|The End of Our Days
Author: Visions PM
Series of one-shots. Chapter 3, Anko-centric: "There are different ways of coping with loss in Konoha. Oftimes, a good cry will do the trick. For those who don’t know how to cry, there are therapies. For those where crying isn’t enough, there are medicineRated: Fiction K+ - English - Drama/Angst - Chapters: 3 - Words: 5,131 - Reviews: 26 - Favs: 22 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 04-17-05 - Published: 12-12-04 - id: 2169239
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Series: End of Our Days
Piece 1: The Pros and Cons of Armwrestling
She demands with all the authority of a Hokage that he arm wrestle her for money.
"No thanks. I don't want you to throw something else at me in case you lose," he replies wryly.
"I won't," she tells him.
"Won't what? Lose or throw something at me?"
"Both," she says with a familiar smirk that he hasn't seen in a while.
"Oh, if isn't Jiraiya!" she exclaims in delight.
He glares in response, slamming the money on the table in front of her. The clatter of coins arouses her interest and she grins like cat readying itself for a fearsome kill. Her blue eyes gleam as she counts his offering.
"You've become my best friend, lately, you know that?" she drawls, hands greedily fingering the gold, "That is, you and your money purse."
"Shut up!" he says, purpling in shame, "I'm gonna win this time!"
Reading a book in the corner, Orochimaru snorts and is glared at by his loud teammate.
"Ever heard of flying pigs, Jiraiya?" she poses the question with a smirk.
"Pigs can't fly."
"They will… when you beat me."
Ignoring the jib, he demands, "Is it enough?"
"Then let's do it!" He sits down and pushes up his sleeve, revealing a well-muscled arm. Then with barely restrained excitement, he props up his elbow on the table and focuses with all his might on the upcoming test of strength. Taking his hand firmly in her own, his opponent's look of concentration is just as, if not more so, intense. Her lips, however, quirk with a confidence that he lacks.
"One… two…" they chant together, "…THREE!"
Out of the corner of his eye, Orochimaru watches the struggle, book forgotten.
Five minutes later, the granddaughter of the Hokage is on her way to the bakery, whistling happily to the sound of jingling coins.
Jiraiya, thirteen-year-old ninja loser that he is, swears vehemently and caresses his injured knuckles, bruised from when they were slammed mercilessly against the tabletop. They are not as bruised as his pride. Without hesitation, he curses the existence of women at the same time that he mourns the loss of his paycheck.
Orochimaru rolls his eyes and returns to his reading. Some fools never learn, he thinks privately, scornfully, but on some level, he can't deny that their persistence is amusing.
When Orochimaru becomes sixteen, he starts to change. There is something in him that wasn't there before. It's not his snide or arrogant remarks, it's the vehemence behind his insults. Jiraiya is used to being looked down upon by his rival; he's used to scathing criticism because he knows his techniques are not as perfect. But he's not used to groundless insults, thrown out of the blue, deriding him from his incompetence. Not from a guy who has saved his life repeatedly and whom he has fought countless times to protect. He wants to think it's just a stage, like Sarutobi-sensei thinks it is. But sometimes, he catches his teammate watching him, something undecipherable in his eyes, something cold and cruel and just plain scary. Sometimes he feels like the insults are there to test him and find his breaking point and he can't help but feel that something is unraveling.
When Tsunade loses her brother, she becomes someone else. In the years following, she throws herself into her medic-nin studies. Her temper remains but her spirit and cheerfulness is dampened. Without knowing, she becomes beautiful. Her chest fills out, her hair becomes long and shiny, she has more curves than he can count. He notices, of course; with his raging hormones, how could he not? Orochimaru also becomes noticeably more courteous and suddenly, there is new tension between him and his rival.
But it's all pointless. At nineteen, she moves out of the house, leaves her childhood behind, something about not being able to study amidst all the ruckus. But he thinks, with an unusual keenness and an uncomfortable guilty ache, that it is perhaps the pain of looking at them and knowing that they couldn't protect her precious person.
The night before she leaves, he brings money, all of it. Saved up from months of missions and offers to arm wrestle her.
She beats him, of course, though he could've given her more of a fight. But when she crows over her victory and his-cash-turned-hers and her eyes, tired from hours of reading, glow a little from winning, he's glad that he didn't. Glad that he has put every penny to good use.
A month later, Orochimaru leaves with a particularly enraging comment and running out on the porch, Jiraiya yells "Good Riddance!" after the bastard.
He looks back at his house, pleased that he can now write his dirty novels without any intrusion though Orochimaru has never been noisy. He stares at the house of his childhood, that had once belonged to three, and looks at the retreating back of his rival.
The anger slides from his face down to the floor, down to somewhere where it never really existed. It is only when Orochimaru is gone from view that Jiraiya allows himself to feel the sting of abandonment.
He wonders if this house has the same effect on her as it does on him. He hopes so, that's why he brought her here, after all. To this place where they spent their childhood days, him, her, Orochimaru. Where together they had been Sarutobi's students, the man who at one point they all agreed was the best teacher in the world. Where they learned what it meant to lose and take life, where Orochimaru had learned countless jutsus, where he had sprung countless prank-traps to catch Sarutobi-sensei off guard, where Tsunade always kicked their asses at armwrestling. He decides, in the midst of everything that is changing, that he wants this house to live forever and tells her so.
She looks out the window, restlessness emanating from her silent presence.
