Anko was stunned into silence. A few minutes before, the answer would have been an unequivocal "no." However, that was before she realized that everything she had known – or, rather, assumed – over the previous fifteen years had been a lie. What Kabuto had said changed absolutely everything, and she knew the right answer to his question. Taking a deep breath, she mustered her courage.

"Yes. He deserves to see his son. And… there are things that he and I need to talk about."

Though it was more of a smirk, Kabuto couldn't help but give her a knowing smile.

"I figured you would see it his way. Now then, shall I get him?"

"Yes," Anko said again. "But please… wait just a few minutes. I need to get my thoughts together and make sure the baby is ready for company."

"If you insist," Kabuto replied. "But I'll only be able to delay him for so long. He has been pacing the corridors all morning."

Anko had been staring blankly at the door for a long time when she heard the soft knock. It wasn't as though she was surprised – in fact, she had been waiting the better part of an hour for the knock to occur – but that didn't stop the air from rushing out of her lungs and the blood in her veins from turning cold. Holding her baby to her chest tightly, she took a deep breath.

"Come in."

There was the sound of a knob turning and a slight creak – and there he was. Orochimaru.

He looked perfectly, eerily as he always had. Slender, his dark hair contrasting dramatically – beautifully – with his alabaster skin. A confident expression with a slight smirk.

"Good morning, Anko. Sleep well?" he asked, his expression calm and unaffected.

"Mmhmm," Anko replied. As much as she hated to admit it, her lower lip was trembling violently, and her hands shook.

His expression softened – he had noticed her apprehension.

"Anko, no need to fear me now. You know the truth."

"I'm… not afraid. That's not it at all. Don't you understand?"

When Orochimaru wordlessly sat down on her bed beside her, Anko's resolve finally gave out. The exhaustion of the delivery, the improbability of Kabuto's story, and the emotion that came with seeing the man she loved again all became too much. She collapsed onto his shoulder sobbing. The newborn she held made a soft whining sound, as though attuned to his mother's suffering by some eternal, indescribable bond.

"Let the tears flow Anko… they'll heal you."

"But… you never let me cry as a child," Anko sniffled, her head still buried in his robes.

"That's quite true. But it was only because I was raising you to be strong, resilient, and self-reliant. But you've proven to me ten times over that you possess all of these qualities… a few well-deserved tears will hardly hurt you now."

These words of comfort only served to make Anko cry all the harder – but her companion didn't say anything. Instead, he sat silently while she cried out fifteen years' worth of pain, fear, and confusion. Finally, exhausted and breathless, she sat up and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of the hospital garment she wore.

"I'm… I'm sorry," she said hoarsely. "That was stupid."

"Hardly," Orochimaru replied. "But… are you finished now?"

Anko nodded, trying to stiffen her upper lip.

"I am. I should… well, we need to talk."

"I agree," Orochimaru said, his voice softer than Anko had perhaps ever heard it. "I owe you many apologies that I am too proud to admit."

"That's fine," Anko sighed, rubbing her eyes. "What's done is done. I've always kind of thought of apologies as wasted words anyway."

"One of the many things we have in common."

Anko nodded, a smile playing at her lips.

"Did Kabuto tell you all he told me?"

"Enough to know that you have a very good idea of what's gone on in my mind and in my world over the past twenty years. Anko, the day I met you I knew that I would do anything in the entire world: moral, immoral, damaging, controlling, hurtful, or otherwise, to make sure that you belonged to me and no one else. And my resolve hasn't weakened. In fact, it grows stronger by the day. Because as the days go by, I understand more and more fully that there is no one else in the world with whom I have the connection that you and I share."

Anko looked up at him, her expression profound.

"I finally figured that out too," she replied. "I tried so very hard, over these past few months, to be happy with someone else. But with anyone but you… it's like a puzzle piece that won't fit. I even thought I hated you, up until a few minutes ago. But even when I felt that way, it didn't make me happy with all the boys who tried to convince me to stay with them. A part of me – a big part – has always been right here."

"Then you agree," Orochimaru said. "You know that together… is the only way."

Anko nodded solemnly.

"But… What will I tell the people in Konoha?" she asked after a moment.

"Fools. You don't have to tell them anything."

"But that's not fair to them," Anko insisted. "They took me in for a long time, when I thought I didn't have anyone left. I owe them a lot more than I'm going to be able to pay back, but something as small as a goodbye is non-negotiable. I guess I'll just write them a letter or something. Either way, it's not something I want to worry about in this moment."

"I'll never be able to understand the way you feel so deeply for others."

Anko laughed a little bit.

"It's a weakness you never got me to grow out of, I guess."

She continued to smile, and the two sat in a peaceful silence for a moment. However, Anko suddenly became aware of the way Orochimaru was attempting to peer over the jumble of blankets she cradled in her arms.

"I'm not thinking!" she exclaimed. "I haven't even introduced you two."

Anko put the baby gently on the bed in front of her. After brushing a stray lock of hair back into place, she pulled the blankets away from his face and admired him for a moment.

"What do you think?" Anko asked softly, turning around to face Orochimaru.

She was shocked to see the latter – who was forever composed and the master of his emotions – had a blank, wide-eyed look on his face.

"Is he really… ours?" Orochimaru asked, his expression almost one of confusion.

"Of course he is!" Anko said. "Who else's would he be?"

"I don't know. I just can't imagine that I could be a part of something so innocent and perfect."

