A/N: I feel as if I have woken from a long slumber. Why is my inclination to write always coming around during my exam period. Urgh. Once again, sorry for the long wait, and if any of you are still around, take heart, because... One more chapter of go. YesyesYES~!

On another note, if the plot so far in makes you feel like I'm rushing it, maybe I am. But this was how I planned the story to end quite some time (months, actually) ago.

Thanks to those who reviewed, subscribed and favorites! :) ( And those who waited ofcourse. (^_^;;) )
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any of its character.

That utterly dumb thought snapped Anko out of her stupor, and she slammed her mental walls against the pain stemming from the cursed mark, shoving the feeling of pieces of broken glass beneath her skin burying themselves to her bones, to the back of her mind. Her instincts kicked in and survival became top priority.

She didn't survive the curse mark when she was young just to drown in a bath tub now.

With renewed vigor, she struggled within her own body, attempting to move her limbs and cataloging them. Her legs were numb, and trying to move them proved futile. Now that she was in a clearer state of mind, she could feel the numbness spreading throughout her entire body. Anko gritted her teeth. She'd wasted precious time panicking, and now the numbness was going to consume her. Her left leg and hand were dead weights as they were now. Her right side…

And then, her right hand twitched in response when she tried it. That was all Anko needed. With tremendous effort, she reached out.

Please, please, please…

Her trembling hand broke the surface of the water to grip the side of the bath tub-


-but as her fingers curled around the edge and prepared to haul herself up, they slipped, and her hand fell back into the water with a resounding splash that echoed through the bathroom.

The loss of her last chance at life was a kick in the gut, her eyes wide open in shock as her heart pumped out a frantic beat. Her body could no longer move. What now?

A coolly honest part of her answered with a single word.


She was scared. Scared of what she was leaving behind. She wasn't ready to die, not yet, not so soon. She'd wanted to watch Kurenai and Asuma's child grow up. She'd wanted to be there if the cocky idiot that is Naruto ever ascends to the position of Hokage.

She'd wanted so much, so much, to try again with Orochimaru.

But all these were of no consequence now.

Had they been even just moments before, she vaguely wondered through all the pain, the words that Orochimaru had hurled at her still fresh on her mind.

Even as she held on a flame burned slowly in her lungs as her body screamed for air, phantom fire eating her inch by inch, the pain amplified several folds as the cursed seal continued its torturous rhythm of setting waves upon waves of excruciating pain on her. And when the last of her breath escaped her lips, the bubbles rose up to the surface that was so near, yet oh-so-far.

Her vision steeped in black at the edges, shadows rapidly creeping throughout her sight, her mind sluggishly slow and shutting down from the dual onslaught of deprived oxygen and overwhelming pain from the cursed seal.

For once since her childhood, she wanted somebody to save her. A pair of golden eyes surfaced in her hazy mind, the intensity of the gaze strangely comforting. She reached out. Or tried to. Because even in her mind, her body was unresponsive, and she could only watch as he disintegrated into bubbles, scattered by a wind she couldn't feel.

As her vision blurred, Anko felt something hold her and bring her to the surface, before everything turned to total darkness.


Orochimaru struck the training dummies, the sharp blade of his legendary sword slicing through them cleanly in a swift blow. And when there was no more left, he turned his wrath to the ground. It wasn't so much of training than hacking viciously at the earthen floor of the training ground as Kusanagi left its mark, if the crescent cavities that littered the expanse of the grounds and even the walls around it was anything to speak of.

It was pointless, but it was a release for him. This feeling, utterly weak and human, but still he held on pathetically, even brimmed with hope for a moment, when he heard Anko's words. They were etched in his mind, along with everything else, the pace of her breathing, the disbelief and shock, she slight tremble of her lips... "So this is what you choose?"

To say that he'd made his choice was such an irony when there wasn't any choice at all. Reality was a harsh mistress. She'd always been.

Sound ninjas and messengers who had something to bring to his attention stopped in their tracks at the edge of the arena, before hightailing out of the place. A smart decision indeed.

But one foolish soul dared to step forward, and before he could even open his mouth, his head was already rolling on the floor, blood a crescent arc in the air. Let this be a statement, Orochimaru thought, eyes blazing a dark fire of liquid gold, to the rest should they not know how to read his mood.

It was halfway through his violent endless stream of attacks that he sensed it. The flare of his own chakra. It was not unusual, not with the experiments that he conducted. But this time, he realized, with a cold sinking feeling, it was not from the lab.

Orochimaru took off in an instant, that distinctive chakra beckoning him mockingly. His own but not his to control.

He did not know what to expect when he slammed the bathroom door open, after seeing that the room was empty, but it was definitely not this.

Fear was not a familiar emotion to Orochimaru. Not when he was one of the most renowned ninja far and wide, with only a handful who posed as a challenge to him. Yet it was the primary emotion he felt when he saw Anko's body under the water. Cold, tendrils of fear wound themselves around his heart constricting till he audibly gasped for air. This couldn't be happing. His grip on the doorknob tightened till his knuckles turn white, but still he held on. He wanted to move, but his feet were frozen in place, even as his mind slapped him with the last words he left her with, "I said leave!", "This is how it should be."

Perhaps it was really he who was under the water, he thought, as his breathing turn erratic. Twin tracks of warmth slowly made their way down his cheeks, and his hand touched his face, coming away damp. His mind took a moment to process it.

He, Orochimaru, was crying?

Then, from out the corner of his eyes, he saw it. Bubbles of air on the water surface. It wasn't much, but that was all the mental shove he needed.

Rushing to the bath tub, he lifted Anko's unmoving body out of the water with trembling hands. Her head lolled lifelessly to the side, and he felt something within him just die. Found himself whispering her name repeatedly, as if that would bring back the girl with that fiery character he knew so well on every level.

Orochimaru laid her down on the bed gently, before checking her vitals. He let out a breath he did not know he was holding. She was still breathing.

She was still alive.

He made quick work of drying her and dressing her in a robe. And it took a little more time, before his hands finally stopped trembling, his breath come out evenly.

Orochimaru glanced at the woman on the bed beside him, the one who had captured his attention and held it even after all this time.

She had been light to carry, too light. It hadn't occurred to him then, but now, the implications were clear. She had lost quite some weight, ever since she came to him.

And his lips twisted into a self-depreciating smile. The pressure of living with the enemy and having to look behind her back all the time has probably taken a toll on her. And what with the emotional turmoil and the effects of the accursed mark she has gone through recently…

Orochimaru's lips thinned. If he was to make a decision, it will have to be soon. No, he corrected himself grimmly, it will have to be now.


Itachi had been watching from the shadows as Orochimaru hacked away relentlessly, his frustrations manifesting into powerful bursts of chakra energy which was hurled at anything and everything around him even as he utterly destroyed the arena with his blade.

A satisfied glint appeared in the pair of obsidian eyes which could turn into mesmerizing pools of red and swirling black at will. All that was needed was a little more convincing, a small push of encouragement, and everything would return to as it should be.

Comments for improvement and reviews are love~!