And so he says what he's been meaning to say all along, what he said to their other teammate, who sent him to the hospital only last week, on the frail hope that she will listen and not beat him up.
She does not turn. He hates the way she can't face him, especially when she's on the verge of shattering the only family he's ever had. Hadn't he been there for her when her brother died? Hadn't he been a friend, even when she had Dan, to the very end?
When she moves to the door, he slams his elbow on the table. Hard. The wood creaks, its back arching but not breaking. The elbow aches. Stitches come undone. He bleeds, and it shows through his bandage. But his hand is in the air, in ready position, waiting, holding onto nothing.
There's the challenge and the threat soon follows, "Tsunade, if you leave, I will chase you until you come back. I'll follow you down every road to every village, every town, every single damn bar until you--"
"Stop it, Jiraiya."
Her fingers hover over the doorknob. He can sense the irritation bunching in her shoulders. In her thoughts, he knows that she is calling him idiot, dumbass, meddler, fool, every insult she can imagine.
"But…" He clenches his teeth, "If you win, I'll let you go."
She says nothing.
"We'll never see each other again until we're old gits, maybe we'll die before ever seeing each other again. I promise."
He notes bitterly that it is only after his guarantee to stay away that she acquiesces. Her bag is dropped to the ground with an audible thump in all that unbearable silence. She slides into the seat before him and silently offers him her right hand. His stomach is a nervous ball, drawn so tight that he can feel his whole being shake with fear.
It is different this time. Her face is empty, eyes hollow from too much pain. They tell him that she will not stay in Konoha. He grasps her fingers, sees that shimmering green nail polish that she only started wearing after she met Dan, and thinks that he never knew how much he would missed that arrogant glint and those rough, dusty fingertips until this moment.
He tries. His face is impassive, but his heart is straining more than it has in his life. She is the last piece of the perfect puzzle that they spent ten years of their lives fitting together.
He tries. He wants to scream defy everything that is happening wake up and find it all a sick, alcohol-induced dream and sob in Sarutobi-sensei's arms the way he did all those years ago…
This cannot be the end, he thinks, angry that his life is ending at the age of twenty-four and the rage gives him strength to hold his ground, This cannot be the end of everything I have worked for!
He tries, he fails. As much as he would give to keep her, she would give much more to leave.
For the briefest second after her victory, their hands linger together. Her hand is red from pressure; he has clenched it too hard but he doesn't feel a shred of remorse nor does her face hold any complaint.
There is no good-bye. He is not surprised when she lets go first. She stands up, pigtails swishing gently, the porcelain skin of her pretty face not even flushed.
For the longest time, he will wonder if there was more that he could have done.
For years, he will relive this moment, will visit the house of his childhood over and over again to try and figure out the answer to everything that happened, will hurt so much that when the time comes for this little house to be torn down by construction, he will not care and will watch it fall, piece by piece, until it becomes worthless. And when he looks down at the pile of rubble, he will think that this heap of broken things is just like everything else in his life that had been built up, cherished, and then taken away. He will laugh, oddly enough, and afterwards, he will lose himself in alcohol, sex, and other mind-numbing activities until the next morning when he is woken up by the drums of war and the arrival of the Kyuubi.
That will be the beginning of something else, but right now, it is the end of something. Right now, she is walking away and he is debating the merit of telling her feelings on the infinitesimal chance that she will reciprocate them. If there is the slightest that a confession might guilt her into staying, if there was anything he could ever offer that might compel her to remain, anything, anything at all… If he should tell her how much he--
The door clicks shut before he can decide.
When they see each other again, it is just as he had promised. They are both old, their youths gone. They do not feel regret, or at least, they try not to.
When she goes back to Konoha, she pauses when she sees where their house had been. She says nothing but her eyes seem to fade a little. The inauguration goes smoothly, but she is only half-there. The other half is looking backward, trying to recapture lost memories of the village and the life she left behind.
She tries to make up for it by performing Rock Lee's operation and saving him from lifelong depression. She tries to make up for it by loving Naruto, by trying to see him as a hope for the future. She tries as much as she can, but sometimes it gets hard and all she wants to do is sedate herself and sleep the rest of life away.
They share drinks occasionally when he is bored and she can no longer take the overbearing load of paperwork. The village is big and it is always a 'coincidence' to find the other.
On the night the Uchiha leaves, when the cycle is in the process of repeating itself, Tsunade and Jiraiya find each other at the local bar. He calls her irresponsible, she throws a table at his head. A few more centimeters of accuracy and he would've been in a coma.
Then she asks him to arm wrestle for money. When he finally agrees, they lock hands, each with a cocky grin and a feeling of nostalgia. After the longest standstill, he wins, much to his surprise until he notices the way she pushes money towards him, grumbling but not wholeheartedly and without any bitterness.
He pockets it, a small consolation for over 20 years of loneliness.
Something in him winces when he thinks of how much she resembles her past self, looks back in the days when she never let him win.
It is not the same. They will never be the same again.
But he smiles anyway because she is a beautiful woman and everything about her is curvy, sweet-smelling, and clean. Except her nails, which are smudged black with dust and ink, but they are beautiful too, in their dirtiness.
Part of this was originally an epilogue of a series I was planning to write about the history of the Legendary Sannins. Don't know if I'll ever write the series, but mebbe one day, yah? For now, tho, I'll just put this into a series of drabbles, titled "End of Our Days"
Oh, btw, will finish BSS over winter break. J