Anko gave Orochimaru a long look. It started out as awe at the beauty of what he had just said, but somewhere along the way, it became a look of sympathy. He had given away so much over the years, and it had all been for her. But despite the pain of his sacrifice, nothing had gone the way he planned. Everything fell apart no matter how much he gave away. After all his selflessness, he was still sitting at her side silently pleading for mercy.

Feeling the impulse to draw closer to him – and not having the strength to deny it – Anko gave her former sensei a soft kiss on the lips.

"You could, and you did," she said quietly, meeting his gaze. "He's really yours – just as much as he's mine. And that's another reason why it's so important that he and I stay here. Me and… the baby."

"Does he have a name?" Orochimaru asked, noticing her hesitation.

"Not yet," Anko admitted. "I tried to think of a few way back, right after I found out he was a boy. But I couldn't come up with anything I liked back then. I tried harder after he was born."

She paused, and Orochimaru gave her a look of confusion.

"Did you come up with anything then?"

"No," Anko said finally. "Because then… I knew that I wanted you to help me."

Wordlessly, Orochimaru sat down on the bed beside Anko and pulled her close to him. She could feel herself being drawn in and surrounded by the man she was finally accepting that she loved. The feeling only intensified when he laced the fingers of his left hand through hers and held on tightly. Anko had to fight back more tears as she felt herself relax for the first time in what seemed like months. Everything was finally as it should be. She had been waiting her entire life for that moment to come.

"What about Otomaru?" Orochimaru breathed softly in her ear. "A sort of a tribute to his father's village. Wherever he goes, he will always know that he has an identity and a home."

"I like it," Anko replied. "Home… home is good."

Dear Konoha (and by Konoha, I pretty much mean Kakashi, Tsunade, and Kiba):

I'm sorry if I've scared all of you. Again. I mean, it wasn't my choice to get kidnapped on the way back from the restaurant. But then again, I probably could have done more about it once I got here if I had really wanted to. So it's still kind of my fault.

Anyway… to answer the million dollar questions, I guess:

1) Yes, I'm safe.

2) Yes, I have a baby. He's a boy, and his name is Otomaru. He's healthy and beautiful. I've included a picture to prove it.

3) Yes, I'm staying here.

And, for what it's worth… I'm sorry.

I'm sorry for causing so much trouble when I got kidnapped (both times), I'm sorry for fucking around with your hearts (not yours, Tsunade, but you get the idea), and I'm sorry for deciding not to go back to Konoha. But there are a lot of things you have to understand.

First of all, I'm not like you guys. I know we're all strange and broken in our own ways, but I think I take it a step further. I've never fit in. That may sound trite, but it's the truth. I'm never going to be able to do what people in Konoha are supposed to do, anyway; I don't have any desire to settle down there, get married, and play house while still taking life-threatening missions all over the world. It's not my calling. And don't bother with all that 'but we love you anyway' stuff, please… it's not that I don't think you mean it. It's that if I stayed there, I couldn't love me.

My place is here. Otomaru needs to be with his father… and I need to be with his father.

Orochimaru is simply the only person who will ever understand me. I know you all struggle with that and say he's evil or twisted, and you might be right. But when I'm with him, I know who I am and who I want to be. And he and I have a long way to go, but we're making amends. I believe this can work out for the better.

Kakashi, this is for you… I'm extra sorry in your case. You opened your home up to me, and I was dealing with too much of my own shit to show the proper gratitude. You were the best friend I could have asked for. I'm sorry if you wanted me to be more than that, but I just couldn't handle it at that point. And even now, when I look back, I realize that it was for the better that I didn't try. Forgive me if I'm being too blunt, but please take that pink-haired student of yours out to dinner sometime. You'd have to be blind to miss the way she looks at you, and she's a sweet kid. Age is just a number – Oro and I prove that.

Kiba, I have something special to tell you, too: you are a really cool person. That may not sound like much, but I don't say that to just anybody. You saw me as a person when everybody else was treating me like some kind of baby-incubator, and I won't ever be able to thank you enough for that. I'm sorry if I led you on, but I'm not sorry for what we had. You gave me something nobody else did at a time when I needed it desperately. The necklace you gave me is still with me, and I am going to keep it forever. Again, I may be too blunt, but I'm already dealing out romantic advice… so I'm going to tell you to buy that quiet girl some flowers. She would really like that.

Sorry I don't have anything extra special to say to you, Tsunade. I guess all I've got is a plea not to take the whole Orochimaru thing too badly. You know him well, but still not as well as you think you do. Believe me, I wouldn't be wasting my time here if he was anything like the way you think of him. In case you need some proof, remember that botched abortion? It was his own chakra that protected our son. That has to count for something – he kept me from making the biggest mistake of my life.

All three of you played a very important part in getting Otomaru into the world, and that's my biggest source of gratitude. He's the light of my life, and he amazes me every day. He has his father's skill and my looks, so he's going to be the best ninja ever. Haha. But seriously – he's the most amazing human being I've ever seen. And you all helped me make this happen.

So, in conclusion… I'm sorry, and thank you, and I hope our paths cross again one day. If they do, please don't throw any senbon needles my way. I wouldn't (and couldn't) ever betray Konoha, because I'll always feel so deeply for everyone there. Cross my heart and hope to die. Give my love to everybody, and show off Otomaru's picture. I'm sure he'll be at a chuunin exam in the not-too-distant future.


Anko Mitarashi