'd slept outside them, soaking wet and frozen to the bone but uncaring.
Yes, she was glad he was dead.
And yet. When her apartment door closed behind her and the accepting silence of her home caught her and embraced her gently, she still sank to her knees in the middle of her living room and sobbed into her lily-patterned rug until evening set in.
She was glad he was dead, but that did not stop her from grieving for him. He had taught her everything she knew. He had taken her, an orphan child with no one to care if she lived or died, and turned her into something strong and beautiful. If she was a little broken... well, that was a price she was happy to pay for the life he'd given her.
Perhaps he had been evil. She didn't really know what the word meant. To her, there were only people, and what they felt. Pain and death were simply things that happened. They were not evil in their own right. People who intentionally caused them in others were simply more selfish than those who did not. She understood such people easily enough, understood him. Evil was just a word. Orochimaru had been her reality for years.
And now he was dead.
She, the failed student, the useless castoff, was still alive, and he was dead.
That felt like a triumph one moment, and betrayal the next. He had betrayed her first by discarding her. It should have been easy to remember that and feel only savage joy at his demise, but it wasn't. It was like losing the structure that had held her up. His existence and her struggle to escape him had defined her all this time. With him gone, what would she push against in order to move forward? She felt as though she was dissolving into the new freedom, unaccustomed to holding herself together without his chains around her.
It was so unfair that after all he had done to her, he could still make her cry for him.
Tsunade gave her two weeks off. At the end of it, there was a summons waiting for her again.
This time she ate breakfast quickly and went to report on time. There was no point in defiance now. Tsunade had done her a kindness, it was only right that she repay it with obedience.
"Hokage-sama," she said, saluting.
Tsunade frowned. "That looks weird on you, knock it off. You've never saluted me since I took office. Now's a hell of a time to start."
Anko dropped the salute and shrugged. "Fine. What do you want?"
"I have a mission for you, if you want it. Team Seven are returning to Konoha. According to their missive, they have Uchiha Sasuke in captivity, but are heavily wounded and need backup." The Hokage scrutinized her, reading her expression. "I won't order you to take this one. It's optional. If you don't want to go, I'll ask someone else. I just thought you might want to have first dibs on it, considering."
"I..." Anko didn't know what she wanted. Sasuke was Orochimaru's heir. Did she really want to bring him back to this village she'd spent so long defending? Of course, if she wanted to keep it safe, all she had to do was make sure he never became a threat. "I'm not sure, Tsunade. I might kill him," she said honestly. "If he studied under Orochimaru and was strong enough to beat him, he might be a greater danger to Konoha than Orochimaru ever was. I can't guarantee that I won't just decide to take him out for safety's sake."
Tsunade sighed. "I thought you might say something like that. Fine. I'll see if Kakashi's fit to be up and running around. You go home and get some rest. I've pushed you hard lately."
Anko went home feeling vaguely dissatisfied.
Team Seven came home three days later.
True to the report, they were a broken team. Sakura could hardly walk. Sai was limping and his arms were heavily bandaged. Yamato looked like someone had beaten him repeatedly with a spiked bat. The only one who looked all right was Naruto, and Anko knew the reason for that.
Draped unconscious across Naruto and Yamato's shoulders was the prodigal son himself, dried blood streaming from every orifice and bruises blossoming purple-yellow across all visible flesh.
In the hospital, Anko kept subtle watch over Sasuke for days.
She saw no hint of Orochimaru in him. She knew from the others' reports that he could use many of the jutsu that had previously been exclusive to Orochimaru and Anko herself, but outside of battle he seemed entirely like himself. He was silent and sure of himself in a way the child he'd been at the chuunin exams had not been, and he was larger and reeked of power, but other than that he was not much different from his child-self.
Somehow that made her grieve all over again. Aside from his serpentine techniques, there was truly little left of Orochimaru in the world.
But at the same time, the realization made her feel unprecedentedly free. He was really gone. She would never have to choose to fight against him again. The future suddenly seemed astonishingly vast and littered with possibility. It was frightening. It was exhilarating. She hardly knew what to do with herself.
It came as a surprise to her when she found herself standing beside Sasuke's hospital bed, staring down at him without the faintest idea what she was looking for now.
His eyes cracked open and he looked up at her. There was little expression in his eyes, but she knew he recognized her.
"You," he said. "I guess I should have expected you sooner or later. Are you going to try and kill me?"
"No," she said. "I think I want to thank you."
"For killing him for you?" Sasuke asked brutally, eyes hardening in challenge.
Anko took an involuntary step back. She understood, suddenly, why Orochimaru had lost to this mere boy. He had an eye for weakness. "No," she said, "no. Not for that. For... shit, I don't even know what the fuck I'm doing here. You did what I should have done but couldn't. Now I can get on with my life. So, thanks. Go back to sleep, you little bastard."
He gazed her at her consideringly for another moment, then leaned back and shut his eyes. "Get out. I can't sleep with people staring at me."
"Brat," she snapped, but obeyed his request and left.
Overhead, the grey Konoha sky threatened rain. If it came, Anko considered dancing naked on her roof for a bit. After all, why not?
She was a free woman.
A/N: Sasuke's such a little shit, isn't he?